Four pioneering CIOs on the journey to a cloud-centric world
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Four pioneering CIOs on the journey to a cloud-centric world

Kenny MacIver & Clare Simmons – October 2015

Exclusive video interviews

IT leaders share their experiences of transforming their organizations with a comprehensive adoption of cloud. 

There can be few organizations that have yet to embrace the cloud model to some degree or other — whether that has involved deploying standard SaaS apps at a line-of-business level or moving large parts of their IT infrastructure to a cloud provider. But for a growing number of IT leaders the commitment to cloud has become almost comprehensive, as they increasingly maintain there is now little justification for delivering IT services in any other way.

At the recent Cloud World Forum conference in London, I-CIO tracked down four European IT leaders who — for different reasons — not only believe in ‘cloud-first’ but have adopted a ‘cloud-only’ philosophy. For some that’s because their legacy IT was no longer fit for purpose; for others the cloud model helped them operate much more effectively across geographical boundaries; for others still the requirement was for the kind of rapid scalability that, arguably, only cloud can deliver. But, as our video interviews show, in all cases the benefits they are experiencing easily outweigh the challenges they encountered on their cloud journey.
Chris Hewertson, CTO  
glh Hotels

When Chris Hewertson joined glh Hotels as CTO in November 2012, London’s largest owner-operator hotel company was run with an entirely legacy IT operation. Yet just three years later, “we’re pretty advanced in our cloud journey,” says Hewertson, with 80% of the company’s systems now consumed from the cloud. “And we’ve actually unknowingly started to have a bit of a no-server strategy,” he adds. Indeed, Hewertson expects glh will no longer own any physical servers by the end of 2015, with all business and customer IT services provided on cloud infrastructure.

Despite the scale of the transformation glh has undergone, Hewertson reports that it didn’t face many challenges on the route to cloud — not least of all because of buy-in from senior management. “We are very lucky to have a CEO who understands technology and the benefits of moving to the cloud,” he explains. Equally, it has encountered very little resistance from users across the business, because the new services are so much more advanced and their rollout has been trouble-free. Hewertson says the benefits of cloud are so abundant that they were quickly recognized by the entire business — not just the IT team.

“There needs to be a lot of dialogue around how the financing model works — that’s been the biggest element of education that we've had to do.”

In November 2015 glh will launch London’s second Amba Hotel, adding to its portfolio of Clermont, every hotels and Thistle brands. A subsidiary of Singapore-listed GuocoLeisure, glh’s growth strategy focuses on attracting hotel owners and developers to put their properties under its management. “One of the ways we can do that is to show we can get them on board very quickly, without loading them up with a heavy capital cost for doing so,” Hewertson outlines. And cloud enables this rapid on-boarding process — all for a much lower operating cost than previously.

The benefits of cloud are also being felt among glh’s guests. “It has made a big difference,” says Hewertson. In the past, the technology team was too busy firefighting within the business to look at in-room IT. But thanks to cloud adoption that team now has time to explore advanced services and has begun introducing the latest digital services into glh’s newly refurbished hotel rooms, from high-definition TVs to iPads and gigabit-bandwidth free WiFi. “Cloud is enabling glh to put the guest at the forefront of the agenda,” says Hewertson, and many of the services it’s now delivering are only possible thanks to investment in its cloud API platform.

For Hewertson, a successful journey to the cloud relies on taking the rest of the organization with you, including addressing concerns around the company’s financing model. As glh was traditionally a CAPEX organization, the IT team had to work closely with its CFO and business teams to justify the increase in operating costs associated with the move to cloud. “There needs to be a lot of dialogue around how that financing model works — that’s been the biggest element of education that we’ve had to do.”
Michalis Moraitis, CIO
Nissan Greece

As a company, Nissan Greece is faced with a classic distributed computing challenge. Not only does it have to provide IT services to its 100-plus car dealerships across mainland Greece, it also has to service the IT needs of many of its dealers spread across Greece’s large archipelago.

