Founded in 1897, RAC now has over seven million members in the UK. Famous for its traditional roadside assistance in the event of a breakdown, RAC also provides a range of services including driver tuition through driver training experts BSM, car financing, insurance, automotive glass and traffic and travel information.
RACs breakdown network has evolved to become a mission-critical component of the company's business. All RAC membership plans guarantee roadside assistance anywhere in the UK, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
RAC has both a corporate wide area network (WAN), and a separate, dedicated breakdown WAN. Previously RAC monitored the networks in-house but the challenges of keeping network monitoring tools up to date whilst ensuring staff were adequately trained was expensive, time consuming and inefficient. RAC therefore decided in 2000 to look into outsourcing the proactive monitoring of networks to a third party.
The corporate WAN currently serves over 3,000 RAC employees, linking its six principal sites across the UK. It provides access for all users to applications ranging from simple file and print to more advanced applications including web access, central database access, and Lotus Notes and bespoke business applications.
The dedicated breakdown WAN is a protected network which is isolated from the corporate WAN, due to the mission-critical nature of the breakdown service. The breakdown network has almost 1,000 contact centre agents who are located across three separate call centres, and deal with up to 15,000 roadside assistance calls per day. The breakdown assistance centres use a bespoke application called i/CAD, which is used to manage all incidents, including calls for assistance, the automated dispatching and management of patrols, and management of contractor resources. Ongoing, proactive network performance monitoring is crucial, given that any downtime to the network would prevent RACs roadside assistance service from functioning, and would have huge ramifications for the company and its members.
Network for BSM offices
RACs driver training arm BSM, the UKs largest driving school, has 109 high street centres, 10 instructor training centres and more than 3,000 driving instructors across the UK. There are between 300-400 network operators dealing with 14,000-18,000 calls each day across the BSM network. A resilient data network is critical to the effective management of this business.
Dimension Data Answer
When RAC looked for a partner to provide network monitoring services it turned to Dimension Data, with whom it had worked since 1995. RAC was an early adopter of Dimension Datas core maintenance and support service, Uptime, and has worked with Dimension Data in the design and roll out of RAC networks over the years as the company has expanded its offerings.
The existing and ongoing IT maintenance service provided by Dimension Data includes total support, troubleshooting and resolution service for RACs mission-critical breakdown network. Dimension Data has a four-hour break and fix service level agreement (SLA) with RAC. This helps RAC to manage its entire IT systems environment 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Another important part of the project was Dimension Datas capability to provide the support services that ensured all users had access to the network 24 hours a day. Dimension Datas network management service (Insite) provides RAC with ongoing proactive online monitoring of all network routers to check their connectivity with the WAN. The Insite solution is designed to keep networks functioning at maximum efficiency.
RAC Head of Telecoms Mark Timms comments: "We needed a cost-effective way to manage our network and the best solution for us was Insite. RACs focus is on its seven million members, and through the Insite service Dimension Data can help ensure there is no system fault that may prevent the guarantee of rapid roadside assistance. We have certainly found Insite to be particularly useful in picking up background problems, such as back-up devices going offline, which if undetected, could affect the resilience of our network.
Any fault on RAC network or loss of connectivity triggers an alarm to the Dimension Data network operations Insite team. If a problem cannot be resolved remotely then an engineer will be sent out to fix the problem. Any scheduled maintenance to the WAN is accounted for through integrated change and event management to ensure that any expected disruptions to the network are handled appropriately. Auto-correlation of events keeps alarm notifications to a minimum.
As part of Dimension Datas Insite service, RAC also has its own dedicated interactive service portal. The portal not only gives a continuous real-time view of how efficiently the WAN is being managed by Dimension Data but also delivers an effective audit trail of the SLAs.
Roll-out of BSM network
Dimension Data also rolled out a replacement network for BSM. All 300-400 users are now connected to IBM AS/400 servers on a network that was previously based on ISDN kilostreams but now uses ADSL. Unlike dialup phone services, ADSL provides continuously available, "always on" connection.
Ensuring a failsafe 24 hours a day breakdown network was the principal goal from the start of the project for RAC. Working with Dimension Data means that RAC now has a high performance breakdown network that is centrally managed and proactively monitored to guarantee against downtime. Any loss of connectivity is resolved very quickly and links are re-established almost immediately - before the members are even aware that a problem existed.
RACs Mark Timms comments: The main reason for continuing to run our corporate WAN separately from the dedicated breakdown WAN is the need to isolate breakdown information from the data-rich applications that frequently come into the corporate WAN. The continuous uptime of the breakdown network is crucial to our business. It would be disastrous if the breakdown network was not available for the logging of calls and dispatching of patrols. The proactive network monitoring provided by Dimension Data is a critical part of ensuring RAC roadside recovery services can operate.
RAC also uses Dimension Datas Consultancy service, which is provided as part of Level 3 of the Insite solution. This service generates accurate reports and statistics for proactive management and also allows for real-time, online access to information on the current status of communication services. This enables RAC to see where extra network resilience is required and to foresee any potential problems that may occur on the network.
Outsourcing the management of third party Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to Dimension Data has been another great benefit to RAC, bringing peace of mind and allowing the IT team to focus on other initiatives.
The new BSM network that was rolled out by Dimension Data not only offers users increased flexibility, but the switch from dial-up ISDN kilostream to ADSL has saved RAC in excess of 300,000 annually on reduced telco costs. On this network, BSM administrators and users can connect to AS/400 servers to book lessons, and can also access emails and messages from BSM.