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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: The Art of the Hybrid Cloud

How a hybrid cloud digital transformation saved a 96-year-old company

Moving HR resources and customer service functions to the cloud were two ways that Overhead Door Corporation was able to move away from traditional legacy system software.

The manufacturing process at Overhead Door Corporation.

Image: Overhead Door Corporation

In 1921, Overhead Door Corporation was founded and began manufacturing sectional garage doors. Nearly 100 years later, in 2012, it began a lengthy digital transformation effort using a combination of private and public cloud services to create a hybrid cloud solution.

The $1 billion company manufactures a range of products including residential and commercial doors and openers for everything from houses and airports to trains, hotels, hospitals, and more. The company has five divisions that employ 4,000 people across 36 states and Canada, with manufacturing facilities in Mexico and the UK. And while the company has made progress in modernizing its systems, it's still four years away from achieving its ultimate digital transformation goal, said Larry Freed, CIO of Overhead Door.

Freed joined the company in 2011, soon after a strategic business assessment was completed allowing for the hiring of a CIO as part of a technology overhaul that was needed to accommodate future growth.

"When I joined, there was a collective decision made with the board that we needed to transform from a technology perspective and a business process perspective," Freed said. One of his first tasks was to evaluate which software company to use to replace 20-year-old legacy systems that were constricting operational efficiencies and limiting supply chain optimization.

Moving on up

After choosing Oracle, the company began moving some core processes to the cloud and currently uses the Oracle HCM cloud for many HR functions. Freed said this change is the single biggest transformation that has taken place.

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"That has changed the way our employees engage with the company through an HR perspective and integrated the process from end to end and allowed it to become a more self-service interaction," Freed said, explaining that employees can access any pertinent information online, without needing to send an email to HR and wait for a reply. This has allowed the HR department to be more strategic and less administrative.

"It's really been a paradigm shift for the organization," Freed said. "What we're leveraging in the cloud is a current and ever evolving modern platform. Particularly in the HR space, organizations don't invest a lot. Traditionally, once your HR system is in, it's in. But with the shift to the cloud it's evolving constantly. There could be one to two major version upgrades a year. There's much more capability."

Customer service was upgraded, too. Customers can access the company's service portal online to get answers about products, or to chat with a customer service rep online. The customer experience is frequently changing as new services are added to the existing platform.

On-premises solutions and hybrid cloud

The core enterprise resource planning (ERP) is handled on-premises. "Our financial, manufacturing, inventory, purchasing, scheduling, planning, transportation -- all of that is on-premises from a core perspective," Freed said. It works in conjunction with cloud applications, but the back office on-site is still needed as a component of the process.

"More and more organizations are strategically shifting their applications suites into the cloud and they may be using different cloud providers. In some cases we're leveraging Oracle for our service cloud and our HCM [Human Capital Management] cloud, but in our case we use Kronos time and attendance which is in the Kronos cloud from a SaaS perspective," Freed said, adding that Amazon is also being used as a cloud provider at Overhead Door.

"When you have various cloud providers that are hosting applications, you still need integration. One of the keys to a hybrid environment is a very robust integration platform to allow those transactions to move back and forth in a seamless matter. In our case we use the Oracle Fusion Middleware platform as a data highway. The acronym they use is SOA [Service-Oriented Architecture]. It's complicated, but it allows for a single homogenous platform to promote or leverage or support how you move data across systems," Freed explained.

Cost and staffing

As for the cost, "managing Fusion Middleware for our hybrid environment from an on-going production support perspective (resources) equates to roughly 1.2 percent of our overall IT budget," Freed said.

No new employees were needed to introduce cloud applications. "Although the number of integrations have increased, our staffing has remained the same. Our Oracle application landscape is very broad and complicated. We have been able to manage the integration requirements as-is. The thing people need to consider is the net new project requirements associated with standing up a cloud application -- integrations are a critical and core component of any implementation. The right implementation partner is key to the initial design and development of the SOA integrations in a middleware platform. Those project costs must be accounted for upfront," Freed said.

Addressing security concerns

Security was an initial concern, since so much employee data would be stored in the cloud. "We began having the conversation in 2013 and we were rightly concerned at the time. But the more and more we spoke about it, and the more we understood how Oracle had the infrastructure in place and the appropriate security, we felt very comfortable that it was protected and Oracle could probably do a better job than we could on-premises with security," he said.

Nirav Mehta, vice president of product management for Oracle, said that privacy concerns are common among companies considering moving to the cloud, and a hybrid cloud can alleviate some of those concerns.

"While organizations are eager to move their enterprise workloads to the public cloud, many have been constrained by data privacy concerns or regulations that have prevented them from being able to deploy their applications and data in data centers not under their control. A hybrid cloud model allows organizations to deploy some workloads in the cloud while others remain on-premises with seamless portability," Mehta said.

Staying relevant

Making the move to the hybrid cloud and undergoing a digital transformation was a key part of Overhead Door's plan to stay in business another century or more.

"It's a very competitive world and a very global world today, and these things are part of what you need to do to continue to be relevant and attract the right talent and increase your market share," Freed said.

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