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Supercharging Rexel’s network with intelligent connectivity

Supercharging Rexel’s network with intelligent connectivity

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Having the ability to keep up with customer demand and monitor network activity is essential in today’s transforming business landscape. Rexel was in need of a solution that could adapt to meet its changing business needs without being too costly, and it turned to BT for help. Wolfgang Tomischek, Head of ICT Services, Rexel Germany, tells us more.

Rexel, a leading electrical supplies wholesaler, has been focused on expanding its business worldwide in recent years. It now has 27,000 employees in 26 countries across Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific. However, the group’s German subsidiary required assistance in handling changing customer expectations.

“Our customers place their orders via multiple channels – using the online shop, fax and phone – and expect us to deliver within hours,” said Wolfgang Tomischek, Head of ICT Services, Rexel Germany.

With 31 branches and four logistics centres distributing up to 300,000 components across the country, Rexel Germany has a large amount of customers to keep up with. To offer the level of service it wanted, it needed a smarter network that could respond faster to increased online sales. The Rexel Group turned to telecommunications provider, BT, for help.

The challenge

Rexel Germany can only handle the variety of products and the logistics of just-in-time delivery thanks to modern IT, but in an increasingly digital world, customer expectations are changing. Rexel’s customers want to be able to place orders online, view descriptions and compare prices. To plan ahead, the company needed order tracking – and due to the fact its employees work remotely, this must all be done via smartphone apps and tablets.

But Rexel’s old traditional network – pairing an MPLS system with new VoIP and WAN – couldn’t keep up with the growing data volume. And because customers needed more assistance, the IT team had less time to deal with system support. “The IT technicians, who were extremely familiar with SAN, LWL and the like, had to develop into business IT managers,” said Tomischek.

Rexel was aware there was a problem and had already considered upgrading its system but found the cost of new hardware and lengthy install time would be too expensive. Ultimately, it needed a solution that could flex to meet its changing business needs without breaking the bank.

The solution

To help Rexel better manage its system, BT rolled out a Connect Meraki software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN). This combines the benefits of different network technologies and gives Rexel the control back. It used the company’s existing MPLS network for mission-critical and sensitive internal data, giving it a dedicated connection. Meanwhile, the system inexpensively routes less urgent traffic over the Internet.

An online management portal lets Rexel’s IT team keep an eye on network usage. As well as being able to view data flow through the entire network, it can view it by individual user, site or region. This portal also gives Rexel more control, so it can choose which connection to use for each of its business applications. It can also react in real-time to surges in traffic, re-routing data to prevent bandwidth bottlenecks.

While the portal allows the IT team to monitor security threats, the solution also comes with new hardware and software-based firewalls built-in for added protection. “The new hybrid solution should give us more flexibility and control options, as well as better scaling. It should also help us to keep control over costs at the same time,” said Thomas Spannbauer, Rexel’s Head of IT Infrastructure and Security.

The result

BT’s SD-WAN solution gives Rexel Germany more control over its network. The IT team have a self-service portal so they can get an overview of the data streams in the network and choose the best connection for each business application – making it easier to collaborate, react to changes and meet customers’ needs. “Overall, we have a much more transparent overview of our network and know what is happening where,” said Tomischek.

The change has also freed up 20% of Rexel’s internal MPLS, bringing down costs and giving the company capacity when it needs it most. And with new managed security devices like hardware and software-based firewalls, the business is safer.

The next step is to migrate the local area network (LAN) to Meraki technology as well. This will give Rexel end-to-end visibility and control of the entire network. And the word has spread.

Based on Rexel Germany’s experience with SD-WAN, the group is also planning to roll out SD-WAN technology around the world.

We spoke to Wolfgang Tomischek, Head of ICT Services, Rexel Germany, to gain some further insight into the solution and how it has offered an array of business benefits.

How are changing customer expectations/requirements impacting your infrastructure strategy?

Due to the desired agility and proximity to our customers, we must respond dynamically to market requirements. A modern infrastructure enables us to set up warehouses within a short period of time and shorten delivery times of our logistics to our customer.

Why did you choose to work with this vendor and why did you opt for this specific solution?

For the implementation, we used our current supplier, BT, which is also established in our group. The long-term cooperation, in which our supplier is familiar with our needs, has quickly brought the issue forward. No training in network topologies, plans and localities was necessary.

How important is network visibility and how does this solution enable that?

The central IT, which does not work on-site in the warehouse, must have central access to the individual components. There is no one on site who has specialist knowledge. But the business depends on centralised expertise and available support. This enables us to provide a reliable service with few personnel and low costs. With our monitoring capabilities, we can proactively respond to failures and problems, ensuring high customer satisfaction.

How was the implementation process – did you encounter any challenges and if so, how were these resolved?

The implementation of new networks always means operating two architectures for a limited time. Only after some time can the old devices be dismantled and removed. This always means double costs that have to be considered in the business case. The longer the test phase, the more expensive the project becomes. In our case, the bottleneck was the electricians, who are not easy to get and are very fully booked. The networks in Germany are also not well developed. Here, you often have to make compromises in bandwidth or you dig the cables yourself.

How do your customers benefit from the solution?

We are now at a high technical level. In the past, there have been repeated malfunctions that led to production downtimes. Our employees then had to compensate for this with additional shifts. Fortunately, this time is over.

Are there any trends/emerging trends you expect to see in the infrastructure space?

My American colleagues make fun of me when I talk about MPLS in Germany. There, VOI and other services are routed over the Internet. That will certainly be the future for us too, especially in view of the G5 initiative.

I’m worried about the increasing number of cyberattacks lately. The cost of security occupies a considerable place in the ICT budget and there will never be 100% security. As a result, more and more cloud services are being used and security is being left to large companies such as BT, Cisco, Microsoft or IBM. This is not meant to be a shift of responsibility, but you can sleep better at night.

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