Outsourcing Helps Continental Airlines Upgrade IT for Remote Workers | Article

airline pilot's hatSometimes the best outsourcing relationships begin with employee suggestions. Continental Airlines Inc. found that out when it began to upgrade and consolidate telecom access technology for its remote workers not long ago.

Fifteen hundred of the Houston, Texas-based carrier’s employees are considered “road warriors,” working in 271 cities in 52 countries. To manage remote access costs and network security, the IT department gives them dial-up software preprogrammed with local dial-in numbers.

But this remote-connectivity system was cobbled together with patchwork software–sometimes also involving Virtual Privacy Network (VPN) clients to one domestic and one international telecom service. This approach became more complicated and obtuse as time unfolded. It was harder for Continental, America’s fifth largest airline, to implement improved security or the faster connectivity that Continental’s road warriors required.

Outsourcing Saves $75,000 a Month

Today, however, its outsourcing engagement is now saving at least $75,000 a month in remote connectivity costs and offering better security.

“There were several different steps that the user had to do to connect, and you also had to know which one to use when and where,” says Stacey Thomas, Senior Manager of Telecommunications at Continental. She also notes that users found the VPN interface became more confusing as one improvement was stacked onto previous ones.

Continental’s less-than-ideal remote access system was costing it about $200,000 per month, and climbing, due to employees’ growing Internet use.

The airline “needed a single, one-click solution for the user, regardless of where they were. We also needed better usage monitoring because I didn’t know precisely who was using the service. There was no tracking or billing in the software,” she recalls.

About that time, employees of Continental’s public Web site, Continental.com, referred a telecom provider they’d been in discussions with, Fiberlink Communications Corp., to Thomas’ telecommunications department.

After evaluating Fiberlink, she went to her two then-current telecom providers and asked if they could match the improved functionality or connectivity footprint. Neither could, so in late 2003 she began migrating Continental to Fiberlink’s software and dial-up network.

More Remote Workers = Greater Need For Remote Access

Continental isn’t alone in mobilizing its workers, according to Eric Paulack, a Gartner analyst who says a recent survey of chief information officers revealed that enabling mobile workers was among their top three issues.

“By 2008,” Paulak says, “more than half of all professionals in the US will work away from the office as much as at it; IT departments will need to deal with between 60-80 million road warrior employees.” He cites that growth as fueling greater demand for remote access and policy management, as well as integration with voice and sales-automation tools.

Continental’s Taylor adds that Fiberlink’s aggregated solutions appeal to her needs as they work with their provider in building in other companies’ features and partner with other firms to gain needed connectivity. She cites her previous dial-up providers in quantifying the difference. “If they didn’t have a presence in a country, I was stuck.”

Today, any Continental employee who needs remote access uses Fiberlink. Before they can connect to Continental’s network remotely, Fiberlink ensures the PC’s antivirus software is running and up to date, and it disables any instant messaging, since Continental’s security policy prohibits it — primarily for protection against viruses, malware, and Trojan programs that can enter through instant messaging from an infected computer that’s not on the network.

“Also,” says Skip Taylor, Product Marketing Vice President for Fiberlink, “if a Continental remote worker happens to turn off his or her firewall, our access client software will automatically turn it back on.”

In time, according to Dave Kosiur, a Senior Analyst with the Burton Group, every SSL VPN provider will have to include security as part of its offering. “Most companies are likely to look for mobile access partners with broad experience in both telecom and security markets,” he says.

Smooth Outsourcing Engagement Leads to Industry Recognition

Thomas appreciates that the outsourced Fiberlink rollout was straightforward and easy to accomplish internally; easier than finding all of her mobile users to advise them of the change, in fact. “We had to hold some users’ hands in order to get them going. But once we overcame that hurdle, things went pretty smoothly,” she says.

And the outsourced engagement is paying significant dividends by reducing Continental’s remote-connectivity costs from one-half to two-thirds. Much of it came simply through Fiberlink’s greater collection of more local access numbers in various cities and countries than Continental’s previous providers, according to Thomas. “So the user is able to connect in more locations with a local phone call versus a toll-free phone call. That’s a huge cost savings.”

This successful partnership was underscored in late 2005 when the Fiberlink/Continental engagement received recognition as the winner of the 2005 Mobile Enterprise Alliance (MEA) Mobile ImpactTM Award for having the Best Mobile Security. Cited as a major factor in the award by MEA Managing Director Daniel Taylor is Fiberlink software’s ability to strike the delicate balance between maximum security and the broadest portfolio of connectivity options.

“We were looking for a successful and innovative deployment of a solution that balances technology investments with business objectives,” he said. “And Continental Airlines illustrates how this solution made working on the road easier for its employees and also made good business sense.”

Hosted remote-access services can be a good option for businesses with a large mobile workforce, Paulak says. “A company that wants to ensure cost control, security management, and needs access on top of that should seriously consider options such as these.”

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • With as many as 60 million mobile workers by the end of 2008, the onus is on employers to make remote network access both easy and secure. Outsourcing providers like Fiberlink play a large part in enabling such success.
  • Continental Airlines’ outsourcing engagement to Fiberlink not only produced better remote access, but lowered those monthly costs by up to half of what was at least a $200,000 per-month expenditure.
  • Many analysts cite the advantages of outsourcing remote network management (and security) as an ideal way to empower remote workers’ easier (and secure) access.

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