When two companies merge, one goal is to manage the IT consolidation as seamlessly and smoothly as possible. So when CROM, a 200-employee provider of clinical research services, merged with MSOURCE in June 2011 and its headcount increased to 450, the small IT staff faced several challenges.

One was that almost all the 200 former MSOURCE employees would soon need new PCs, as their lease contract was about to expire. Another was that CROMSOURCE (the name of the newly merged company) needed to buy 160 laptops for employees.

“We needed to have the easiest situation to manage,” says Francesco Mercanti, network administrator for CROMSOURCE. The company, based in Verona, Italy, serves the pharmaceutical/biotech industry with more than 40 offices in 10 countries.

Both IT demands coupled with a small IT staff meant that CROMSOURCE needed a technology supplier that would be a true partner.

Preloaded software saves time
CROMSOURCE elected to purchase Latitude™ E5420 notebooks from Dell, along with an array of services designed to minimize the impact on employees. Mercanti estimates the company saved at least 50% on implementation time thanks to having the software preloaded at the Dell factory rather than having IT staff manually load the operating system and applications.

In the past “when we would buy a new laptop, we would have to install all the software ourselves,” Mercanti says. “With Dell, it was possible to have the image preinstalled.”

The company also purchased Dell PCs. “The new corporate standard [Dell on the desktop] will simplify things. It is strategic from the IT point of view.”

Dell services help relieve the burden of managing the IT environment, says Riccardo Codifava, Dell’s services and solutions business manager for the CROMSOURCE installation.

Leveraging services for IT management
CROM’s small IT staff was already stretched thin when the company more than doubled in size after the merger with MSOURCE. The company was particularly interested in engaging with a partner for a comprehensive analysis of its post-merger IT infrastructure as well as implementation and support services. IT management was looking to consolidate systems and implement standards wherever possible to simplify the task of managing IT.

Francesco Mercanti, network administrator for CROMSOURCECROMSOURCE had been working with Dell to implement a storage area network, and was happy with the Dell team’s performance, so it decided to stick with Dell for laptops and tech support as well.

“All the IT systems [used by MSOURCE employees] were rented,” says Mercanti. “We had to decide whether to rent or buy. We decided to buy to have the most control over installation.”

Mercanti regarded installation of the Latitude E5420 laptops, absent major help, as a potential problem. “We needed to customize the installation according to location, and we had a multilanguage requirement for the keyboard. Given the economic situation, we did not want to have to install them ourselves,” he says. So, CROMSOURCE contracted Dell to preconfigure the software images for each country and each level—four in all—at its factory, an option called custom factory integration (CFI). The operating system for the researcher machines is 64-bit Microsoft® Windows® 7 Enterprise because this type of worker runs high-powered clinical research applications. The management profile is lighter weight, and needs standard business productivity applications and workloads.

Customized integration benefits
CFI is a real boon for SMBs, which generally have small IT resources, says Mark Bowker, senior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. “If you have to install all your applications, that can be a very time-consuming process, even you have a systematic way to do it,” says Bowker.

In this case, leveraging Dell’s resources to preload the image saves a tremendous amount of time and effort, speeding the organization’s time to value. “All the user has to do is log on and they can immediately become productive. It’s a lifesaver that frees them up to do the other pile of projects they have on their plate,” he says.

CFI allows customers to remotely inspect the software image for quality control, says Diego Brunelli, configuration services project manager for Dell’s Global Service Support group. “Before logging the image on all the orders, we allow the customer to inspect its own image. They only need to do the quality check one time per image,” says Brunelli. Another advantage: If CROMSOURCE keeps growing and needs to buy another 50 machines, for example, Dell can quickly deploy the same image on the same model, adding more speed.

After determining client needs, Dell performs the custom configuration during the initial system build. Thanks to the “one-touch” process of custom integration, systems are not built or shipped twice via factory or multiple-vendor channels. The systems are configured to specification and delivered from Dell’s quality-certified factory.

CROMSOURCE was also able to customize the BIOS (the opening screen shot users see when they power up their Latitudes) with its logo.

CROMSOURCE had to delay the rollout of the bulk of the Latitudes due to a necessary network upgrade. But early deployments have been fast and easy, according to Mercanti.

“The surprise for me with this project was that we were able to find not only a supplier but what we call a partner,” Mercanti says. “The people from Dell took care of us and always gave us the right direction. We had a deep collaboration.”

Added services: Disaster recovery road map
CROMSOURCE needed advice on implementing a disaster recovery plan for its new Dell storage network. “Dell was the only one that was able to provide all the technologies that were available at the storage level,” says Mercanti. “It was the only one that was able to manage all of our storage. The scalability of the Dell storage was the best.”

As part of the comprehensive assessment of CROMSOURCE’s IT environment, the Dell team is working in conjunction with the company to prepare a disaster recovery plan for the storage servers. “We will deliver an analysis for our client to bring to the decision maker, showing the return on investment,” says Riccardo Codifava, Dell’s services and solutions business manager.

For CROMSOURCE, Dell is proposing a cloud-based, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solution for disaster recovery. The plan has not yet been accepted or implemented, but Francesco Mercanti, network administrator for CROMSOURCE, will be provided with a complete, in-depth proposal he can present to his board of directors.

--Lauren Gibbons Paul specializes in writing about SMB technology issues.