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Sanlam Financial Institution Uses Collaboration Solution to Promote Corporate Unity

The Sanlam Group of financial services companies wanted to create a more unified collaboration and communication environment for its employees. To this end, the company began to migrate from some of its current infrastructure to Microsoft products and technologies. In addition to Microsoft-based email and communications, Sanlam adopted Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 for collaboration and team and department-based document management. Now Sanlam employees can work together more easily, and find and share information faster, which is expected to boost overall productivity. The company anticipates IT cost savings and a reduced administrative burden through centralized management of collaboration and document management services. Developers can take advantage of out-of-the-box functionality and a flexible, scalable environment for implementing a comprehensive, enterprise solution.
The South African-based Sanlam Group conducts its business through Sanlam Limited, the corporate head office and four business clusters—Sanlam Personal Finance, Sanlam Emerging Markets, Sanlam Investments, and Santam. The Group operates in South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Namibia, India, and the United Kingdom. It also has business interests in the USA and Australia. Sanlam provides financial solutions to individuals and institutional clients across all market segments. These solutions include personal financial services such as individual, group, and short-term insurance, estate planning, trusts, wills, personal loans, savings and linked products, business fitness assessment and insurance investment management, investment management, stock-broking, risk management, employee benefits, and capital market activities. Established in 1918 as a life insurance company, Sanlam has grown into a diversified one-stop financial services group. Headquartered in Bellville, the company has offices throughout South Africa and more than 10,000 employees worldwide.
Sanlam has experienced significant growth and change throughout its long history. As a byproduct of its evolution, the Sanlam Group (the Group) experienced a proliferation of different IT systems and services, including email, calendaring, user directories, file sharing systems, application development environments, and communications services.
The Group relied primarily on collaboration technologies from IBM and Novell, including IBM Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise, and Novell e-Directory (formerly known as Novell Directory Services) for collaboration. Sanlam also used Microsoft Exchange Server and Active Directory Domain Services. These disparate systems complicated collaboration. “With several different directory structures, in order to book a meeting with a person in a different business unit, you couldn’t just look that person up in the directory—you had to use the phone,” says Naz Parker, Manager of SharePoint Shared Services at Sanlam.
And, although Sanlam carefully stores and manages sensitive client-related documents in a designated document management system, the company did not have an easy way to manage other files such as meeting minutes, presentations, proposals, and other business documents. Users stored documents in file shares and on their desktop computers and they shared them as email attachments, with no versioning or check-in/check-out system.
“We maintained multiple versions of the truth,” says Parker. “It was difficult to determine who had the most recent version of a document, and our email systems were getting clogged with large attachments.” Locating unstructured team documents, such as those located on file shares, was also difficult in the absence of metadata in such an environment. To find a document in one particular location, a user had to remember with what metadata the document was tagged, and then search under those exact parameters.
The central IT Infrastructure Shared Services business (ITISS) wanted to standardize collaboration and document management tools for all employees in the Group, but that required a ground-up restructuring of the underlying IT infrastructure. “We had begun to migrate to a Microsoft-based infrastructure, but we did not have dedicated budget in ITISS to implement centralized collaboration,” says Parker. Many departments recognized the collaboration benefits of Microsoft SharePoint products and technologies and deployed their own solutions, such as Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 outside the purview of ITISS. “There were scattered instances of SharePoint throughout the Group,” says Parker. “The solutions boosted collaboration within departments, but we struggled with managing permissions among different users from different directories.”
In early 2010, the Group prioritized building a more effective collaboration environment to enhance productivity and improve employees’ decision-making capabilities. Sanlam wanted to “eliminate the silos that people worked within,” explains Parker. Around this time, the Group negotiated a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement that would enable it to replace some of the infrastructure with unified Microsoft technologies, including Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, Active Directory Domain Services, Microsoft Lync Server 2010, Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007. The agreement also included access to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. “Things came together: a collaboration mandate from senior management and access to a technology that most users were already familiar and happy with,” says Parker.
Creating a Shared Services Architecture
However, ITISS still lacked a dedicated operating budget for the SharePoint Server project. So, in late 2010, with the help of Intervate, a Microsoft Partner Network member based in South Africa that specializes in implementing enterprise information management solutions, ITISS got creative and designed a shared services model for collaboration that capitalized on the architecture of SharePoint Server 2010, while achieving maximum cost-efficiency. The solution enables ITISS to meter and bill each business unit for its usage of SharePoint Server 2010. Three months later, by March 2011, the collaboration infrastructure was implemented by Intervate and ready for production.
