Payments giant saves £2.5m with new network

Case study: Making sure your salary gets paid every month

Case study: Making sure your salary gets paid every month

Voca provides the technology behind the direct debit system in the UK and its payment infrastructure is used by 100,000 businesses, banks and government agencies.

The company - formerly known as BACS - processed four billion financial transactions worth £2.5tr last year, including nine out of 10 salary payments.

But the vast amounts of money flowing through the company's systems would not be as safe as it is today had the company not changed its network and disaster recovery processes.

For 36 years, the company operated from one location in north London, which gave it no resilience or backup if the office was unexpectedly shut down. In 2001, Voca decided to spread its risk by moving out of London and setting up three new offices in Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire. This meant it could back up data and continue business in an emergency.

And with the creation of a wide-area network, it was also able to dump its costly legacy equipment and build a converged IP network that employees could use for free phone calls and data exchange.

With BT as the carrier for the service, the company is hoping to save £2.5m over seven years.

Peter Seymour, head of infrastructure services at Voca, said: "We've been working on upgrading our infrastructure for some time now. We've taken a step further to help 40,000 customers to have a better connectivity experience."

Seymour added that reliability is essential for Voca because if its network fails, its customers cannot work: "We are a difficult beast - we have to make sure we don't fail. One of the worst things for us is losing a payment. The whole risk contingency is what we're all about. The infrastructure is as perfect as it can be."

To link the offices, Voca opted for BT's WaveStream Regional service, which uses optical fibre links to provide 2.5Gbps bandwidth between offices.

But to maximise its return on investment, Voca decided to use the high-speed network to make free phone calls using voice over IP. To do this Voca is using Cisco routers and switches to provide voice and multimedia data services at 100Mbps to every desk. The company is also using Cisco's VPN, Call Manager servers and IP phones.

Seymour added: "The VoIP has gone well. That's allowed us to become more efficient. There is so much information our there when you get technology to help you. BT was really helpful - it's been very smooth. A lot of work went into looking at the right technology. It took 18 months, and 12 months of that were spent thinking of what we were doing."

BT implemented a single domain over the three offices, which it says allows staff to have an identical work experience in any Voca building or working from home. Staff can sit at any desk and access services and voicemails.

Dave Gilmore, service delivery manager for Voca Limited, added: "[It] releases our teams from the constraints of old ways of working and forms the foundation of all our future office and corporate applications. We have only just started to explore the pathway to innovation that this has opened for us."

Voca said it is also saving legacy systems costs, such as £18,000-worth of PABX maintenance every year. Gilmore added: "Apart from the increases in efficiency of our people, systems administration is simplified and de-skilled. This is enabling people to focus on tasks that add real value to the business."

The network has also been built to last - Seymour said that scalability was a key concern for the company. For example, last month the Association of Payment and Clearing Services announced that banks will have to speed up transaction times to one day.

"Infrastructure renewal is about Voca repositioning itself. From our perspective we are putting an infrastructure in place that can handle everything. Whenever the banks are ready, we need to be in the right technology place. When the industry moves from next day to same day, you haven't got the same time to mitigate any problems. All this is forward thinking."