Each year, our sister publication Computer Dealer News hosts the Channel Elite Awards to recognize IT Solution Provider for their innovation, leadership, and commitment for creating value for their customers. As Canada’s leading IT channel publication, CDN invited solution providers to submit their best work to nine different categories for 2013’s awards. Here, we present the case studies these award nominees put forward to us. Find out who the big winners are on Sept. 11 when CDN presents them at the CEA Awards Gala.

Learn more about CDN’s Channel Elite Awards 2013

Nominee: COMPANY NAME from CITY, PROVINCE

Mobile Solution description

The client is a leading provider of marine dry bulk cargo handling and delivery services, and owner of self-unloading vessels. Client employees that are shipboard live in some of the harshest of conditions known to humankind. Away from their families 6-9 months of the year, client staff has always desired a way to remain connected to their loved ones in a heavy work-unbalanced lifestyle. The client has tried to address the matter on several times over the years, but could never find a way to enhance the employee work-life balance without affecting the business operations. The client engaged with Infinite IT to see if there was a cost-effective way to provide enhanced data services to their staff. They had tried to provide internet services over satellite connectivity, but the most staff were able to do over that was sit in the common “mess-hall” area and text-email with their loved ones. The biggest key was to enable true Bring Your Own Device for the staff to use from anywhere on the ship, and enable any services the staff wanted to use without putting the client at risk for illegal activities.

What type of mobile architecture was deployed and how were these decisions made with security in mind?

Infinite IT designed a solution heavily based on Cisco technologies, which incorporated the features of several third party offerings including Microsoft, VMware and WebSense. The core infrastructure was based on Cisco Catalyst Networking with Aironet wireless access points and antennas. The access points are managed by a dedicated Cisco Wireless controller along with a Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA).on each ship. Infinite IT deployed several different security layers on each ship, all of which are controlled centrally at the client’s head office. (The specific details pertaining to the security measures and technologies put into place cannot be disclosed to third parties as per the non-disclosure agreement between Infinite IT and the client). Essentially, the client wanted to ensure that the system “self-policed” the staff restricting illegal content and activities without restricting the availability or functionality of the new mobile service.

How does this solution push the boundaries of a typical mobile computing solution and qualify as innovative?

This mobility solution was implemented in the most extreme environments possible. Some of the aspects to consider include: – Older ships that were lined with asbestos – Ships are bad for wireless to begin with due to the materials being used – the cargo on the ships changes from day to day, and in some cases hour to hour. Not being able to predict future cargo means the possibility of issues. The client wanted us to test the solution for as many different scenarios possible to ensure availability and uptime of the solution – Having absolutely no visibility into the future of mobility devices, the solution was to include a migration path for simple and modular upgrades when newer wireless technologies are released. – Being able to leverage the lowest cost access was also essential – so Infinite IT had to design a method for the solution to automatically switch between wireless providers on the fly that will deliver the lowest-cost with the highest speed possible. This includes having a US LTE Wireless Carrier and a Canadian LTE Wireless Carrier both being the endpoint connection points, with Satellite connectivity for the times the ships are out at sea. Being able to switch between the three main service providers based on lowest cost was also a challenge that Infinite IT had to overcome, as the client did not want to incur expensive roaming charges. – Wi-Fi everywhere was the main focus so staff could have privacy while using the Wi-Fi network. Previously all the staff were able to do was plain text-based email in the shared mess-hall area – without any attachments. They wanted staff to be able to use services such as Skype and Facebook to connect back to their families from the device of the user’s choice, from anywhere on the ship.

Why was this type of mobile solution the right choice for this business case?

For this project, traditional IT architecture was just not an option. most of the ships are lined with asbestos, and attempting to wire every room through the asbestos would not only take a ship out of production for 6-12 months and cost the client tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues, but it would mean that thousands of people would be out of work, and many clients would be dissatisfied. They had to deal with what they currently owned. There wasn’t really any other choice. Furthermore, most mobile devices no longer ship with a wired ethernet port. For example, Apple iPad/iPod/iPhone devices do not have an ethernet port. Nor do Samsung devices or most Windows based tablets. Since this solution is a true BYOD-based project, wireless was really the one and only way to achieve the objective.

How was the success of the system measured and what were the results?

