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Lafarge Tarmac demolishes relationship with Microsoft, cements infrastructure partnership with Google for Work

Deploying full Microsoft application set to everyone was 'like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, ‎director of IT Alisdair MacKenzie tells Computing

Lafarge Tarmac, one of the UK's leading construction groups, plans to replace the majority of its Microsoft systems with Google-based alternatives in an effort to boost innovation and cut costs.

The firm, formed in 2013 as a result of a joint venture between Anglo American and Lafarge, is based in Birmingham and has more than 6,000 employees and 330 sites across the UK.

However, despite being one of the most successful firms in the building sector - and the winner of the IT Department of The Year award at last year's Computing and BCS UK IT Industry Awards - Lafarge Tarmac isn't resting on its laurels when it comes to IT infrastructure.

"We see there's an opportunity for Lafarge Tarmac to differentiate itself with the use of new technology for our customers," Alasdair MacKenzie, ‎director of IT at Lafarge Tarmac, told Computing. 

A digital transformation programme has seen the firm "become one of the largest corporate Google for Work clients in the UK". MacKenzie and his team have a target "to replace 80 per cent of our Windows desktops and laptops with Chromebooks and Chromeboxes". 

"This year is all about delivering this digital transformation programme and exploiting all of that," MacKenzie said. "Whether it be a Hangouts facility for chat and video conferencing, document collaboration in terms of apps, document sheets and slides, or deploying new tools – it's about deploying them at pace."

One of the programme's key aims is to enable staff to access information from anywhere and with a variety of devices. MacKenzie used the example of his own working life to illustrate this vision.

"In the week, I've got a Chromebox on my desk. I'll use a Chromebook when I'm mobile. I'll use an Android tablet and a PC at home. It's all completely seamless, so we're trying to drive that," he said. "Google for Work is at the centre of that."

MacKenzie said one of the reasons for the decision to ditch Microsoft was the pressing need to unify Anglo American and Lafarge's systems after the merger.

"We started looking at it because Tarmac ran Microsoft Exchange and Lafarge ran Lotus Notes and we wanted a new tech platform that wasn't one or the other," he explained. "We wanted a new, modern, innovative way of doing business throughout the company. We wanted to make a statement in that regard, as a new organisation going forward."

For Lafarge Tarmac, it was a combination of what Google for Work offered and the fact that big name companies had also deployed the solution that was attractive.

"We liked the whole Google toolset, what it offered. We'd looked at it and some companies that use it, like ITV and Jaguar Land Rover. We liked the whole collaboration aspect of it, we liked the openness," said MacKenzie.

"We have a strategy to utilise cloud services and so we wanted to move away from on-premise Microsoft," he continued, before going on to detail how the company could make huge savings by using Google instead of Microsoft.

"We saw it as being lower cost in terms of ownership, both from a licensing perspective and an operating perspective."

Hardware was an area in which particularly large savings could be made, MacKenzie explained.

"With Windows laptops, we'd be paying £750 or so per Windows laptop. The Chromebook I've got on my desk cost about £150. It's a big saving, especially when you've got 5,000 of these," he said.

The move to Google meant the company would no longer be spending so much on tools that staff simply weren't using, he said.

"We were also deploying Microsoft Office to every user in the organisation and it was like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut in terms of what we use.

"You're average person at a manufacturing site wouldn't use the majority of applications," MacKenzie said, adding that Google Docs offered everything the firm needed, and at a lower cost.

"We saw it as being lower cost, enabling greater collaboration, it was a whole host of reasons," he concluded.

Lefarge Tarmac is far from the first company to opt for a move away from Microsoft in favour of Google. In October last year, Reed director of technology Mark Ridley told Computing that the recruitment firm is moving from Lotus Notes to Google Apps, and from Windows PCs to Chromeboxes and Chromebooks, as part of an "agile lean transformation strategy".

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