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No laptops, no problem

With just weeks to arrange home-working solutions for its employees, Standard Life Assurance used IGEL technology to repurpose existing desktop PCs and create an ‘Office in a Box’ that allowed its 4,500 staff to work from home, productively and securely

As part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, Standard Life Assurance, part of the Phoenix Group, empowered 4,500 staff in Scotland to work from home by providing them with a secure, centrally managed ‘Office in a Box’ based on IGEL’s next-gen edge OS for cloud workspaces. 

With an operational headquarters in Edinburgh, Phoenix Group is a member of the FTSE100 index and has around 14 million policies and £338 billion of assets under administration. 

Standard Life Assurance customers include individual savers, some of the largest employers in the UK as well as independent financial advisors. Most of its customer-facing operations teams are office-based and use desktop PCs with dual monitors to deal with everything from pension and investment queries to account administration.

Continuity of service

In response to the pandemic, it was vital to get the Edinburgh teams quickly set up to work effectively from home, as John Kerr, Senior Delivery Manager, IT Service Operations at Phoenix Group, explains. 

Box Delivery
Box Delivery

“Our customers are at the heart of everything we do. It was vital to us that we ensured continuity of service for our customers and ensured that all our teams were set up to work from home. With normal large-scale IT projects, we may take several months to agree requirements, review the market, build a solution and undertake operational and end-user testing. Responding to Coronavirus, we knew we had just weeks to be ready to ‘go live’, which is why we came up with the ‘Office in a Box’ idea.” 

Kevin McVitie, Technician, IT Service Operations, Phoenix Group, points out that the IT department considered a number of possible WFH solutions before settling on IGEL’s product portfolio. 

“When we started looking at how to deliver WFH, we considered purchasing more laptops. The business had about 1,200 to cater for 4,500 employees and we struggled to buy more given the increase in demand for laptops from organisations globally. This, and the fact that many staff didn’t have appropriate endpoints at home, drove us to look at how we could repurpose our existing estate of PCs, which were now sitting idle in the office.”

In the end, Phoenix Group used the IGEL OS to convert these PCs into secure, centrally managed endpoints that connect to Citrix Workspace, through which customer support staff are able to access their normal CRM applications.

IGEL OS-powered desktops

As part of the ‘Office in a Box’ rollout everyone was given an IGEL OS-powered desktop, two monitors, a keyboard, mouse, Ethernet cable and headset. IGEL multimedia UD3 endpoints with built in Wi-Fi were sent to some employees, while others who didn’t have fast enough broadband to underpin a stable service were provided with a 4G mobile broadband dongle.

Box loading
Box loading

McVitie adds: “To facilitate our WFH deployment, IGEL Cloud Gateway is used to connect and manage all the home-based devices not on our corporate network. We’ve used Cloud Gateway before, so we knew the platform worked well and that’s why, in conjunction with IGEL OS, we were confident we could implement ‘Office in a Box’ so fast and reliably for the business.”

The combination of the IGEL OS and IGEL Universal Management Suite (UMS) provided several key benefits: 

  • *The solution was fast and cost effective. IGEL OS was a quick, inexpensive way to repurpose existing PCs that avoided the need to buy new laptop or PC hardware to deliver WFH. The solution could be put in place quickly and allowed employees to use equipment that they were already familiar with and comfortable using. All they had to do was plug in and turn their PC on at home, login and work as normal without requiring extensive training and support. 
  • *The OPEX cost to deliver the project was low. Many man-hours have been saved as it takes just five minutes to reflash each desktop and configure the security settings. 
  • *IGEL Universal Management Suite (UMS) is used to manage everything. It provides visibility into who’s logged in and any subsequent system changes can be done easily via IGEL UMS and IGEL Cloud Gateway. 
  • *Collaboration tools like Skype for Business are enabled too, because IGEL OS has built-in support for Citrix HDX – the display protocol required to stream HD film and audio over a network. 

For Ken Dougan, IGEL Regional Sales Manager for Scotland, the solution’s simplicity is another major attraction. “The whole idea behind delivering an IGEL OS-powered PC was simplicity – the user can’t get anything wrong. They don’t have to worry about installing Citrix, thinking about what version they have and there’s nothing to break either because all the endpoint does is present them with a familiar login screen.”

Business resilience 

McVitie adds that IGEL is also assisting Phoenix Group from an ongoing business resilience perspective. 

“We work with a third-party workspace supplier that provides physical desktops, chairs, phones and shared PCs for business continuity purposes. IGEL’s UD Pocket is a simple solution, which comes on a thumb-size USB drive, that gets around the security issues of using shared equipment. In the event of an outage, we provide every colleague with a UD Pocket which they insert into a PC. IGEL OS boots up directly, with a network connection established to our datacentre so Citrix can be accessed.” 

Moving forward, ‘Office in Box’ hardware will remain with employees, giving them access to the same applications whether they work at home or come into the office. 

In conclusion, Kerr says: “The bottom line is we delivered a two-year project in weeks. That’s because of IGEL OS, the ease of management of the whole environment, plus the hard work of our IT department and logistics teams. People have been able to work pretty much as normal, offering the kind of customer service that our clients expect. It’s been fabulous.”


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