True Value Homes (TVH), one of the fastest growing real-estate groups in Chennai, has adorned the skyline with its high-rises. It has built 6 million sq ft of residential and commercial space and will add another 12 million sq ft in Chennai, Coimbatore and Tiruchi.

While many construction companies still use personal computers with Excel sheet, TVH has leapfrogged with the latest technologies such as virtualisation and cloud computing to reduce its IT cost to nearly a third.

Consider this. Before moving to the cloud, TVH spent nearly Rs 1.5 lakh per user for a personal computer, software, hardware and applications. This has reduced to nearly Rs 40,000 per user after moving all applications to cloud environment, says Arun Nehru, Chief Information Officer of TVH.

With data centres becoming more complex than ever before, TVH looked for a solution that combined extreme density with energy efficiency for productive, low-cost solutions. IBM BladeCenter E is a ‘powerful' platform that meets these requirements by integrating servers, storage, networking and applications to build an IT infrastructure. It is a data centre packed with more operating horsepower that leaves a small carbon footprint, says Nehru, who graduated in construction management from Bradley University in the US.

TVH migrated SAP All-in-One Business Suite to IBM Blade e-Series. It also deployed the SAP application with VMware virtual servers on the IBM Blade System e-Series platform, along with storage FAS2040 services. Incubated VMware vCenters and VMware VDI clouded serves SAP R/3 for daily application in all the subsidiary offices and site engineering offices, which are on IBM blade eChasis.

Five years ago, TVH had nearly 150 employees and used the Tower server (a basic box server with Windows Operating System). As the company grew, the employee strength increased to 350 in 18 months, forcing the company to expand faster and provide internal customer/client service as “our employees were not computer savvy” and the processes were becoming more complicated.

While the company gave its employees the advantage of computing it also took time to coach them. That's when TVH migrated to IBM Blade server, which took care of scalability — in fact, the server was scaled up twice in the last 12 months and TVH added two more servers; it increased the RAM and hardware in the existing eChasis.

The platform was perfect for vitalisation — bring in all applications, including expensive ones such as Auto Cadd, but without physical machines. Today, anybody — employees or vendors — with a browser can access the application with secured lines, having access to their workstation wherever they chose.

Technical application

Auto Cadd is the primary tool used in the construction industry. There are consulting services such as light design, mechanical, electrical and plumbing for heat-load calculations; there is software to study the light pattern for a particular building. All these are hosted on the cloud and anybody can access them through a protected environment, with a user name and password. “What we are telling employees is that whenever you feel like working, the applications are available from office, home or outside. They need not come to office to work. The construction industry is very new to IT but we want to make sure that our employees get the best out of their workplace,” says Nehru.

In the past, TVH had a conventional PC server model, forcing employees to work from the office only and not from onsite locations — TVH is concurrently working on 12 sites in Chennai and five outside it. Earlier, all papers had to come to the city for clearance, but the centralised system has now speeded up work.

Lower investment

At one point there were over 100 PCs for 100 employees. Now there are around 500 users accessing applications on the cloud and the software is on Open Source platform.

Data flow

Earlier, information was shared through email using ERP software. Now, there is an ERP, CRM, vendor management even as “we are moving to a paperless office”. The data transfer has increased, decision making is faster. “Technology is an enabling factor and should not be viewed as a dumb investment. For example, if I give an order worth Rs 1 crore to a vendor I can take a decision in three days as I can compare the rates of competitors — all the data is available readily. Earlier it used to take more than 10 days because employees had to manually run through the Excel Sheet to compare rates among the ,” says Nehru.

Ecosystem

Now vendors are also part of the company's ecosystem. TVH has around 1,200 vendors ranging from electrical suppliers to plumbing specialists and cements suppliers. Of these, 200 are active users of technology as they form a large part of the document flow. Vendors access TVH's application on the cloud through a protected access. TVH has created a common Web page on material requirements on a daily basis that vendors view every day and reply with their invoices, using the specific reference code. TVH's system does a quick check for the correct specification, the price variation and the difference with other vendors.

The IBM blade server, which can load 16 blades, is currently loaded with five. Each blade can handle several users. While two blades are exclusively for employees, two others are for hosting applications such as email and Auto Cadd. At any point of time there could be 30 applications running, but in the background it could exceed 100. “We have created this private cloud to offer applications only to those who are part of my ecosystem, such as employees and vendors,” says Nehru. “We manage all these with only a five-member IT team.”

(This article was published on April 10, 2011)
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