Kmart Group to shift its mainframe to the cloud

CTO Michael Fagan said this weekend's project is a 'move and improve' rather than a 'lift and shift'.

Australian retailer Kmart Group is shifting its mainframe into the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, with CTO Michael Fagan calling the move the "holy grail of infrastructure projects".

Hoping to seamlessly carry out the project this weekend, Fagan said while he was confident in the ability of Kmart and Target Australia to move to the cloud, the shift is notoriously difficult to do.

"One of the exciting things about working in retail is there's actually so much technology; we've got an online website, order orchestration from the website, you have in-store technologies, you have supply chain technologies in warehousing," he told ZDNet.

"We're planning on migrating our mainframe applications into the cloud this weekend, and that really is the heart and soul of any retailer, their merchandise, their inventory, and their supply chain, and they're the applications that are run on the mainframe."

He said while the likes of Kmart and Target's websites, online ordering, and finance systems do not run on a mainframe, there are plans to send them to the cloud following a successful deployment this weekend.

"Some of them are already in the cloud and those that aren't in the cloud, we would look to migrate at a later stage," he said.

"The mainframe is the big one, it's notoriously difficult to do. For companies that have been born in the last five to 10 years, they probably don't have a mainframe, but if you're a Kmart or a Target -- we're 50 years and 100 years respectively -- and our mainframe, we've got some code in that mainframe that is older than me -- which is pretty old."

With partners Infosys and DXC, as well as help from AWS in Australia, Kmart Group isn't just lifting and shifting its mainframe into the cloud, he said. Some of the applications in the mainframe have already been sliced off, rebuilt, and regenerated, and some are still to be done.

"Lift and shift on its own isn't going to be particularly useful, we're trying to do a move and improve," Fagan said.

"We're trying to do some clean up of the old code and some of it will just run in the cloud in a mainframe emulator. At the same time, we're taking slices of the mainframe off and rebuilding them as a set of capability-bound microservices which can interact with the other applications in other parts of the business in a truly digital fashion."

Fagan said he is confident, given Kmart Group "probably" builds more than it buys when it comes to technology.

Also instilling confidence in the project is Kmart's investment in training staff on what cloud actually is.

Kmart in October announced it was participating in the AWS Cloud Guild training and enablement program, with the organisation hoping to provide AWS certification to 100% of its IT workforce, and more than 80% of its non-technical head office employees.

1,400 employees from around Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, and India participated.

"When you have 100% of your team certified and everybody understands the benefits and the goals and understands what we're trying to do, then we're all there cheering from the sidelines for the team to be successful this weekend," Fagan told ZDNet.

Discussing the benefit of having non-technical people certified in AWS, Fagan said speed in delivery is the biggest plus.

"It makes conversations a lot easier … we don't exist in a vacuum, we've got a clear mission at Kmart which is to lower our prices for customers and technology enables this, but we can't do it alone. We don't have technology for technology's sake, we have technology to deliver an end outcome," he said.

"Having our partners in marketing, in sourcing, in buying, in stores -- having an understanding of technology and how it works -- it helps them understand what we do and have the empathy for what we do … and helps them to talk to us and helps us talk to them.

"Really, it's about speed -- speed of decision making. We've seen a huge increase in speed and decision making with the pandemic that's happened so having our team educated is always a good thing, but specifically on cloud technologies."

"We're going for it this weekend. Fingers crossed, hoping I haven't jinxed ourselves," he said.

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