Re-energising the fuel business: The good oil on Mobile Device Management

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

Z Energy Car wash

In an age where vehicles can be powered by electricity, hydrogen and plants, and when people are waking up to the impacts of their consumption on the planet, the fuel industry needs to look to the future. Companies like Z Energy are facing even greater change now than when the combustion engine was invented.

As New Zealand’s largest fuel provider, Z Energy has prided itself on its future focus, championing biofuels, empowering youth through skilling and wellbeing initiatives and doing Good in the Hood to build stronger communities. Above all, it aims to be a truly people-centric organisation that innovates with technology to make it a great place to work.

Thanks to a modern desktop solution from technology partner NTT, Z Energy is now living up to its promise. Gone are the device shortages, long IT fault queues and chunky system upgrades that took months to design and deploy. With more time to spend on delivering better experiences and new innovations, this fuel company is future-fit and pumped up for the long haul.

Creating experiences that delight

Much like its fuel, Z Energy’s digital strategy is to make things go faster and smoother, removing paperwork and roadblocks for its teams so they can focus on their customers.

“Our vision is to make all interactions seamless and build loyalty by creating more personalised experiences that delight,” explains Jason Milne, Head of Infrastructure at Z Energy. “Delight builds trust, which is important for us as a brand and an employer.”

Glance in the rear-view, however, and the road hasn’t always been smooth for its employees.

“When we were building a device for a new employee, it used to take two days. We’ve run out of devices to give people because we had to image all the devices individually and there were errors all over the place. An engineer could be in the build room with four or five devices, working all day to build new images and hoping they didn’t error.”

Colleague Karl Hipperson, Technical Lead, chips in:

“Not only that, we didn’t have the capability to deploy new updates en masse. We’ve had Microsoft Surfaces and Microsoft 365 for three years, so we’re used to flexible working, but people would have to bring their devices to the support office in order to connect to the system and get security patches or software updates. It was a barrier to our being a really people-centric organisation.”

A single Windows upgrade would take months to reach the whole organisation. And if something happened to prevent Z Energy’s teams from coming to work – like, for example, a nationwide lockdown – it would have been impossible to function.

Thankfully, a solution was at hand.

Running on Autopilot

Paul Warrener, Agile Delivery Manager at technology solutions partner NTT, knows all about the common issues large employers face.

“Often corporate devices are more sluggish than people’s devices at home. That’s because a lot of businesses install what we call ‘bloat-ware’ to help manage those devices, which slows them down.”

He saw an opportunity not only to make life easier for Z Energy’s internal ICT teams, but to speed up workers’ computers and empower them to get what they needed without having to ask for help.

In a word – Autopilot.

Microsoft Autopilot is a new Mobile Device Management system that vastly simplifies setting up and managing Windows 10 devices. Hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, it provides users with exactly the applications they need, based on role-specific profiles assigned to them in Microsoft Intune. Better still, it can wipe and reset devices ready for the next user without hours of manual work.

“It’s very cutting-edge,” Warrener says. “By packaging all their old tools, security patching functions and licences into one platform like Autopilot, Z Energy could substantially reduce costs as well as time and get more bang for their buck.”

NTT and the Z Energy team worked in agile sprints over 10 months to transform the support office into a modern workplace. They converted more than 140 of Z Energy’s regular applications especially for Intune, creating a self-service “menu” for workers to choose from so they could download new apps without having to log a request.

Rather than having to build each device from scratch, Z Energy’s IT crew could simply select and customise workers’ user profile in Intune – a job of 20 minutes instead of two hours.

Any new starters would automatically receive devices direct from the vendor, with a login to enrol in the system. As long as they had an internet connection, laptops were up and running straight out of the box.

Explains Warrener: “It’s so powerful. The device can be anywhere in the world and it can be provisioned and deployed at any time of day.”

The project was completed by March 2020 – when COVID-19 sent the whole country into lockdown.

Time: the true gauge of success

Initially the plan was for a gradual rollout on new devices only. Lockdown revved the process up. Nearly 600 devices were enabled to receive automatic updates, meaning Z Energy’s employees could focus on providing essential fuel and service and supporting customers throughout rather than being tied up remote access and updating issues.

“We started with just 10 per cent of our fleet, but now we’re working to include all of them,” Milne says. “Our users have commented on just how seamless it is, and every day we have people signing up.”

Hipperson enthuses over the self-service platform. “It’s put a lot of power back in the hands of our people. We’ve now gone from a device-centric to a user-centric organisation.”

Both are excited by the amount of work and time the new system is saving their teams, not counting the fact no one ever needs to go without a device.

Because of Microsoft Azure’s automatic updates, there’s no longer a need for any manual updates which would have taken a month of engineering work to design and another month to test. Autopilot also ensures there are no errors during the imaging process, while compliance is assured with regular security patches.

“One of the things we want to do as a team is give everyone the opportunity to grow, and they can’t do that if they’re spending all their time building,” says Milne. “But things have changed. Recently my own device updated automatically, which took just two reboots. And our fault queue was down to zero last week. Our support desk call volumes are way down.”

Because the devices only have the applications they need installed, not the management software, they’re saving support office workers time as well.

“Think of them like a racecar,” explains Warrener. “You want them to be lightweight, without all the additional things you don’t need, so they’re faster and more efficient.”

Z Energy is now looking at additional ways to modernise and make the most of data analytics, machine learning and problem-solving tools to create the “delight” Milne talks about.

It’s an example for all New Zealand businesses to follow.

Says Warrener: “Regardless of COVID-19, every business needs to be moving now to modernise, boost efficiencies and reduce costs long-term. It just makes sense.”

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