Cloud computing is the key to digital transformation at Guinness World Records

Dedication's what you need if you want to create a successful approach to technology-led change
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

Do you want to be a record breaker? Evidence from Guinness World Records (GWR) suggests the answer is increasingly 'yes'. What was once a niche pursuit for superheroes is now open to everyone -- and Rob Howe, IT director at GWR, helps to manage this process.

People from anywhere on the globe can apply online for a record attempt. For those thinking of setting a record, there are key criteria and guidelines; any attempt for example must be measurable and repeatable.

Wannabe record breakers need to provide evidence, which usually includes video, photos and witness statements. Howe says public interest in the service has skyrocketed recently.

"In the past year, we've seen the volume of the data coming in from the public increase from 500MB a month to 4TB," he says. "There's big interest in being a record breaker because it's a badge of honour. We'll get 47,000 applications this year and we have 52,000 records in existence."

Public access to record breaking is just one part of a technology-backed change in business approach at GWR. The firm has evolved during Howe's six years with the organisation from being a publishing house that produces its iconic book of feats, to a creative consultancy that works alongside brands on marketing campaigns.

Digital technology plays a key role in supporting these campaigns. Howe says the organisation looks for ways to get its content -- which might include videos, photos, and the written word -- to market more effectively.

"The book is still at the core of our business, but it's allowing us to engage with people in different ways," he says.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

When it comes to working with brands, GWR helps creates records-based marketing initiatives. While GWR can't guarantee new records will be set at the end of a campaign, it does strive for innovative ways to work with its partners.

Howe gives the example of a consultancy arrangement with LG Electronics. LG came to GWR with what it believed was the most stable washing machine on the market, the Centrum System -- but it needed proof of reduced vibrations and noise levels.

LG worked with GWR's consultancy service to create an attempt for the tallest house of cards built in 12 hours. Professional card stacker Bryan Berg subsequently built a 3.3-metre-high tower of cards, consisting of 48 levels on a washing machine spinning at 1,000 rpm.

"The record attempt demonstrated clearly how stable the washing machine must be," says Howe. "And that's the type of value we add to organisations. We work with schools and small businesses through to major agencies and big-name brands."

GWR's move from a traditional publishing house to a creative consultancy has been supported by Howe's digital transformation programme. The first stage involved introducing a standardised records management platform from SDL several years ago.

This web-based platform brings together all the records from GWR's disparate business units around the globe. Workers use the platform to share content related to records. "We can co-ordinate our activity far more effectively, rather than having silos of teams," says Howe.

He also led the introduction of a digital asset management system from Asset Bank. These assets include evidence relating to record attempts and the videos the organisation produces for clients. "It's basically a portal for us to organise our digital content," he says.

Salesforce CRM technology, meanwhile, is being used to host the firm's commercial arrangements. Salespeople at GWR can link through to the records management system to create potential marketing events, but decisions on whether the arrangement represents a valid record attempt are taken independently.

As a final stage of the transformation process, GWR chose Ensono to manage the migration of its business-critical IT architecture to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform. The project ensures the company's IT system can manage the ongoing transformation of its business from a publishing organisation to a digital media agency.

SEE: Cloud v. data center decision (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

GWR has worked with Ensono since 2002. Back then, the provider hosted GWR's website. Ensono took additional responsibility for data centre activity in 2008. While the relationship has proved fruitful, Howe realised digital transformation required a fresh approach.

"We got to the point -- given the growth of the company -- that we wanted to look at something different," he says. "I went out to the market, talked about our current situation and the services that needed to be supported, and asked providers to come and show us what they could do."

Howe says he was presented with a variety of potential solutions to his business challenge. He eventually decided to retain Ensono, but with a twist to the hosting relationship. Ensono, rather than pushing a move to the newest version of its private cloud, suggested the best answer was for GWR to shift its infrastructure to AWS.

"We've now moved everything over," says Howe. "All the platforms -- such as record and assets management -- are on AWS, as are our API layers that are used by partners. We've moved our entire business to the cloud -- and it's been a relatively painless transition."

Howe says the key to a successful digital transformation process is strong bonds with executive peers. He says IT professionals need to think more like business people. "You have to be involved with your colleagues in the rest of the organisation -- you have to be intertwined," he says.

The only bad news for Howe and his team is that there will be no record attempts relating to the successful transformation initiative. However, Howe says leading digital transformation at GWR has brought its own rewards.

"I was looking for something exciting and different," he says. "They were just setting out on their transformation journey. They'd identified that they needed to revisit and revamp their internal systems. I thought that sounded like fun and it continues to be a great role."


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