Keeping the Belgian flag flying
Keeping the Belgian flag flying
Anne Morris travels to India to find out how Orange Business Services helps the Belgium Federal Public Service of Foreign Affairs stay connected worldwide.
Consider the day-to-day communication requirements of your average foreign embassy - even those representing a country as small as Belgium. The daily needs of nationals living abroad plus the requirements of foreigners wishing to enter the country make it clear that a secure, continuous flow of information is of paramount importance.
"Business continuity is extremely important for foreign affairs," Jorg Leenaards, ICT Director, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Embassy of Belgium told Real Times. "We have 400,000 Belgian nationals living abroad, we process 350,000 visa applications every year, and we deliver 750,000 documents every year."
Belgium has some sort of governmental presence in 136 countries globally and employs a total of 3,500 staff - 1,500 of which are based in Belgium - in the field of foreign affairs. It gradually became apparent about three years ago that its wide area network was no longer able to cope with the every-day demands of embassies abroad.
The Belgium Federal Public Service of Foreign Affairs, therefore, put out a tender for its Hermes II WAN project, and bids for the €50 million contract were submitted by Orange Business Services, BT Global Services, Verizon and Deutsche Telekom's T-Systems.
Orange Business Service won the competitive tender and was contracted for a total of seven years to provide network services for 100 countries. These comprise fully redundant WAN and LAN services, ranging from firewalls, routers, WAN optimization and encryption devices. The contract included the requirement to complete the roll out within around six months after signing: Leenaards said the roll out started in December 2009 and was completed by July 2010.
Orange initially won the bid for a number of reasons apart from price, which, however, is critical for an ICT department with a budget of just €20 million a year. It had the required global presence; was able to meet all governmental and inter-governmental compliance requirements; could maintain services to the embassies during the transition; and provided both satellite and terrestrial network connectivity and integrated, value-added solutions on top.
As the roll out progressed, Leenaards found that his confidence in the company's ability to deliver had not been misplaced: Orange Business Services completed the roll out in six months, and successfully dealt with a number of "crisis" situations - such as the need to deploy satellite links ahead of terrestrial links in a reversal of the initial requirement.
Leenaards said that Orange was both flexible and creative in finding solutions to any problems that arose. "We are now two years into the contract," added Leenaards. "We have a very high network uptime of 99.99%" - which exceeds the original minimum requirement for 99.95%.
He is also pleased with the ability of Orange to manage crises: "We had no outage in Japan," he commented, and during the Cairo riots it was not obvious that customer support had been switched from the Major Service Center in Egypt to the MSC in Gurgaon, India. Leenaards' next priorities include the implementation of a managed solution for IP telephony and resolving how to allow the popular "bring your own device" trend for mobile devices while also managing and controlling it.