The Sanlam infrastructure is designed for high availability and spans two data centers. Its 11 servers include a development server that runs both application and database roles; a three-tiered quality-assurance environment consisting of a web front-end server, application server, and database server; a six-server production environment that is hardware load balanced and includes failover capabilities; and a database engine running Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data management software in a mirrored format. Monitoring and configuration management is achieved with System Center Operations Manager 2007, System Center Configuration Manager 2007, and the AvePoint DocAve Suite. The environment is virtualized and replicated on a regular basis to the company’s disaster recovery site in Johannesburg.
Sanlam implemented separate web application instances for each business, even though many will use the same type of applications. “This is for redundancy, to ensure that the whole Group will not be without service in case of a failure, but it also enables us to easily poll the business units for usage,” explains Parker. In this way, ITISS can charge each of the Group’s businesses and use these funds to pay for the monthly operating costs that include hosting and administration. ITISS also charges for storage, depending on how much disk space each business unit consumes.
​We used many out-of-the-box SharePoint Server 2010 features to create the shared services environment, including the new shared services architecture and inherent load-balancing capabilities,” says Troy Gerber, Senior SharePoint Consultant and Delivery Director at Intervate. “Improvements to the administrative user interface for working with site collections and the ability to use multiple content databases across site collections also eased the process immensely.”
Building Intranets and Portals
Sanlam and Intervate developers will use the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 development system and Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 to build and customize intranet sites and other aspects of the SharePoint Server 2010 environment. It is also beginning to migrate documents, information, and applications from Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Server 2007, and employee file shares to SharePoint Server 2010. The solution is being rolled out gradually to businesses across the Group, starting with ITISS.
“We created an ITISS intranet to showcase some of what SharePoint Server 2010 can do for the businesses,” says Parker. The ITISS intranet will be open to all users in the Group, but by taking advantage of the audiences feature of SharePoint Server 2010, ITISS can target specific content on its intranet to specific groups of users. Targeting can be based on membership in Exchange Server distribution lists, membership in SharePoint groups, or rules that are configured by an administrator. For example, all users will be able to see main pages such as the home page, About Us, Our People, and Current Projects. However, only ITISS employees will have access to a My ITISS page, and individual teams within ITISS will have access to a My Team page for team-specific content and information.
ITISS and Intervate also deployed an intranet to Santam, the Group’s short-term insurer, and they will continue to deploy more intranets to other businesses. Sanlam Personal Finance, the Group’s largest business cluster, will be replacing its intranet and introducing specific sites including a gift registry tracking site and a corporate social investments site. It is also conducting a proof-of-concept implementation in which it is migrating some of its applications to SharePoint 2010.
The Group Office has taken advantage of SharePoint Server 2010 integrated workflow and search capabilities in the document management work stream of its SMaRT Project (Solvency II), an updated set of regulatory requirements for insurance firms. Many of the other divisions in the company are also deploying departmental, team, or project-based SharePoint sites.
At the end of May 2012, Sanlam deployed components of the solution to approximately 5,000 users within the Group. The company plans to offer the solution to all 10,000 of its employees by July 2013. “We are excited about our new environment, and with so many different services being rolled out at once, we are taking a careful, planned approach to deployment to ensure the best possible results,” says Parker.
Managing Enterprise Content
Sanlam will take advantage of SharePoint Server 2010 enterprise content management capabilities to store and manage business documents across the Group. For instance, the Group Office SMaRT Project will have document management environments for the Risk Management and Applied Architecture departments. “The people in these departments develop many of the standards for the Sanlam Group, and SharePoint Server 2010 provides them with automated content creation and publishing capabilities in the form of versioning and review-and-approval workflows,” says Parker.
With 10,000 users creating new documents daily, Sanlam will manage huge volumes of content with SharePoint Server 2010. “We haven’t measured exactly how many documents we will maintain in the new environment, but in ITISS alone—and we are the smallest in the Group—we currently manage nearly 20,000 documents,” says Parker. “We have, however, scaled our SharePoint server farm for 20,000 users and it currently has 3.7 terabytes of mirrored storage supporting it.”
Furthermore, Sanlam will use SharePoint Server 2010 managed metadata content type hub syndication to help users find documents faster within its extensive document libraries. With managed metadata, the company can centrally define taxonomies for its content, and easily manage and apply tags to documents, to ensure consistent use of terminology and better search results.
