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IBM Helps North American Construction Group Transform its IT Infrastructure

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IBM i and AIX on modern hardware transform the image of one IT department from being the source of problems requiring constant maintenance to one that develops new applications and functionalities improving the company's computing landscape. 

Editor's Note: While MC Press Online has guidelines regarding the publication of case studies, this one from IBM has received more than average attention in the media recently and throughout the industry because it describes how one Canadian company replaced an unreliable Windows-based ERP system with IBM i and AIX on Power Systems to substantially improve reliability and performance. 

North American Construction Group (NACG) is the leading provider of mining, heavy construction, industrial, piling and pipeline services in Canada. Headquartered in Calgary, the company has several branch offices in Western Canada, including Edmonton, Vancouver and Regina. For over 50 years, NACG has capitalized on its distinctive combination of talent and experience, allowing it to make the most of the unprecedented economic growth of the Alberta oil sands in the last decade.

NACG aims to be an agile, responsive company, but an unreliable JD Edwards EnterpriseOne application suite was hampering these efforts. Users were rapidly losing faith in the JDE application, as it experienced frequent outages and did not meet business requirements. This led to many business units seeking and implementing alternative applications for their own use, a trend that made it difficult to establish a "single version of the truth" for decision-making. Furthermore, this fragmented IT landscape was expensive and difficult to manage.

The relationship between the IT department and the rest of the company suffered due to this unreliability–IT was perceived as a cost-center, with a high level of dissatisfaction among internal clients. In turn, the IT staff found it impossible to focus on more profitable work due to the huge volume of maintenance requests they had to deal with. The company estimated that the IT department was forced to handle an average of 60 JDE-related issues each day.

The company lacked a dependable environment for development and struggled with inconsistent connectivity. To further exacerbate the issues, failover capability was nonexistent. Recovery from a disaster was almost impossible. Essentially, the company was in need of a complete IT overhaul.

“It was not realistic for us to generate regular reports on the old hardware, as it frequently brought the entire system to a halt, or slowed down other operations so much that employees abandoned the effort,” says Booth. “This was not the ideal environment for expanding NACG, because it was severely limiting our ability to seize important business opportunities. It was clear that the situation called for a drastic change in our IT infrastructure.”

Perhaps the most significant example of how the previous solution was causing disruption in NACG is the issues with payroll. The company systems often experienced unplanned downtime, making it difficult to track how much workers were owed and ensure that they were paid in a timely manner. This called for significant manual effort - impacting productivity and aggravating the relationship with the IT department.

Identifying and Tackling Issues
The entrance of David Booth, a new CIO at NACG, marked a turning point when he identified that the company’s IT headaches might be traced back to the instability of the underlying platform. NACG was relying on Intel® processor-based Dell servers running Microsoft® Windows® to support the JDE application and a Microsoft SQL Server database. There was no centralized storage infrastructure.

As Booth pointed out, “Up until that point, IT costs were escalating without producing the positive results we hoped for. It was evident that a new approach was needed, so we began looking at the infrastructure supporting the JDE application. We wanted to repair the poor perception of IT held by the rest of the company, and ensure that it made the life of our workforce easier, rather than representing a daily annoyance. Our mantra became ‘IT will not be an excuse.'”

NACG worked with IBM Global Technology Services to install, implement and configure two IBM Power 570 servers, running the IBM i operating system on POWER6® processors. The company also deployed two IBM System Storage DS4700 disk systems, later upgraded to DS5300 systems connected to two TS3310 tape libraries. The software components selected by NACG consist of a full suite of IBM i and IBM DB2 tools for the server environments including Backup Recovery and Media Services (BRMS) and iCluster replication services.

The company also called on IBM Global Business Services to plan, implement and validate the migration of the JD Edwards EnterpriseOne application from the Microsoft Windows and SQL Server platform to the IBM i and IBM DB2 landscape.

Before committing to the solution, NACG conducted extensive critical and parallel testing of the solution, supported by IBM, to ensure that the solution could deliver on its promised levels of performance and reliability. The results were impressive, and the migration was completed by NACG IT with support from IBM Global Business Services within a single weekend, minimizing disruption to the business.

“The IBM solution represented the ideal choice for us as a major step to achieving our goal of a complete IT turnaround, and solves the numerous issues with the old infrastructure,” says Booth. “The proven reliability of the IBM Power 570 servers meant that the outages which had been an everyday experience for our employees quickly became a distant memory.”

Virtualization Enables Business Flexibility
Taking advantage of the IBM PowerVM virtualization capabilities of the IBM Power 570 servers enabled NACG to maintain a full test environment without unduly diverting resources from the production environment or affecting normal business operations. It also allowed users to run reports at high speed for the first time, encouraging them to ask more questions and providing vital information for decision-making.

