Putting an IT continuity plan to the test
In conversation with MDS about adapting to global disruption and rethinking productivity
Few businesses were prepared for the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While many hit the panic button and raced to onboard creative new solutions to generate revenue and keep employees productive, there were a few businesses that found themselves already in the driver’s seat.
“The way we planned for [the office lockdown] was to work backward from the hypothetical scenario of not having a physical building and asked: how do we continue so our people have jobs and the business keeps going?”, explains Joe Hajjar, Vice President of Business Development at MDS.
Headquartered in Ottawa, MDS is one of the largest providers of turnkey testing solutions for gas turbine engines, supporting both the aviation and power generation sectors. As you might expect, avoiding disaster is at the core of their business.
MDS works directly with engine manufacturers to help bring their products safely to market through testing. “If you can imagine, the engine manufacturers are testing these engines to their limits and this also means understanding how they fail,” says Joe. “We build the capability to run aircraft engines that are not yet on wings, have new technology, and in some instances are larger and more powerful than anything in the market today. Our job goes beyond normal operating considerations and requires us to design for failure and protect people and equipment from catastrophic outcomes, and this means sustaining forces in the millions of pounds,” explains Joe.
But safety at MDS took on a whole new meaning when the world—and the economy—went into lockdown to protect employees and curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The global disruption had an immediate impact on MDS when two projects were suddenly cancelled due to the lockdown.“Our strong and well-established customer relationships enabled productive crisis-management sessions to keep projects progressing safely, and in compliance with government regulations. Furthermore, our power generation customers continued to invest as these sectors were considered essential,” says Joe.
With projects progressing and new essential projects on their doorstep, MDS had a new challenge to face: how to continue being productive without a physical office. “We were used to being around a whiteboard, being in a conference room together,” says Joe. “So, we were concerned about if we would be able to work online and carry on remotely.”
Joe Hajjar, Vice President of Business Development at MDS.
Fortunately for MDS and their clients, David Lawton, IT Manager, had recently completed a multi-phased IT continuity plan that included new productivity tools, a business phone system and more reliable internet connectivity. These steps are allowing their 300 employees, both locally and on international job sites, to continue to work despite not being able to go into the office.
One component of their plan was the integration of Microsoft Teams before the lockdown began. “Before the pandemic, we sometimes had 70 to 80 people out of the building in various countries,” says David. “So, we did have some familiarity with how people would be able to work out of the building.”
When the time came for an office-wide lockdown, the transition behind the scenes at MDS was virtually unnoticeable to their customers thanks to a crucial switch from an aging in-house business phone solution to Rogers UnisonTM. “We had an in-house system, a PBX that was hitting its limits, so we had to make a choice,” says David. “What really intrigued us about Unison was that it tied into our corporate cell phones, which about half of our staff were already using.”
Leveraging features of Rogers Unison such as Auto Attendant, MDS was able to remain responsive to their clients even with everyone working from home. “Because the Unison system is cloud-based, even our receptionist is working from home, which we wouldn’t be able to do if we had an old-school PBX phone system. So, from the outside, it’s business as usual,” says David.
The implementation of Rogers Unison was another concern for David. “During any implementation, you're always going to run into little problems, and you don't want to have to go through a large team to try to get solutions,” says David. “We had one technician from Rogers who was our lead. He knew our history and he worked with us to work out any issues.”
Another key aspect of the continuity plan for MDS was a reliable internet connection with the capacity to keep their business moving forward. “Part of our strategy was to move applications into the cloud: our phone system, our email system—we have SharePoint, so a lot of our IT services are in the cloud,” explains David. “If we were going to move stuff [into the cloud] the point of failure would be the internet line, so you can’t have that go down.” The test was proven successful when roughly 300 MDS employees were able to go home and get online successfully.
To accomplish this level of reliability, a fibre internet connection was needed because of the redundancy and speed it offers. Unfortunately, MDS’s office park didn’t have fibre connectivity. That's where Rogers for Business played another key role. “Rogers, at their cost, came and connected in fibre to our building,” recalls David. “We couldn’t move to a cloud-based email server if we couldn't get a fast internet connection. And Rogers was at the time one of the only providers that was going to get it to us at a reasonable cost level.”
Even though MDS hosts most of their daily operations in the cloud, they maintain some services on their premises. “There’s a second Rogers line that goes to a second data centre, that goes to a different city,” explains David. “So not only are we having Rogers [connect] our business in Ottawa, it goes to our data centres in Montreal and Toronto.” Those secondary locations are where MDS stores critical business files, code and records, and they rely on Rogers for Business to provide reliable and secure connectivity.
David Lawton, IT Manager at MDS
The collaboration capabilities of Microsoft Teams, the seamlessness of Rogers Unison, and the reliability of Rogers for Business Dedicated Internet help enable MDS to meet the needs of their employees and their clients without a physical office. With a proven IT continuity plan in place, David and his team can focus on the future of MDS and rely on the measures they’ve taken to keep the business moving forward.
Across every industry, businesses will be rethinking productivity and retooling what that means for the future. When asked about what impact this new way of working has had on the MDS corporate culture, Joe is optimistic. “We're not going back to the way it was,” he says. “We're still trying to understand and define what our new normal is going to be, but it feels like 50% capacity in the office and 50% remote. I think the culture's actually improving. People want a better work-life balance and more flexibility, and the learning curve for the new tools we have has been really fast.”
What is clear for David and Joe is that the continued success of MDS is about rethinking productivity. “At the end of the day, the old-school way of productivity was a bum in the seat in the office,” says David. “I think the people that can react and adapt quickly in this new normal will be the ones that are going to be successful.”