Building a Global Network at Breakneck Speed | Article

Building a LadderIs there any way that you could build me a ladder to the moon? Oh and by the way, you have until the end of the year to do it.

The task for Compaq was not quite this demanding, but it was a stretch. Ciba Specialty Chemicals wanted a global network built in the amount of time it takes to play a hockey season – about nine months! And this network wasn’t going to be the everyday run-of-the-mill network either. The Wide Area Network (WAN) would be the largest frame relay network built from scratch and one of the largest global network migrations ever put together. It would connect four continents: Europe, Asia, North America (the United States) and South America, and the 23,000 employees that worked for Ciba.

“Compaq was the only company that told us they could it,” says Werner Grab, CIO of Ciba. “The other companies told us that we were totally crazy and they gave us a time frame of three years to possibly four or five years.”

In the summer of 1996 Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz merged and formed a company called Novartis, a leading life science company. The core businesses of Novartis are healthcare, agribusiness and nutrition. Executives decided that the specialty chemicals business that Novartis also owned would be spun-off into a new company called Ciba Specialty Chemicals. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Ciba is now a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of specialty chemicals that includes products like polymers, additives, pigment and textile dies.

Ciba began their operations in late 1996 on the Novartis IT network. But from the beginning it was decided that in time, Ciba would have its own IT infrastructure separate from Novartis, Grab says. The new network would connect 160 Ciba sites in 136 countries and a deadline of December 1997 was set for Ciba to be completely off of the Novartis network. Building the network from scratch would require a significant amount of expertise considering the number of sites that had to be connected in a standardized format, and it also had to be done fast. It was obvious to Ciba officials that an outsourcer had to be brought in to build the network. Compaq, the company that already supplied Ciba’s PCs, was brought in for the task.

“The speed in which they could do it and their know-how was impressive,” Grab says. “But we were also impressed with how early the management at Compaq was on board with the idea. They were really committed to being our partner.”

Putting the WAN to Work

The Ciba system has 13 Business Support Centers (BSCs) that sustain one to five countries in specific regions around the world. Two of these regions are divided between several countries that make up the Benelux and Nordic areas along with the United Kingdom. Compaq and Ciba decided to implement the network in these two Northern European regions first in late 1996 to assure the network designs were sufficient. The pilot proved to be successful, but the real work began in the first few months of 1997. Compaq then had to transform the IT infrastructure in the1l other regions and bridge the 13 regions together. Though the IT specialists ran across typical scale problems on their way to the December deadline, they completed the task on time.

Grab says that Ciba has seen many improvements in the way they do business now that the network is up. Before the implementation of the WAN, Grab says that he couldn’t have told someone what hardware or software was being used because there were so many programs in place and a multitude of operating equipment was being used. But all of the information technology (IT) at Ciba is now uniform. The routers are standardized on Cisco, Motorola modems are used throughout the network and Compaq servers provide the platform. “Now you can sit in another person’s office and you will feel as if you are sitting in your own,” he says, “because the environment is totally the same and it is really easy to link to your home server.”

Compaq also manages the WAN and has a contract with Ciba through the year 2002. Ciba has kept only four people onboard who help manage the network from the Ciba side. Ciba has kept these people in order to prevent total dependence on Compaq. But Compaq does most of the WAN management and it has left Ciba heavily dependent on Compaq to assure there is very little downtime.

“There hasn’t been a break in service yet,” Grab says. “We have built in a lot of security to prevent the network from going down, it won’t happen, it can’t happen, it is impossible.”

Working with a New Partner

In the past Ciba has managed the network on its own. This presents the biggest challenge for Ciba because they must now act with Compaq on their outsourcing decisions. Management on both sides must now be onboard when IT decisions are made.

“You have to accept that the know-how is on the other side. And you have to integrate the outsourcer into your business process because it isn’t just our business process anymore; it is the partner’s business process as well,” Grab says. “The WAN is so important to our business and that is why we need the best in the market and we have found a partner who fully supports us and who we can fully trust.”


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