by Jennifer O'Brien

Aussie boot maker adopts hyperconverged infrastructure as global expansion continues

Jul 28, 2016
Technology Industry

Iconic Tasmanian boot company, Blundstone, has simplified the company’s IT infrastructure in a bid to address global expansion and manage operations across two continents.

The various technology projects, which started two years ago, became a top priority for the company, according to CIO/CFO Andrew Ross, who uprooted from his hometown of Hobart and lived and worked in the United States while many projects were underway. He just recently returned to Hobart and is eyeing the next phase of the transformational journey.

As part of the project, the organisation – which consists of a highly-integrated group of companies owned and operated by a family whose history can be traced back to the 1840s – decided to venture away from implementing the traditional IT infrastructure and standard storage systems.

Instead, Ross said the company chose to adopt SimpliVity’s software defined and hyperconverged infrastructure to manage operations around the globe.

“Blundstone has grown fairly dramatically over the last few years and we expect that to continue in the foreseeable future, so we needed to provide systems that are 24/7. We have warehouses in Melbourne, Auckland and in New Jersey in the United States. The head office is in Hobart and our IT is all located in Hobart and so we have to make sure that is available globally 24/7,” Ross told CIO Australia.

“We also sell product into over 50 countries and that is growing increasingly and we are looking to engage more with our international customer base.”

Ross said the main goal for the IT team is to provide a solution that is going to be robust and flexible enough to meet the growing demands of the business. The company was looking for technology that provided simplicity, flexibility and the capacity to grow with the business into the future.

“We also need to make sure that we have redundancy built in. If something happens in the Hobart head office, we can automatically switch on our IT infrastructure in Melbourne at the warehouse and it will seamlessly continue to provide access to our ERP systems. And SimpliVity provided the ideal vehicle for that sort of disaster recovery.”

He said the switch to the new system was painless and many employees weren’t even aware of the changes.

“SimpliVity provided that nice neat thing where basically we turned off the old system, turned on the new system and most of our team wouldn’t have known that anything was happening.”

With many locations around the globe, he said the company needed to ensure systems were continuously operational.

“It is about ensuring when we are asleep, people who are operating the Melbourne warehouse and dealing with all of the customers – two or three thousand customers in the US – and whilst we are all asleep in Hobart, that they are completely functional.

“It is providing that seamless interface with our ERP system here in Hobart. Essentially, we are operating our own private little cloud for the global operation of Blundstone. We needed something that was robust enough to handle that 24/7 environment.”

Asked whether the company would consider travelling down the public cloud route, he said he prefers the control that comes from operating its own private cloud.

“I prefer to have that certainty that we are in charge of our own destinies – I don’t like putting that level of confidence in somebody else’s cloud. So although we have considered it from time to time, I have always come back and said, ‘this is too much of a risk for our business. The IT systems are critical to our growth path. It is better for us to control our own destiny.’”

Next steps

He said the next steps will involve engaging more with its ERP systems.

“Going forward, we are looking to engage more through our ERP systems with our customers or employees.

“On the employee side, we just launched an ESP system, a portal, where our employees can log on, check out their own details, apply for annual leave, and their supervisors get notified of that and can authorise the leave online. [This] eliminates all of the paper flow and bottlenecks that are usually associated with approving various types of leaves, or getting updated addresses.”

The company uses EDI (electronic data interchange) to communicate with external customers, whereby there is an exchange of business documents in a standard electronic format between business partners.

“We need to have our systems available at all times for our EDI partners, but down the track for our smaller, medium-sized customers we want to be able to provide a facility where they can log onto our ERP system, get inventory availability, check the status of their orders, and place new orders – again while we are all asleep in Hobart if it’s Europe or the United States.”

The company uses Microsoft Dynamics AX as its ERP platform but is looking to upgrade to the latest version, which will be a 12 to 18 month project, he added.

“ERP is one of those things that is constantly evolving. Microsoft Dynamics is Microsoft’s equivalent to the SAP technology. It’s a very complex program and we need to get that right – and that will be our next major project. It is not a hardware infrastructure project, it is moving versions of software.”

He said the adoption of the latest version will enable the company to engage with customer portals and give customers access to the company’s ERP system.

Additionally, although not ready to jump in, he said the company is eyeing 3D printers to help with development.

“We are always talking to our product development team and saying, ‘let us know when you have got to a stage where you are comfortable with a piece of technology that will do what you need, and then we will look at how we can integrate that into our infrastructure.’”

International markets

Over the last decade, Blundstone has focused on reaching international markets and sharing its heritage with the world. Blundstone owns two boot brands – Blundstone (sold globally) and John Bull (sold mainly in New Zealand).

“It is amazing to see the way that the heritage brand of Blundstone has been taken up across the globe. It doesn’t matter if it’s North America or Europe or indeed Japan, the way that the footwear just conforms to the way that people want to live their lives, I think is what gives it resonance across marketplaces.”

In particular, he said the company is on a major roll in the Israeli marketplace. “We are the hottest thing since sliced bread in Israel. The distributor we have there has done a fantastic job. You walk down the streets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem and you can’t help but see Blundstones on everyone’s feet.”

And while the company is on a major growth spurt across international markets, he said the tech team is busily keeping in step with the ongoing business and technology demands.

“Technology is ever advancing and there’s always something new under the sun that you have to look at and ask the question, ‘how does this fit in with our business? It is going to be an interesting space to watch, particularly with this 3D printing and new materials coming through that process. It is not just about producing product, it is about the material they use in this infrastructure to produce products.”