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Sunoco streamlines help desk operations, PC environment

Outsourcing key to PC standardization

By , Network World
October 18, 2007 03:53 PM ET

Network World - Supporting 7,000 PCs at 130 sites is never easy, but the job becomes a huge headache when it seems like each one is running a different operating system and set of applications.

That’s essentially the situation recently faced by Sunoco’s IT department. The 7,000 PCs were using 40 PC models and images, 35 combinations of core desktop software and hardware, and literally thousands of applications.

“Name anybody who ever manufactured a computer and we probably had some of those out there,” Mark Quarles, manager of infrastructure services for Sunoco, said during a presentation at the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla.  

Business units were refreshing systems at different rates, buying different programs, and using different versions of operating systems and office suites.

“We wanted one management environment that would be locked down,” Quarles said. “We didn’t have a good way to put security patches out because we didn’t have a robust distribution system, and even if we did have one the environment was so diverse we couldn’t plan on” getting everything out to the right people.

That was two years ago. Today, essentially 100% of Sunoco machines are using the same Windows XP image and the same set of applications, according to Quarles. About 85% of machines are locked down, meaning a typical user can run programs but not install or change anything. For the first time in years, Sunoco’s IT team has time to take a breath and think about bigger-picture issues.

“We started to free up Sunoco resources to be able to study and plan things,” Quarles said. “We weren’t running around trying to fix weird little problems. We actually had the time to sit down and think a little bit. And that ended up being useful to us.”

For Sunoco, which has its headquarters in Philadelphia, outsourcing was the key to standardizing its PC suites. “As with many large corporations, some business units were autonomous and resistant to change. Sunoco did not have all the skills and resources to accomplish the change internally,” states a Gartner report detailing the Sunoco project.

Sunoco turned to CompuCom Systems, an IT outsourcing company, to handle its help desk and PC support services. CompuCom planned and executed the project and designed system capabilities, while Sunoco retained overall control over the project’s strategy and design.

Sunoco also handled internal communications, which ended up being a challenge when it came to convincing business units to agree to a change. Sunoco operates five business lines -- refining and supply, retail marketing, logistics, coke (the kind used to produce blast furnace steel) and chemicals.

Knowing that “no plan survives contact with the enemy,” Quarles said Sunoco IT approached the upgrades one business unit at a time and one building at a time. “We felt by doing it this way we could learn incrementally throughout the process … so each one would be smoother and less painful both for the people we’re impacting and ourselves,” he said.

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