Leveraging an Enterprise Agreement to Maximise Growth—Even During a Pandemic


You don’t know what you don’t know. I never thought an enterprise agreement (EA) would be a good fit for my organisation until the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The need for new licenses and new tools—fast—showed me just how important EAs are for an organisation’s technology preparedness.

Being prepared with the right technology is integral to our success. Webhelp is a Business Process Outsourcer (BPO) that handles the customer experience side of our clients’ business. We can look after everything from outsourced contact centres to sales or technical support. We have a varied portfolio in several market verticals, including but not limited to retail, financial services, travel, and telecommunications.  

We are a people-first business. Our unique selling proposition is the quality of the human interaction we achieve while operating as agents of our clients. When someone calls to renew their mobile phone package with their service provider, they don’t know that we are taking care of them on the provider’s behalf. We aim to improve that client’s quality standards, both in sales metrics and customer satisfaction scores. 

Technology provides us with the flexibility we need to operate at scale. Webhelp employs over 60,000 people, operating from more than 140 locations in 36 countries. We are 10,000 people strong in our UK region, which consists of the UK, South Africa, and India. The depth of our operations enables us to run large transformation programs for the world’s biggest brands.

I joined Webhelp three years ago to help IT better deliver the services that our clients require. Today, my role as Director of Architecture & Strategy covers anything to do with IT architecture. Whether it be redesign, implementation, integration, or working a particular technology into our long-term business strategy.

What Happens When Physical Locations Become Obsolete?

I began with Webhelp as a remote worker, but there were very few of us in the pre-COVID days. All of our client-facing operations ran from our brick-and-mortar locations, which include 21 contact centres and five data centres for the three countries in our UK region. The only way we felt confident in meeting our high security standards was to work from physical locations.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 made working from physical locations an impossibility. We were forced into a scenario where we either had to quickly change our ways of working or stop doing business altogether. If we chose the latter, our clients would suffer and, by extension, their customers would suffer too. And if our own employees couldn’t work, we’d see 10,000 people out of a job in the UK region alone. 

In this time of great uncertainty, we approached BT Group to help us find a solution. We liked that BT had well-established and trusted partnerships that we could leverage right out of the gate. We were also impressed with the scale of BT’s reach, which went a long way to identifying customers’ needs in that environment. BT worked closely with us to not only understand our challenges, but to find a solution that could be deployed rapidly and that would increase our agility.   

I had been preparing for a shift to more remote work, even before COVID entered our lives. To get away from the need for such a heavy reliance on on-premise operations, I’d begun working on a strategy to virtualise as much as possible. BT worked with us to understand the challenges and opportunities in light of the external environment, and identified Cisco as the best technology solution for Webhelp. 

Cisco is obviously a well-recognised and well-respected name in the industry, not only in the UK but also on the global scale at which Webhelp operates. We previously deployed some Cisco networking solutions, and we developed a lot of confidence in the company and formed great relationships across the organization. So when BT suggested Cisco as part of a bespoke solution to fit our particular needs, we were on board.

When COVID struck, I knew we needed to act quickly. Our confidence in Cisco and existing partnership with BT made it easy to shift our UK operations to secure remote work. With BT providing the point of contact for my team and Cisco’s powerful technology stack, we were able to work together to create an agile, responsive, and customer-centric bespoke solution.

IT Investment Was the Only Way Forward

For a long time now, Webhelp used Cisco Secure Remote Worker (SRW), but only for our few employees who worked remotely. Since our contact centre colleagues were entirely at our brick-and-mortar locations, we hadn’t taken full advantage of SRW.   

When we had to scale up our remote working capabilities, we decided to leverage more of what Cisco’s SRW solution had to offer. Within 10 days, we went from having around 300 remote workers to having 7,500 colleagues across three countries working remotely. And with Cisco Duo’s multi-factor authentication, we maintained our rigorous security standards.   

We were pleased with our success, but our sales team soon revealed that we were not the only ones feeling that time crunch. Many of our clients needed help getting their own employees set up to work from home, and we saw many requests with very short turnarounds to have these services up and running. We saw this as a new opportunity to help our clients.

We have dozens of large clients, each with nuanced technical requirements and system integrations. Our challenge, therefore, was finding solutions that were consistent and reliable, yet flexible enough to meet individual client needs. 

