Stagecoach is one of the UK’s best known public transport companies. It provides a mixture of bus, coach and tram services in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Hull, Sheffield, Oxford and Cambridge, as well as routes linking smaller locations. The company also runs megabus.com and jointly operates Scottish Citylink. Stagecoach is the UK’s biggest bus and coach operator, with 24,000 employees serving three million passengers every day across 100 major UK bus depots.
Stagecoach’s WAN was struggling to deliver on availability, bandwidth, security and integration. Like many companies, Stagecoach had put off a network upgrade because of the perceived amount of disruption it would cause. But the situation came to a head when the company committed itself to a cloud-first strategy, one that would enable more collaboration between sites and underpin the adoption of new SaaS solutions — including cloud-based bus and resource scheduling software. It was clear that the existing network could not provide long-term, reliable support for these plans — or the stability to migrate existing core systems to the cloud.
Stagecoach’s IT team were particularly concerned about the lack of monitoring capabilities afforded to them by their existing network — and how that might play out as the company’s cloud migration progressed. “As things stood, we had no way of knowing if or when a site was down, or if it was struggling for bandwidth,” commented Graham Moore, Group Chief Information Officer at Stagecoach. “This led to completely avoidable downtime. We had to rely on staff at the impacted site to perform manual checks and alert us if there was an issue.”
“Looking more broadly across the company, we selected Node4’s Secure SD-WAN for an upgrade project to connect all 240 of our sites to provide long-term, reliable support for the business’s new cloud-first strategy and to facilitate a stable migration of core systems to the cloud,” explained Graham. “We also wanted to improve our cybersecurity posture. We were particularly concerned about the lack of security and cyber threat monitoring capabilities afforded by our existing network — and how that might play out as the company’s cloud migration progressed. This meant centrally managed protocols and configurations were a top priority — something Node4’s Secure SD-WAN service can provide.”
With their cloud adoption, communications and security strategy in place, Graham and his team began looking for a suitable WAN replacement. Both had worked with Node4 before and were confident in the company’s ability to deliver IT network solutions to the transport and logistics sector. After completing their due diligence, they selected Node4’s Secure SD-WAN for the upgrade project.
Once the project is completed later this year, each Stagecoach site will have a next-generation, centrally managed firewall. This will provide enhanced North and South protection (in and out of the network) as well as East and West (inter-site) protection. So, if one location is compromised, Stagecoach’s security team can isolate it from the rest of the network and take the necessary remedial action.
Graham explains: “The ability to ramp up network security couldn’t come at a better time. Lockdown triggered a spike in cybercriminal activity, but Node4’s SD-WAN — in conjunction with our other security tools — has the power to face down those threats and provide greater protection at our network perimeters.”
Today, Stagecoach’s IT team is much more proactive. Gone are the days when they have no direct insight into network problems. Although there are many potential reasons for a location to drop its WAN connection, the most common one used to be a primary link failure. Stagecoach’s old WAN had some resiliency and would switch traffic to a secondary link.
Good in theory, but the secondary link could not support current traffic volumes — and it would either crash or run at an unacceptably slow speed. At that point, the site manager would be on the phone to Graham’s team, wanting the problem sorted — and fast!
“This happened at our Peterborough site just after we’d connected it to Node4’s SD-WAN,” recalls Graham. “But the scenario couldn’t have been more different. When the primary link failed — because of an issue over at BT — the system switched to its secondary link. We were able to centrally monitor and manage performance at the site to ensure there was no drop in connection speeds — which there weren’t. BT fixed the issue a few days later, and no-one at the location even noticed!”
Speed & Connectivity
Sites connected to Node4’s SD-WAN have seen an eight-fold bandwidth increase from 8Mbps to 60Mbps. This increase has come from fast fibre connectivity and the SD-WAN’s capability to utilise both primary and secondary links for network traffic when necessary. Performance increases were also possible because Stagecoach’s old WAN used to funnel all traffic through its HQ, so there was a giant bottleneck and a lot of latency. By contrast, Node4’s SD-WAN provides local internet breakouts, which delivers greater performance at each location.
Access To New Applications
Stagecoach was able to install Optibus on its new network too. Optibus is a SaaS-based scheduling solution that helps us manage routes, crew, and vehicle scheduling — allowing the company to deliver services at a lower cost and with a higher quality of service. As it’s a cloud-based application, Stagecoach could not use Optibus on its previous IT infrastructure.
“It’s a fundamental step-change brought about directly because of our migration to the cloud and our partnership with Node4,” remarks Graham. “In terms of direct business benefits, more efficient scheduling makes for more profitable operations, but it also means better use of resources, which is crucial for ensuring we make the best use of fuel and play our part in tackling the climate change challenge. We are also looking to implement Workday — a cloud-based Finance, HR, and planning system to support our 25,000 employees.”
Taking a broader look, Stagecoach’s IT team is much more proactive and can serve its internal customers much more effectively too. Stagecoach employees — such as depot managers — that rely on the company’s IT infrastructure to do their job can work much more effectively and efficiently. In quantifiable terms, since the start of 2021, they have not dropped beneath 99.87% availability, which is impressive given that the company has been manually testing failure of 30+ sites per month. On average, Stagecoach has less than 25 line outages a month, and seen on average a 10-fold bandwidth improvement across all locations.
“Node4’s SD-WAN has transformed the IT team’s reputation and supported the business in a new way of working. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the rollout of Microsoft Office 365 and Teams, improving collaboration across the WAN and between the 240 sites. But it doesn’t stop there,” comments Graham. “We have completed the first stage of our Salesforce implementation, and we are underway with implementing new engineering and asset management systems as well. Node4’s SD-WAN and cloud infrastructure enables all these applications, and it would not have been possible to run them on Stagecoach’s legacy IT infrastructure.”
Summing up his views on the project, Graham remarks: “Before this project, IT was regarded as an overhead and — in some instances – a hindrance. Now we’re known as enablers and a trusted partner. You can almost draw a line in the sand from the day that Node4’s SD-WAN fired up and see the change that occurred literally overnight. I know people throw the term ‘transformative’ around a lot when talking about IT projects, but this was 100% the case for us. There’s no other word to describe it.
Graham concludes: “Anecdotally, the feedback from the guys at each site is kind of bitter-sweet. Now the network is running at full speed, they’ve lost that time they had to go make a cup of tea and have a spot of breakfast while waiting for their machines to connect. They tell us everything works better, everything works quicker, and they’re much more efficient as a result. And, at the end of the day, that’s exactly what we want to hear. Their biggest worry these days is that they’ll have to make their round of toast in their own time!
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