TT Electronics rolls out remote working seamlessly in the face of a global pandemic

TT Electronics rolls out remote working seamlessly in the face of a global pandemic

The scale and demand of remote working has meant business leaders have had to raise their game in terms of the technology they offer to employees. TT Electronics implemented a cloud solution from Zscaler, allowing it to adapt to the work from home culture we are now experiencing as a result of the pandemic. Jaye Tillson, Head of Architecture, TT Electronics, and Derek Winskill, CIO, TT Electronics, tell us more.

The beginning of the global lockdown period saw businesses scrambling to ensure workers could perform their roles remotely. With so little time between rumblings of a pandemic, and the lockdown itself coming into place, large businesses with hundreds or thousands of staff situated across the globe in particular struggled to get the correct combination of technologies in place to ensure Business Continuity, functionality and security.

This could well have been the case for TT Electronics, a global provider of engineered electronics for performance-critical applications. Headquartered in Woking, UK, TT Electronics employs around 5,000 people across 29 locations spread over the UK and Europe, North America and Asia. Its transformation to Zscaler’s cloud security platform, including Zscaler Private Access, enabled TT Electronics to deploy a remote working strategy with no disruption to the business.

No quick fixes

With so many locations and employees across different regulatory boundaries, quick-fixing a remote working programme at this scale would be nigh-on impossible and likely result in costly downtime for the business.

Thankfully for TT Electronics, Jaye Tillson, its Head of Architecture, was already running a Zscaler Private Access (ZPA) proof of concept (POC) globally in early 2020 to ensure that employees travelling to China especially, could access the data they needed but also be restricted in what they could access to abide by international data legislation.

“It just so happened that this POC took place when the need arose suddenly. We had some employees travelling across regions and we had some specifics that we wanted to test. Firstly, that people could get seamless access to the applications they needed. We also wanted to ensure these travelling users could be restricted on what they could access. So for instance, if a US user was in the US, they should be allowed to access US data, but if they travelled to China, it would be required to block this restricted content to comply with legislation and export controls. Then COVID-19 came along and complicated things even further,” said Tillson.

Remote access in China

In February 2020, due to the extent of the spread of the Coronavirus in China, TT Electronics’ sites in the country were closed and its employees sent to work from home. This, however, was fraught with challenges.

“For our employees, trying to work remotely was really difficult. People outside of the POC were still on the old remote access solution and it wasn’t working particularly well due to bandwidth restrictions. With such low bandwidth for each user, they would need to download presentations before a call which wasn’t user-friendly and meant documents quickly getting out of sync. The connectivity just wasn’t good enough to be connected to VPN and share documents while attending conference calls. It was unworkable.

“We also needed some of our employees to be able to use their home machines because not all of them had company desktops or laptops, and not be constrained by the bandwidth limitation,” said Tillson.

The solution worked as planned and enabled the workers in China to access the applications they needed far more quickly and efficiently than what would have been possible using the previous remote access solution.

Global rollout to anticipate a global crisis

As the COVID-19 virus began expanding outwards from China, TT Electronics had to move quickly to make a decision on its remote access solution. Foreseeing the global remote working situation that was, at this point, still a few weeks away, TT Electronics made the move to extend ZPA to the majority of its employees globally.

“We needed to roll it out quickly. We were really concerned the current solution we had in place just wouldn’t be sufficient. The bandwidth issues, the usability problems – Zscaler doesn’t have any of that, it just works and that’s what we needed,” said Tillson.

TT Electronics rapidly set up RDS in the majority of its sites and installed the ZPA client on corporate machines in order to enable home working for its employees within the time span of around three weeks.

Turning away from traditional VPN

In March 2020, after a three-week deployment period, 3,000 TT Electronics staff were able to access their applications from home securely and continue working as usual, when many other companies globally were still struggling to maintain application availability for their remote workers.

“ZPA has been a real game-changer for us. Traditional VPN is always difficult to configure, it requires hardware on-site, it’s difficult to scale and there are bandwidth constraints between the remote access network and our MPLS to consider. We wouldn’t have been able to have more than a dozen employees working from home using a traditional VPN, but ZPA has given us the security and the flexibility we needed to enable remote working at the scale we suddenly needed,” said Tillson.

Making IT look easy

As is often the case with IT in the enterprise, end-users and the leadership team don’t necessarily see or understand the scale of the work being done behind the scenes. They just appreciate it when it works as intended. In the case of Tillson and his team, however, feedback from the wider organisation has been incredibly positive.

“All of our users are actually amazed at how they can work from home with ZPA. They don’t need to turn it on or off, it just works in the background and they can access whatever they need to whenever they need to,” said Tillson.

The impact of ZPA on business continuity of TT Electronics has been significant according to Derek Winskill, CIO, TT Electronics. “To put it mildly, events across the world have considerably changed the ways of working for a large proportion of our workforce. Without doubt, I now consider the Zscaler cloud platform to be one of the most timely and beneficial services I have purchased in 25 years of working in IT. My team have managed to rollout the service really quickly to thousands of users, to better enable remote workers and provide services to users that we never had a requirement for in the past.”

Jaye Tillson and Derek Winskill offer some further insight into the solution and the benefits it has provided to TT Electronics.

Can you give an overview of the company and its core IT values?

Winskill: TT Electronics is a global provider of engineered electronics such as sensors, power modules, semiconductors and optoelectronics for performance-critical applications. We primarily service the industrial, aerospace and defence, medical and transportation markets. We’re a UK business headquartered in Woking, but have 29 separate locations spread across Europe, North America and Asia. We employ around 5,000 people in engineering, finance, sales, HR and more.

Our IT vision is to provide the IT solutions and services that enable TT to be the go-to strategic partner of the world’s top technology businesses. As such, we aim for IT that works simply, consistently and securely, and forge partnerships with our colleagues across TT to ensure delivery excellence.

What role did you play in managing business operations during the implementation process?

Tillson: In my role as Head of Architecture, I am responsible for selecting all new solutions in close communication with the business. With so many locations and employees across different regulatory boundaries, in this instance quick-fixing a remote working programme at this scale would be nigh-on impossible and likely result in costly downtime for the business. Thankfully, the architecture team was running a proof of concept with Zscaler Private Access at the beginning of 2020 and we quickly realised it was a solution that was so readily scalable for mass remote working based on the global security cloud of Zscaler. As we started the implementation of ZPA before global lockdowns came into force, we were a step ahead of many other businesses, and impact on business operations was mitigated. Based on the POC, the rollout took less than three weeks from start to finish.

How has the solution enabled you to adapt to future technology demands and future-proof the business?

Tillson: Traditional VPN is difficult to configure, relies on on-site hardware and doesn’t scale well. Being a cloud-based solution, ZPA on the other hand has enabled the security and flexibility we need to scale our remote working capacity up and down as we need it to. We’re confident that our business is future-proofed for future demands.

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