Historically, that has proved both expensive and difficult to maintain. However, as cloud computing technologies have matured, the company has been able to take advantage of the new model to provide a much more effective and efficient way of delivering IT services.

As Michalis Moraitis, CIO of Nissan Greece, outlines: “The cloud journey for Nissan Greece really started in 2002 when we decided to move away from local applications and launch a global one that would connect all the dealers and clients in one central home.”

Few dealerships had the capacity or local expertise to manage their own IT; instead they relied on Nissan Greece for the service. That meant that whenever the company wanted to roll out new features, updates, information or processes across the country, the task could take months to complete, highlights Moraitis.

The solution was a centrally hosted and managed cloud service that dealers could hook in to. “All of a sudden we found a new world where any roll-out or new development was taking just a few minutes instead of weeks or months, and with no problems at all,” he says.

Initial resistance from dealers was overcome as they realized they could provide a service to their customers that was equal to — if not better — than before, while at the same time not having to manage or invest in their own IT. By paying Nissan for the cloud-based service they have everything online, says Moraitis — the infrastructure, the centrally managed information, their own data and 24/7 support.

“So they now don’t have to think about backups or [the impact of] losing a PC, and they know they have support, day and night,” he says. Previously, getting technical support to a dealership might have taken up to three days if it was on the mainland, or a week for a remote island, he adds. “Since we can now see their environment we can [often] fix it the next minute. Going from next week to the next minute, it’s a totally different world.”

“Cloud has enabled our dealers to realize a new ecosystem of success and service.”

But there have been plenty of benefits for the company too. The centralized system has allowed it to apply a consistent set of processes across the entire dealership network. “When we have a new directive from Nissan Europe, it’s [applied] exactly the same throughout Greece.”

“Nissan now knows that all of its dealers have exactly the same level of support and quality of services — updated catalogues, access to the latest cars and the availability of spare parts etc. All this adds up to a fantastic model for Nissan Greece, with the dealers realizing a new ecosystem of success and service levels.”

Looking forward, Moraitis feels that its exclusive use of private cloud may be holding back opportunities for expansion and the creation of even greater flexibility for dealers. It’s because of this that he’s looking at a hybrid cloud model. “The next step for our team is to [explore] a hybrid model,” he says — retaining private cloud for sensitive areas such as financials, but using a hybrid model of private and public cloud when it comes to supporting the operations of selling cars and spare parts.

Liam Quinn, IT director
Richmond Events

For Richmond Events, an organizer of conferences for CIOs, CFOs and other business leaders in the UK, Italy, Switzerland and the US, the cloud journey started 13 years ago. “We had a really big problem whereby all our hardware was becoming out of date,” says IT director Liam Quinn. With datacenters in New York and London, there was a lot of duplication, as well as legacy hardware that the company simply couldn’t afford to replace.

The solution was to begin outsourcing hardware, software and desktops to a third party, which soon enabled Richmond Events to turn its CAPEX budget into revenue. Since then, it’s come a considerable way. “We’re now on our third provider and everything we do is in the cloud,” says Quinn. “If you walked into one of our offices, all you would see is a load of thin clients, computers, monitors, mice, a few printers, a couple of switches and a couple of routers.”

The transformation from outdated hardware to a cloud-run business has not been without its challenges. The first hurdle was for the IT organization to demonstrate to itself — and senior management — that cloud could work, “that we could actually deploy and deliver what we said we could, that it would work internationally with just one datacenter.” Once Quinn’s team had proven the case for cloud’s viability, attention turned to getting buy-in from users via a program of education to highlight its benefits. “Gone are all your separate screensavers, gone is [the possibility of] losing data if you leave your laptop on the train — everything [is] central and controlled,” he outlines. 