The modular expansion capabilities of the IBM Power 570 servers will help to support NACG as its business grows. When more memory or processors are required, the company will simply be able to activate additional resources within the existing chassis, either permanently or on an on-demand basis to handle temporary workload peaks.

By deploying IBM storage technology, NACG was able to more than double its available storage capacity. The company has leveraged some of the additional capacity to provision a logical partition supporting an IBM AIX® environment for a new application.

“The IBM solution has given us so much more flexibility,” comments Booth. “Not only can we adjust capacity on demand, but using logical partitions allows us to set up new environments that were simply out of reach for us using the old hardware.”

Changing the Perception of IT
The main benefit for NACG has been the improvement of the relationship between the majority of its employees and the IT department. By taking measures to guarantee the integrity of the information generated by its JD Edwards EnterpriseOne application, the company has restored faith in its IT infrastructure.

“I am proud to say that with help from IBM we have succeeded in improving the attitude towards IT within NACG,” says Booth. “Our IT department is now perceived as a responsive part of the organization, and is showcased in bids to clients as a value-add differentiator.”

Leveraging the industry-leading performance of IBM DB2 on IBM Power 570 servers has greatly improved response times and batch lengths. For example, a complex report that previously took nine hours to generate is now available in 20 minutes. The company is able to use its JDE application to provide timely project information for clients and enabled customized reporting. NACG can now pursue several customer-centric functionalities that were simply not feasible on the old, unreliable platform.

Maximizing Employee Productivity
There has been a sharp rise in user satisfaction levels, with the number of daily JDE complaints to the IT department dropping from 60 to a negligible level. Eliminating outages and maximizing uptime allows all NACG employees to be much more productive, and focus on profitable work. On the rare occasions when issues do arise, sophisticated diagnostic tools built into the IBM Power 570 servers make it easy for NACG’s IT department to resolve them.

“Our employees have been freed from the time-consuming JDE issues they had been forced to deal with every day,” says Booth. “Specifically, our IT department has been able to take a more proactive stance, focusing on developing new functionalities and introducing new applications that improve the computing landscape, rather than focusing on maintenance.”

Reducing the administrative burden on IT staff and maximizing general employee productivity has translated into significant cost-savings for NACG. As part of a complete IT refreshment program, the IBM technology has contributed to an overall year over year 52 percent IT cost reduction.

IBM technology makes it possible to optimize use of company resources. This is especially evident in the payroll system – the highly reliable IBM technology has enabled NACG to ensure accurate and timely payment of its workforce.

By supplying guidance from system sizing right through to migration and go-live of the new solution, IBM developed a strong relationship with the NACG team.

Booth concludes: “IBM has become a key technology partner for NACG, providing support during a difficult period of total transformation of our IT infrastructure. By drawing on the IBM consultants’ experience, we were able to go beyond simply modernizing the IT department; we are now empowered to introduce new functionalities that will contribute to our further success.”


  • Customer
    North American Construction Group
  • Industry
    Construction / Architecture / Engineering
  • Deployment Country
  • Solution
    Business Intelligence, Business Resiliency, Enabling Business Flexibility, High Availability , Information Integration, IT Optimization , IT/infrastructure, Optimizing IT, Total Cost of Ownership, Virtualization
  • Company Profile

North American Construction Group (NACG) is the leading provider of mining, heavy construction, industrial, piling and pipeline services in Canada. Headquartered in Calgary, the company has several branch offices in Western Canada, including Edmonton, Vancouver and Regina. For over 50 years, NACG has capitalized on its distinctive combination of talent and experience, allowing it to make the most of the unprecedented economic growth of the Alberta oil sands in the last decade.

  • Business Need

NACG employees were losing faith in an unreliable JD Edwards EnterpriseOne application, which experienced frequent outages and did not meet business requirements. Single business units purchased alternative applications to meet their enterprise resource planning needs, thereby escalating IT costs and preventing integrated decision making.

  • Solution

Worked with IBM Global Technology Services and IBM Global Business Services to implement IBM Power 570 servers running the IBM i operating system, IBM System Storage technology and IBM DB2 software.

  • Benefits

Increased employee productivity and satisfaction by improving performance, reliability and enabling introduction of new functionalities. Contributed to a year over year IT cost reduction of 52 percent. Gained the ability to scale with business growth.

Products and Services

  • Hardware

Power 570, Power Systems running AIX, Power Systems running i, Storage: DS5300, Storage: TS3310 Tape Library

  • Software

DB2 for i5/OS

  • Operating System

AIX, i5/OS

  • Service

GTS ITS Server: Server Product Services for Power Systems p & i, IBM Global Business Services

IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider, helping clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM's hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently, and securely. IBM's breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM's legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity, and service.

For more information, visit: www.ibm.com.



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