Connecting to Enterprise Data
Sanlam plans to use Microsoft Business Connectivity Services (BCS) in SharePoint Server 2010 to connect the intranets and extranets to other line-of-business systems in its environment. For instance, the MIS department maintains lists of independent brokers who sell Sanlam products in an Oracle database. To access this information, users have had to export the information as a text file from the database and pour it into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. “Using BCS, we will be able to expose that information and other data that exists inside of Sanlam systems directly in SharePoint Server 2010,” says Gerber.
By using SharePoint Server 2010, Sanlam expects its employees to increase collaboration and productivity because they can find information and people more easily and make better business decisions. Out-of-the-box functionality in SharePoint Server contributed to a streamlined deployment, and Sanlam expects to lower its IT costs with its unified infrastructure and shared services model.
Better Collaboration, Decision Making, Efficiency
With all businesses operating on a single collaboration and document management platform, Sanlam will increase productivity and improve decision-making capabilities because users will be able to access information, documents, data, and each other much faster than before. Says Gerber, “With managed metadata, users can search for a document easily—just by entering a few keywords. It’s a vast improvement over our former environment where a user had to remember the exact metadata on a document.” Team sites, My Sites, document versioning capabilities, and automated workflows are just a few of the additional SharePoint Server 2010 features that will help employees work more efficiently.
“And that is just SharePoint Server 2010,” adds Parker. “By plugging all of these new technologies together with SharePoint Server 2010—such as Exchange Server 2010, Microsoft Outlook 2010, and Lync Server 2010—we’ve effectively closed the collaboration loop. Employees will no longer have to phone each other to set meetings. Documents will no longer be shared via email. Search will be infinitely faster. These may seem like small things, but they add up to a more highly efficient environment.”
Unified Corporate Environment
A better environment for collaboration will do more for the Group than just increase productivity, believes Parker. “It will actually help achieve what the Group is aiming for, and that is a more united culture at Sanlam. We are in the process of eliminating silos. People are beginning to work together better, because we can collaborate more easily,” he says. The collaboration improvements make the whole of Sanlam stronger than its parts. Parker continues, “We follow a federal business model in the Group. The different business clusters in Sanlam collaborate toward exploiting synergies and sharing opportunities. With SharePoint Server 2010, we are much better equipped to carry out this philosophy.”
Flexible, Easy-to-Implement Enterprise Architecture
Deploying a new collaboration environment to a global corporation of more than 10,000 users could be a daunting task. However, says Gerber, “Implementing this enterprise environment on SharePoint Server 2010 was incredibly easy. Due to the out-of-the-box features, support for shared services, and easy-to-configure load balancing and high availability, the process was not complicated. We didn’t have to rewrite or recode—that is a tremendous boon.”
Developers use the common C# programming language to customize SharePoint Server 2010. Says Parker, “The SharePoint Server 2010 tools and Visual Studio 2010 are highly intuitive and familiar so it makes developing applications for group-wide consumption easier. Our businesses have Microsoft development skills on board and are in the process of updating development skills to SharePoint 2010. With this new environment, the businesses can see that it’s not worth it for them to try to deploy their own collaboration tools. They also don’t have to worry about supporting an infrastructure—we do it all for them"

Lower Costs, Shared Costs
The Sanlam Group entered into a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement that provided it with access to a number of different technologies, including SharePoint Server 2010. Rather than licensing different products and solutions piecemeal, from a variety of vendors, the company now has a consolidated software licensing structure and IT infrastructure.
“We have been involved with SharePoint products and technologies from day one, and we know the benefits. But when we saw different Sanlam businesses trying to address similar issues with many different technologies, we knew that Sanlam could accomplish much more, and more easily and more cost effectively, with a single product—SharePoint Server 2010. And that is where the Sanlam mindset has changed. The company will realize great efficiencies from this solution,” says Marc Fletcher, Sales and Marketing Director at Intervate.
Parker adds that the shared services model allows each business unit to pay for its portion of the operating expenses of the new collaboration environment. “Thanks to the shared services architecture capabilities of SharePoint Server 2010, we can see very clearly what each business unit is using. It splits the costs fairly, and enables us to easily recover our operating costs on a pay-for-what-you-use basis.”
​​Contact Intervate for more information.



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