Quinn needed to show users that the benefits of cloud would outweigh any perceived loss of freedom. Such efforts were supported by strong management buy-in “right from the top.” Indeed, the managing director and finance director not only understood the benefits of the move, they also became instrumental in helping to educate end-users. Quinn says that switching between systems and suppliers has been relatively seamless as far as users are concerned, thanks to the IT team’s careful planning and solid understanding of the processes involved. For example, the whole company was migrated to an entirely new system within a matter of days over the end-of-year holidays, without the end-users even noticing that transition.

“We’re a much leaner operation, delivering far more in terms of business benefits.”

Challenges overcome, the benefits to the business as a whole are clear. There has not been a single loss of data since the move and the company has been virus-free — whereas not long before the initial transition, it had been hit by malware that had required a five-day clean-up operation. With more up-to-date machines it’s easier for Quinn’s team to add new users, at a lower cost and much more rapidly. “There’s no longer this big process of trying to get in a new PC — configure it, get it all working. It now happens almost seamlessly.” Challenges and benefits considered, “we’ve only seen it as a positive experience.”

In terms of the impact on resourcing, Richmond Events has the same number of employees as it did in 2002, but it is running three or four times the number of events every year. And although the number of staff needed to run the IT department has been reduced by two-thirds — costing the company a third of what it did 13 years ago — it is able to deliver services 24/7. “We’re not worried about whether the servers are running hot or if the hard drive is about to fail, or if we have a virus, or if I need to update my licensing  that’s all taken care of,” he says.

Moreover, with a lower IT budget and almost minimal CAPEX, cloud is enabling Quinn to deliver a much more business-focused IT team that can better address user and customer needs. “We’re a much leaner operation,” he says, “delivering far more in terms of business benefits. For us, cloud definitely equals better margins.”

Chily Fachler, EVP technology
Green Man Gaming 

Start-ups everywhere count themselves lucky for having been born in the cloud era, with its promise of lower cost of ownership, business responsiveness and rapid deployment. Just ask Chily Fachler, EVP of technology at five-year-old Green Man Gaming, the world’s second-largest online downloadable PC games company: “We started on the cloud, we continued on the cloud and we’re still on the cloud. There is no part of our business that isn’t cloud.”

Starting with a blank sheet of paper is obviously a very different proposition to working with an existing in-house portfolio of legacy IT, servers and data centers, Fachler observes. Many businesses will evolve from that pre-cloud legacy world to a hybrid IT environment, he says, and then potentially to a cloud-only base. “But for us the discussion was: ‘This is where the company is moving towards, so what are the best tools for that? And the best tool for us was cloud.”

That appears to have been the right choice of tool to support the company’s ambitions. Since it launched, the company has been growing at an annual rate of between 50% and 100%, says Fachler.

“Cloud is the only way to cope with incredible spikes in demand in an incredibly short time.”

Initially, one of the key attractions of cloud for Green Man was cheaper hosting and the ability to sidestep the need for a server room, application licenses and other upfront costs. But, as customer numbers and sales grew, the need to deal with unpredictable demand quickly became the imperative. “From the start we built a website, plus all the infrastructure behind it, that was resilient, that was able to cope with peaks and spikes. Those can be almost impossible to predict, like when 10,000 gamers decide to come to your site in the same second because someone has made an announcement about a new game being available. The cloud is the only way to cope with this kind of incredible demand in an incredibly short time,” says Fachler.

Since then, Green Man has expanded its cloud footprint with cloud-hosted databases, open source technologies and big data analytics. “Again, at no stage do we ask ourselves: ‘Should we be on the cloud?’ It’s just how we continue our cloud journey.”

As with the adoption of any technology, however, there are challenges, concedes Fachler. “For example, we had an issue one year where there were a couple of unseasonal spikes and the open source database technology we were on struggled to keep up. We’re also in the middle of a very large platform migration that will make our websites device-responsive so customers can more easily engage with us on mobile or any other device. But it’s never a question of ‘let’s go build a server room downstairs.’ It doesn’t even come into the picture.

• Find out more about the transformational power of cloud at Fujitsu Forum 2015 in Munich, November 18 & 19, where Hybrid IT is one of the conference’s main themes.

First published October 2015
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