The Timberland Company is a leading manufacturer and retailer of environmentally-conscious clothing and footwear based in Stratham, NH, with a global presence and operations in North and South America, Europe and Asia. The company sought to upgrade its voice, data and audio-conferencing support for 5,500 employees spread out across some 25 offices and nine manufacturing sites—all while lowering its total telecom expenditures.
Communications infrastructure has never been more important to a company than today. Whether it’s launching a new product, working with suppliers, setting up new distribution channels or managing far-flung operations, the voice, data and conferencing infrastructure plays a paramount role. The technical complexity of these networks is matched only by the difficulty large-scale organizations have in negotiating the optimal service at the most economical cost. Issues such as bandwidth allocation at different sites can be challenging enough without having to come up with a fair metric for comparing local, long-distance and international calling rates for hundreds of fixed and mobile phone lines in use around the world.
The Timberland Company recently faced just this situation, exacerbated by the need to conduct a wholesale review and contract bid process in just three months. Paul Cappucci, director of network architecture, and Frank Agri, senior network engineer were assigned the task of upgrading the company’s voice, data and audio-conferencing capabilities serving more than 5,000 employees spread out over 25 offices and nine manufacturing sites in North and South America, Europe and Asia.
Beyond determining optimum bandwidth and calling plans, a major objective was to determine the right number of vendors with which to work. While the firm was under contract with the incumbent vendor to provide all voice and data services, there was a strong case for going with best-of-breed suppliers on different continents to best serve Timberland’s needs at the lowest possible cost when this contract ended.
Not only were both aware of the magnitude of the process and the brevity of the time frame, they had to do their “normal” jobs as well. “We run a fairly lean shop, so we don’t have people focused specifically on what the telecom providers were proposing to us,” Agri confides. “I’m aware of the complexity involved with this type of thing. There’s a ton of detail involved in understanding all the components of a bid.”
Such a decision carries significant risk for any organization. Clearly, the ability to save money is always a major attraction. On the other hand, quality is an overriding concern. Migrating to a new service provider, and suffering disruption of operations as a consequence, could jeopardize revenue-generating segments of the business. As Agri points out, “The major risk for us in this was two-fold: First, that we would put the business at risk by choosing the wrong service; and second, to make sure we got the best possible deal for Timberland.”
To minimize those risks, Cappucci and Agri sought out a consultant with the relevant expertise, one of which was SD-WAN-Experts, based in Newton, Massachusetts. MPLS—which stands for Multi-Protocol Label Switching—refers to the ability to deploy extremely efficient VPNs and other WAN services over IP networks in a secure and cost-effective manner. In addition to consulting over how to build/deploy such networks, SD-WAN-Experts helps its clients procure and implement the infrastructure from telecom providers.
The Timberland execs selected SD-WAN-Experts based on two criteria: expertise and past performance. Agri says that Principal Steve Garson’s mastery of both the technical and business aspects was key. “We’ve been very satisfied with his knowledge of telecom vendors and their operations and business models,” he points out. “He’s also proven very capable on the technology side and understanding how the systems operate. Steve can work on both sides of the business.”
As Agri recalls, Garson demonstrated he could help Timberland make sense of this Byzantine field. “Steve’s knowledge and experience in the field was a significant factor,” Agri recalls. “He put me at ease with his ability to answer questions about the services and providers.”
More than that, SD-WAN-Experts had a track record delivering better service, lower cost or both, for a number of clients. “We did our due diligence,” affirms Agri. “We validated his experience with a number of references, including the level of cost savings he was able to achieve for those clients.”
In the end, SD-WAN-Experts was hired to manage the RFP process and deliver to Timberland two finalists from which the company would select. It also reviewed Timberland’s cell phone service plans for more than 450 wireless devices used around the globe. The RFP included some eight vendors—some global, some Asian, some European—all highly motivated to secure Timberland’s business.
Making the right call depends on being able to fairly compare the proposed offerings. For the telecom carriers, the ability to preserve margins depends on highly elaborate service plans. One of the key services provided by SD-WAN-Experts was an exhaustive analysis that “filtered” all the proposals in such a manner as to make the bid process as transparent as possible.
Adding to Timberland’s challenges is that it wasn’t simply a matter of driving down costs, but one of determining where and how to increase bandwidth/quality of service. For example, Timberland sought to increase its bandwidth in major offices by between 80% and 100%. In addition, there had to be guarantees that Timberland would not risk a loss in terms of quality of service. Toward that end, SD-WAN-Experts factored in negotiated service level agreement (SLA) components into the decision process.
Not surprisingly, an RFP process on this scale is a multi-stage deal that required SD-WAN-Experts to manage multiple bid rounds. All eight vendors vying for the contract submitted numerous revisions to their bids. Complicating the matter still further, variations in the service plans required detailed analysis to resolve which plan provided the best value. SD-WAN-Experts’ understanding of the details relating to pricing for domestic and international calling plans, for both land lines and mobile phones, was crucial.
In approximately 10 weeks, SD-WAN-Experts provided Timberland with a massive spreadsheet comparing the vendors’ proposals and variations in a manner that enabled Cappucci and Agri to make a well-informed decision in selecting the two finalists.
Not only did the proposed rates come in at a lower than anticipated cost, but Timberland was able to get these and still consider working with a single vendor for the entire globe. “We were initially thinking of having two carriers, with one for Asia and another for the rest of the world,” notes Cappucci. “When the proposals came in, it changed our thinking.”
While the global economy contributed to a favorable bidding environment, SD-WAN-Experts leveraged this to the max for Timberland. “We were able to create serious competition [among the vendors] by using SD-WAN-Experts,” Agri remarks.
In the end, Timberland selected the incumbent and has signed the incumbent carrier to a very attractive global services agreement for three years. Not only will Timberland reduce its total telecom costs by 30% as compared with its prior contract, it is increasing bandwidth at 10 major offices by between 80% or more.
Achieving such significant improvements was a major coup; executing an RFP process from start to finish in three short months was even more impressive, as it would most likely have required Timberland to expend two or three additional months of effort to conclude the RFP process on its own.
Working within tight time frames is not unusual for SD-WAN-Experts. Thus the ability to quickly answer questions and clarify issues is central to the way it conducts business. “Steve saved us substantial time when we had our backs against the wall,” Agri recalls. “He was picking up the phone on the first or second ring or responding within the hour. That meant we were able to cover issues in hours instead of days and dramatically reduce the time we needed to get to a final decision.”