This was especially critical given the size of our IT team. There are normally about 100 of us in IT for the UK region, but that number was lower during the pandemic. We needed technical solutions that we could apply to as many clients as possible with little lifting from our limited team. Through a lot of dialogue with BT and our customers, we landed on five solutions, three of which leverage Cisco technologies. Having seen the transformation that Cisco enabled in our own business, we were excited to share that success with our customers.

#Technology investment is necessary to ensure a stable and secure path forward.

Because of how our technology team responded to Webhelp’s COVID challenges, the Webhelp board gained a new perspective on IT. There is always a push in IT to minimise costs, and that’s especially true in the BPO market. However, COVID showed our board that investing in technology could help propel our company forward. Nevertheless, we still had to be smart with our approach. The best solution for further tactical investment was an enterprise agreement (EA). 

Simplicity and Predictability for Ourselves and Our Clients

The value of an EA lies in its simplicity and flexibility. We can buy Cisco technology across their platform portfolio at a competitive price for a fixed term. The financial predictability of the EA pricing, without retroactive fees, removes the headache from dealing with capacity issues. 

Meanwhile, the self-serving provision for these licenses means we no longer have to go through the full procurement process of reaching out to different vendors and testing the market. Eliminating that procurement step also lets us deliver predictable pricing to our clients. 

When it comes to the actual technology, the vertically integrated nature of our Cisco EA makes my job a lot easier. I can move through the infrastructure design process a lot faster when I’m working with products designed with integration in mind and the ability to be managed from a single pane of glass. This helps us reduce the number of systems and management touchpoints, as well as simplify the change process. If we can do all that, we deliver services faster.

Our EA agreement currently includes Cisco Meraki, Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE), Cisco Umbrella for security, and Cisco Duo for multi-factor authentication—all of which run on the BT network. We have now fully deployed Cisco AnyConnect or Meraki to every single one of our home users.   

We engaged in a lot of dialogue with our clients throughout this journey, and we found ourselves in a couple of unique scenarios with problems that we couldn't easily solve. In these situations, Cisco Meraki really came to bear for us. Getting a physical telephone working in a home environment as a business user, for example, seems like it shouldn’t be that difficult, but the nuance of the problem is actually quite complex. 

We have solved that with the Meraki Teleworker Gateway, which gives teleworkers all the features they expect in the office, without compromising on security. Given the uncertainty of the current climate, we’ve been increasing our capability there; our clients say they want that security blanket, whether or not they end up using it. 

Flexibility for Growth

Prior to the Cisco team suggesting an EA, I had no real concept or understanding of what it could do for us. But we’ve already started to see results from this EA: Our delivery timescale between signing a contract and implementing the solution used to be months, and now it’s days.

The value of an enterprise agreement lies in its simplicity and flexibility.

It soon became clear when we saw its flexibility in action. With the click of a few buttons, we can expand our capability. I no longer have to worry about estimating how many licenses we need, or padding out the number “just in case.” We simply add as we need it. No à la carte option can match the pricing we get with the EA’s flexibility. 

As strange as it may sound under these circumstances, we need that room to grow. Since the pandemic began, we had a positive demand for our services and have been able to leverage the EA to make this growth quick and pain free. We currently have a big engagement in South Africa using a systems integrator there to help us bring Cisco Umbrella and Cisco ISE to life quickly. South Africa is a booming market for us, and we need to keep up with that sales demand. 

Ongoing Support in Uncertain Times

We are in unprecedented times, and it has never been more important to work with partners you can trust and who are invested in your success. Business needs change constantly, and we continue to benefit from ongoing support and dialogue from BT. 

We also continue to engage in dialogue with our customers to ensure all of their solutions are geared toward their needs today, as well as future-proofed for tomorrow. Many of our new sales propositions right now are customers still struggling with the impact of COVID. We not only enable employees and clients to work remotely, but we have also set up a new business operation for uses we never could’ve predicted pre-COVID. 

A good example of the latter arises from the UK government’s move to ensure the most vulnerable people in our society have access to basic services, like grocery shopping. These services must be available to people who might not have access to online shopping. One of clients have never had to take orders by phone, and struggled to establish a feasible and efficient process. We set up a whole new line of business to assist them with this new model. Technology is important, but relying on solid relationships with trusted partners are what will move everyone forward together and get us through this uncertain time.

Cisco’s SRW was transformative for our business throughout the pandemic, and in terms of capacity and stability, it delivered in spades for us. With the Cisco EA in place and the support of BT, Webhelp has capabilities we never had before. We know we have the right technology and solutions to thrive in this ever-changing environment, and we continue to explore what else we can do together.