Case study: Cloud transformed enterprise apps for Aussie company

The Australian Institute of Management NSW and ACT dug itself into a hole by not making consistent investments in IT. It decided to use cloud computing to dig itself out.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

The Australian Institute of Management (AIM) has been around for more than 76 years, and its back-end IT systems were feeling as though they were just old.

AIM's Dana Teahan.
Image: AIM

AIM operations are separated in to states and run more or less independently from each other. For AIM's NSW and ACT branch, it made a capital investment into IT seven years ago, implementing new systems, but it had failed to continue investing in IT.

With increased competition from other similar institutes, the not-for-profit organisation was facing the possibility of fading into obscurity as it was failing to retain students. AIM was forced to self-reflect, and one of the things they wanted to improve on was IT.

As part of its plan to reinvigorate the organisation, AIM NSW and ACT looked at updating its cumbersome customer relations management system (CRM). AIM considered a straight upgrade of its old on-premise SalesLogix CRM, which was integrated with Microsoft's Great Plains (now known as Microsoft Dynamics GP) enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. But AIM NSW and ACT realised that the company had shot itself in the foot by overcustomising the system in its infancy.

"We had spent lots of money customising our system, making sure it did everything except maybe make coffee for people — we really didn't have to do much," AIM chief information and digital officer Dana Teahan told ZDNet. "The problem with that was we customised it seven years ago, and it was fit for business then, but the business has moved on."

The CRM was even doing the financial transactions processing for AIM NSW and ACT. As a result of all the customisation, it was going to cost a fortune to upgrade. So the organisation decided to start from scratch and pondered off-premise cloud options.

"We had discussed using cloud technology, especially public cloud," Teahan said. "We're a fairly old institution with a very traditional board of directors."

"They were a bit sceptical — they didn't really understand what cloud was about and were worried about things like privacy, security, where the data would reside, and who would have access to it."

AIM NSW and ACT then went back to explore on-premise CRM offerings again, and started counting the cost of having a server room, as well as looking after its own IT security and infrastructure.

"We came to the realisation that we are not a technology company," Teahan said. "On-premise would mean having to buy expensive technology resources.

"Cloud companies out there are way better at managing security and infrastructure than we ever could."

It ended up being a toss-up between Saleforce cloud platform and Microsoft Dymanics CRM tacked on with GP in the cloud. Salesforce came out as the victor.

Teahan explained that while both offerings were quite similar, Microsoft's cloud CRM couldn't really connect to the cloud version of the vendor's financial system.

"We also assessed running the Microsoft applications on an external infrastructure, like a private cloud," he said. "We looked at the flexibility of the architecture, and the cost as well, but Salesforce just came out trumps in terms of cost, capability, speed of implementation, and associated risks."

"We are a not-for-profit, so we don't have oodles of cash to spend."

Armed with a budget of AU$2.4 million for a complete IT system overhaul, AIM NSW and ACT went ahead to prepare for the Salesforce implementation in June last year. There was a lot planning to ensure the implementation of the Salesforce CRM cloud platform was as painless as possible.

But despite the prep work, there were still issues that AIM grappled with, namely associated with change management. AIM needed to get the staff to adopt the new software-as-a-service (SaaS) set-up and change people's perceptions on how the new systems could help them achieve their work objectives.

This was particularly difficult considering that the old CRM system had everything tailored to their needs, and it was a big hurdle to get the staff to adapt to the system rather than the other way around, Teahan said.

"The big philosophical thing for us was 'don't customise the system'," he said. "We would never design a CRM better than what Salesforce and its tens of thousands of customers could."

AIM needed to get the staff to adopt the new software-as-a-service (SaaS) set-up and change people's perceptions on how the new systems could help them achieve their work objectives.

"So we resolved to use the system as intended, so that freed us up to concentrate on how we can build the business and provide a better customer experience."

Teahan also found Salesforce's AppExchange, which allows customers to download business apps that complemented the vendor's CRM, aided in solving a few problems that, back in the old days, would have required software customisation.

Overall, the IT overhaul project came in at just under AU$2 million and was completed in early 2013. Over half of that went into actual implementation of the new platforms, including Salesforce, while the rest went into business process reengineering upfront.

AIM is paying for the Salesforce CRM cloud platform on a subscription basis, and while some may question whether the institute will be paying more money in the long run compared to just flat-out paying for an on-premise offering, Teahan saw it differently.

"We're moving buildings from North Sydney to a state-of-the-art facility in Sydney CBD in August," he said. "We actually did the math for building a server room or outsourcing a server room, the cost associated with them, and putting in an on-premise application."

"We found, in fact, in the longer term, the cloud platforms were going to be cheaper for us."

AIM NSW and ACT has been using Salesforce's CRM for several months, and has seen operational efficiency increase by around 30 percent.

"It actually runs faster than the systems we used to have in the building," Teahan said. "The fact it enables people to work from home, our users really enjoy it."

"It's nice for our staff to have access to cutting-edge technology, because it's a bit of an employee reward to come to work on a really good system that helps enable your job day to day and doesn't hinder it."

AIM is in the process of merging the back-end IT across Australia, and will roll out the cloud platform first to AIM Queensland.

Editorial standards