The benefits to the client have been absolutely astonishing. By far, the biggest impact is to the people that work at the shipping firm. As can be imagined, there are a lot of human resource issues that a company like a large shipping firm would have, from staff claiming disability, to lodging complaints against the company for working in such a harsh environment and so forth. Ultimately, client staff were (for the most part) unhappy. This solution has connected the client’s staff to the real world again, having created a much better work environment, a 20% reduction in employee complaints so far and staff that actually seem happier at work. Financially speaking, Infinite IT has helped reduce lifecycle management costs by over 50%, and enabled each ship to decrease delivery timelines by approximately 4%, and decrease satellite communications by 50% while increasing throughput infinitely (from 64/64 kbps on satellite to a 50/10 mbps LTE connection – the difference has been earth-shattering). The business benefits to the client have been drastic. Most staff are saying they don’t know how they worked there Pre-Wi-Fi. By far, the biggest impact to the client has been the overall Employee Work-Life Balance to encourage better Employee Well Being.

How did the design and implementation of the solution break new ground for you as a solution provider?

Every ship had to have a comprehensive wireless survey to ensure we had 100% coverage in all areas of the ships, which meant many hours per ship was spent on advanced antenna theory to maximize antenna coverage and minimize access point requirements. Of the 20+ ships completed to date, no two ships have been exactly the same, and Infinite IT’s staff have had to react quickly to the need. Imagine being in the middle of Thunder Bay when it is negative 25 degrees Celsius, and the ship is frozen solid in the ice and the only way to get access to the ship is via a frozen port in the middle of nowhere. Or having to get on a ship at a canal-lock when the ship has only stopped moving for less than a couple of minutes going up or down a lock, tossing all the gear and equipment aboard so that you do not impact the ship’s time, only to get done 12 hours later and be brought back to shore on an inflatable dingy while the ship is in the middle of a Lake. This project truly pushed our engineers to the most extreme physical tolerance along with the high-pressure of having to instinctively know what to do next without the ability to quickly “same-day drop ship replacement equipment” when in a pinch. Quality Control and the Highest Skills available were the only things that Infinite IT’s staff could do to ensure that nothing went wrong. The solution also had to accommodate any device the staff wish to use, securely, efficiently, and without any complicated steps. Infinite IT had to ensure that all Wi-Fi devices were able to connect regardless of brand, operating system, Wi-Fi type or distance from an access point. “Everything and anything has to work from anywhere seamlessly and at all times” was the requirement. Extensive testing had to occur with every imaginable device to make sure that the devices all worked extremely easy for the least tech-savvy individuals imaginable. Infinite IT tested Apple devices (iPad, iPod, iTouch and iPhone from iOS 3 to 5), Windows Devices (Dell Latitude 10 Windows 8 Pro tablet and Lenovo ThinkPad W series with Windows 7), Android Devices (Samsung Galaxy S2 and Lenovo ThinkPad tablet) and even Blackberry devices (Torch, Bold, Playbook and the new Z10/Q10 BBOS10 series) to ensure everything worked everywhere. Testing was extensive yet proved to be successful every single time. The staff at Infinite IT literally worked in the most extreme and harshest conditions, and did so for months on end. Some evenings the staff were unable to return to a hotel room, so they would just sleep on the ships. For IT technicians, enduring this project was truly a test of skill and personality. Sales staff were actually sent out to a ship in order to grasp the severity of the project and appreciate the grand scale and impact we could have. During the Proof of Concept, the sales team visited the first ship we worked on with the Cisco Account Manager at the time and were able to interact with the ship’s captain and crew members to truly understand what the people using the solution will need. The client’s corporate objectives may not have aligned perfectly with what was actually desired, and even furthermore may have had a financial disconnect if this critical step was missed. The staff at Infinite IT were able to then work internally with a physical understanding of the environment along with first hand knowledge and experience of the real needs, which empowered Infinite IT to not only communicate a clearer objective to corp staff at head office, but gave us the knowledge to connect at a more intimate level with the crew members directly. Never before have our staff ever been subjected to such harsh working conditions.

How does the solution further your client’s green or environmentally friendly plans?

The client would routinely dock ships on a regular basis to allow for staff to have some personal time. Typically, the ships would dock once a month to let the staff off for 12-24 hours to connect with the outside world. Since project completion, this has been reduced to once per quarter. This means that ships do not have to sit idling in a port for 12-24 hours at a time, going out of their way to dock, which means less fuel is being wasted. This will have a huge impact on the environment over the long-run as it means less greenhouse gases are being burned and ships can do more with less. There are several other ways in which the solution is improving the client’s green efforts such as increasing their IT uptime, which means less wasted time ashore and greater time shipping product. (One of the largest inefficiencies is when a ship is taken off-line due to issues – it could take 12-36 hours to transfer cargo from one ship to another, at which point both ships are burning fuel. The results of the repair and extra efforts to accommodate the breakdown can also cost the shipping firm a lot of time and money as well. With the new Proactive approach, the client will be able to mitigate 2/3 of all downtime while enjoying a much more efficient and positive online experience

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