How an ERP changed Salmat's perception of the cloud

The marketing services provider thought adopting cloud-based technologies would limit the way it operates, but it soon learned it was wrong.

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Dave Glover, CTO at Salmat

Image: Supplied

A little over three years ago, Dave Glover, Salmat's new CTO at the time, was tasked with leading the 35-year-old company's digital transformation.

The Australian-listed company was "heterogeneous" and "siloed", with very little cross-division collaboration and limited productivity as a result of outdated methods and solutions being used across business segments such as finance and human resources, Glover admitted.

"The technology we had in place challenged our ability to collaborate and interoperate, rather than facilitating it," he told ZDNet.

A change in technical choices within the company had to be initiated to bring down operational costs and boost productivity, Glover realised. The company's new CEO Craig Dower and CFO Rebecca Lowde concurred.

Salmat developed a "cloud-first" strategy that would allow it to not only upgrade existing systems, but also introduce new capability faster and more cost-effectively to where it delivers the greatest business benefit.

While the company was hesitant at first about moving major IT systems to the cloud, the benefits derived from adopting Workday pushed it over the line.

By July 2015, Workday, an ERP alternative for financial management and HR, was up and running, ahead of the the nine month-deadline Glover had been assigned.

It was a significant upgrade to the unnamed ERP system Salmat was previously relying on, which Glover said was "an impediment to productivity", "not meeting business requirements", and "difficult to use".

"[Adopting Workday] really got the ball rolling in terms of us realising cloud-based, software-as-a-service solutions were mature and enterprise-ready. The challenges that we imagined we would have around configure-only solutions limiting what we could do, turned out not to be a problem at all," Glover said.

"Within six months, we managed to replace the old system with the new one, change the charter of accounts that underpinned the way the business operated, and started getting [the finance team] real-time insights into the business that they could not previously put their fingers on."

With the new system, the company has access to new HR functionality.

"We're starting to do things we previously would have only dreamt of. This year's performance reviews are so much more productive and employee-focused than they have been in the past ... We can also onboard and offboard people easily," Glover said.

Workday was the catalyst that led to the initiation of other cloud-based deployments. Shortly afterwards, the company switched from Microsoft Office to G Suite.

The company also took up a range of other cloud-based applications such as FreshService for service desk management, Okta for multi-factor authentication, Salesforce for customer relationship management, Sophos for network security, and Zscaler for unified security management across multiple physical locations.

"Our agenda from the beginning was to replace back-of-house systems with software-as-a-service, and take away the distractions of the hygiene issues associated with trying to run all of that stuff internally. We can focus now on the infrastructure that underpins the solutions we operate on behalf of our customers," Glover said.

Glover admitted Salmat has only moved about 30 percent of its workloads onto the cloud over the last couple of years, but expects that number to surpass 50 percent once it has replaced its on-premises contact centre solution with Genesys Pure Cloud, hosted on Amazon Web Services.

While the company could move everything to AWS tomorrow, Glover said it is choosing to take the slow and steady approach.

"You need to make sensible financial decisions. If we move everything to AWS tomorrow, we would leave behind a pile of infrastructure that still needs to depreciate and reach end of life," Glover said.

"As things reach end of life, or as we run into issues around scalability or redundancy, we've re-platformed [solutions] in AWS. It is a considered approach that takes into account the fact that we have existing technology we don't want to get pulled away from yet."

Salmat is currently trialling software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solutions, Glover said, adding that as the company migrates more and more workloads to the cloud, it is becoming less reliant on its wide area network.

A successful proof-of-concept was run out of Brisbane and a separate proof-of-concept with an alternative vendor is being run out of the Philippines.

"Each of our sites will have breakout points managed with an overarching, cloud-based, SD-WAN solution. We'll get redundancy that we don't have everywhere today and we'll have a much lower cost of operation," Glover added.

By improving internal efficiencies, Glover admitted that cloud-based applications have allowed the company to be more customer-focused.

"Taking away these issues of managing difficult on-premises solutions is allowing us to turn our attention to revenue-generating problems and building out solutions for our customers and improve the services we provide to them," Glover said.

"There's nothing worse than just spending money on replacing a back-of-house system because you get no return on it."

Salmat also has the ability to dabble with other technologies.

"A year ago, we wouldn't have had the headroom to be thinking about experimenting with cool new technologies. If we've got our heads in the sand trying to fix internal issues, we can't explore new technologies and figure out how to take advantage of them," Glover said.

By adopting G Suite, Glover said travel costs have been reduced by 28 percent during the 2016 financial year.

"When the new CEO arrived, he asked what problems the organisation was facing. A lot of people pointed to the fact that we were siloed and that we didn't collaborate enough," Glover said.

"With Google, a lot of those barriers have been broken down and the evidence is that we run thousands of Hangouts every week. People don't travel as much because they are comfortable that they can have a quality interaction with someone in Melbourne or the Philippines."

Often with change comes resistance, but that has not been a problem for Salmat, Glover said.

"We didn't know how ready the business as a whole would be for change. We went into it with concerns about what pushback we would get, so it was surprising to us that there was very little resistance on behalf of Salmat staff," he added.

"They were ready for whatever we threw their way."

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