Deliver a Premium Employee Experience with Unified Collaboration
Even the most dominant companies in the world can be brought to their knees without a strong collaboration solution. Construction company Aertssen has been an important player in Belgian infrastructure works for more than 60 years, and recently, we transformed our outdated model to one that prioritizes global communication with ease.
Over time, Aertssen has built up expertise in excavation, demolition works, sewerage and road construction, hydraulic engineering, and environmental projects. We are proud of our extensive, state-of-the-art machinery, including more than 1,000 lorries, bulldozers, flatbeds, dumpers, and a modern crane fleet for 25 to 700 tons. It’s not just equipment, either—our trained operators are the authority in their fields and their skill is unmatched across the country.
Aertssen’s dominance is also displayed in our size and reach. We’re a large company based in Antwerp, Belgium, with more than 1,500 employees across Benelux, Africa, and the Middle East. With such a large footprint, we had to develop ways to facilitate communication across countries and time zones.
We Needed a Unified, Structural Approach to ICT
I became CIO at Aertssen in December 2019, having extensive IT experience from more than two decades at technology companies like Atos and IMEC. Aertssen was a fast-growing company with 30 different offices in various parts of the world, so they wanted to streamline their ICT approach and build up their ICT environment and infrastructure accordingly. To do this, I worked closely with Vincent Cornelissens, the Global Operations Manager for IT, who oversees ICT for the whole group worldwide from our Dubai office.
Before Vincent joined the company, there was no structural ICT organization in our Middle East operations. Occasionally, new equipment and technicians would be dispatched to the region on a for-hire basis to install the equipment. Each project was treated as a stand-alone situation. This resulted in an ad hoc, rudimentary ICT approach, which extended to the company’s communication tools.
Skype for Business was predominantly used, but even that was only rooted in the Middle East. There was no official collaboration solution in place throughout the organization. When it was announced that Skype for Business was at its end of life and would become Microsoft Teams, Aertssen saw an opportunity: Now was our chance to choose a unified collaboration solution.
The Searched for a High Standard of Quality of Service
I joined the company at this moment, when Aertssen was evaluating MS Teams and Webex. I had successfully onboarded Webex Meetings at another company, and I’d had a very positive experience with them. From a user standpoint, the Meetings was known for its stability, user-friendly interface, and high-quality connection. But there was another big driver behind the decision to move forward with Webex.
By the time I joined the company, Aertssen already had more than 20 years of history with Cisco, including a large installation of Cisco telephony. In different locations across the world, we used a desk phones over VPN connected to our HQ in Antwerp. So everyone had these desk phones, but we didn’t have a good softphone solution, and that was holding us back in our effort to improve our overall collaboration experience.
Aertssen had recently acquired another crane rental company, and as part of that acquisition process we absorbed their ICT solutions, including Cisco Jabber. Some parts of the company had begun to use Jabber, so the idea was to replace Jabber with Meetings and Unified Communications Manager. This would let people dial in internally and externally, and we could eliminate our desk phones altogether.
Another consideration was the superior sound and image quality of Meetings. Of course it’s important that every employee enjoys using the solution. Clear image quality is especially important, though, when we have architects all over the world discussing details such as schematics. A small misunderstanding can create a large headache, so clarity in conversation is a must.
My own relationship with Cisco goes back more than 20 years, and my experience with them has always been of quality and good service. When you go with a big vendor like Cisco, you naturally expect them to have their ducks in a row. Security in particular is a top priority for Aertssen. Not only does Cisco meet our existing security expectations, but we also see how they constantly increase their security standards, such as with frequent encryption updates.
For these reasons, we chose to move forward with Webex. And, due to the financial flexibility provided, we financed this through Cisco Capital.
The Value of Having an Expert Partner
We have a lot of internal IT knowledge at Aertssen. We can do all sorts of advanced configurations, replications, and setups, and we try to do as much in-house as possible, but hybrid telephony is niche and we also wanted to scale this solution. Without an expert partner to help establish a plan and execute the rollout, implementing hybrid telephony can be a painful, bumpy road.
There are a lot of moving parts to consider, which is why we leaned on a Cisco Communication–certified partner to draw upon as a subject matter expert: someone with deep knowledge of the technical details of hybrid telephony systems. We presented our vision and he provided options of how we could best implement a solution to achieve our goals.
We began the rollout of Webex products in 2018, but several things happened along the way. In addition to ongoing work from the acquisition, we also had to interrupt deployment while we moved to a new head office. Without those complications, it only would have taken us a few months to ramp it up to end users. After completing the rollout, we began to test different features as an internal pilot.
When a Pandemic Disrupts Your Plans, Stability and Ease of Use Become Essential
We completed our Webex implementation in March of 2020, just as COVID-19 struck. Our entire training schedule went out the window overnight. Suddenly, everyone had to work from home so they had to start using Meetings on their own. Fortunately, it is straightforward, meaning anyone can start using it without extensive training.
We still wanted to provide some support for our new system, so instead of our original training plan, we organized online training that people could schedule themselves. We also identified key users and approached them directly to help them instruct their own teams.
When everyone in the world was making the same transition to working from home, the stability of Webex’s software and its ease of use facilitated a smooth transition. The proof of the pudding is in the eating: Webex enabled up to 600 employees to work from home nearly overnight. I’m very proud of the team for how they positively managed such a sudden migration. There were no system hiccups or meetings lost and within a few weeks, everyone was up to speed.
Our employees in the Middle East were already used to working remotely, and they led the way in terms of exploring features within Webex apart from video conferencing. Plenty of platforms offer video calling, but Webex differentiates itself with its robust chat functionality via Webex Messaging, that allows colleagues to speak with each other quickly and easily.
We’re Ready for a Hybrid Workplace
Today, we have between 1,500 and 1,800 Webex users at Aertssen. The adoption rate is so high that we had to increase our budget to accommodate the number of concurrent meetings on the platform. We have also set up full-blown Webex Boards in our office meeting rooms to allow for hybrid work. We’re equipped with 14 boards ranging from 55”–85”, four of the Webex Desk Pros and DX80s, and one Webex Room Kit. What’s great about this hardware is it’s agnostic, meaning if a client or supplier wants to call in on Zoom or MS Teams, we can accommodate every communication tool seamlessly.
The pandemic has presented an opportunity for many companies to offer employees a remote work option going forward. Even before the pandemic, though, Aertssen decided to allow a hybrid work week: they spend two days working from home, and three days at the office. That won’t change when we return to the office, but our Webex hardware will support our hybrid environment even better.
The construction industry is not known for being the most enthusiastic of technology adopters, but Webex has enabled us to make the leap from telephone to smartphone to an entirely digital platform. The collaboration experience is now more elegant and fluid, allowing us to work with teams spanning the globe. With Webex, Aertssen enjoys a premium experience that allows us to communicate faster, better, and more efficiently.