by Tim Lohman

Tony Ferguson Weightloss uses public Cloud services to expand into UK, South Africa

Jan 07, 2011
Cloud ComputingCRM SystemsDevelopment Approaches

Anecdotal reports suggest that Australian CIOs are consciously avoiding the public Cloud, but Julian Lamb, head of technology at Australian weight-loss company, Tony Ferguson, doesn’t understand why.

By adopting Cloud solutions, Telstra’s version of Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), and contact centre suite IPscape, Lamb has enabled his business to add some 1600 new retail outlets across the UK and South Africa since April.

“I’m a huge advocate of Cloud and it’s of particular benefit to small and medium business as it allows us to access, at a cost-competitive rate, services which can be scaled for global enterprises,” Lamb explained.

Through the Cloud, and a recently upgraded Telstra BDSL Ethernet link at the company’s Penrith, Sydney headquarters, Lamb’s team can deploy a new retail outlet in Australia, the UK, South Africa or New Zealand in less than an hour. Lamb and his team recently centralised the databases from its 200-plus Australian retail sites, and uses as the company’s member management system. IPScape acts as the company’s virtual call centre while BPOS, specifically the suite’s Microsoft Exchange Online, has enabled Lamb and his team to complete a much-needed Exchange migration.

“I put the [Exchange migration] off for two years as the project was going to be very difficult, plus this business runs on its e-mail,” Lamb said. “We were on a shared environment previously, in with all these other ‘rats and mice’ customers.

“There were no SLAs, so if anything went down they had so many customers in the shared environment that you couldn’t get on to anyone in support. They didn’t really have any ability to help.”

Since moving to BPOS, Lamb estimates Tony Ferguson has experienced “about five minutes” worth of downtime on its e-mail, and has benefited from additionally having access to other BPOS applications such as Office Communicator, SharePoint, and Office Live Meeting.

“It’s hugely beneficial to collaborate online and to be able to talk to 15 or 20 store managers about a marketing presentation or merchandising demonstration and receive feedback straight away, because they can see what we’re looking at and talking about,” he said.

While the recent experience of Virgin Blue’s hosted systems failures might put many a CIO off hosted, or Cloud solutions, Lamb said that in many instances the service level agreements smaller companies receive from vendors such as, Telstra and Microsoft will far exceed what a CIO can provide internally by themselves.

“A lot of people are worried about security, but the security in the Cloud really resides around the fact that nobody knows where your data [is located],” Lamb said. “A true Cloud is a virtual solution across multiple servers, across multiple tenants, across multiple sites — so there shouldn’t be any single point of failure. Not only is your data safer, it is more accessible; we can demand 24 by 7 support on the platform, whereas I can’t hope to supply that with my small team.”

The Cloud has also allowed the company to expand support to its international businesses and customers without the need for IT staff outside of Australia.

“We don’t have any IT resources other than in Sydney, but we can support the UK and South Africa effectively from our [head office] or from our homes — as they are working when we are not,” Lamb said.

“The Cloud isn’t necessarily more accessible, but it is far more cost-effective and far easier to deploy and support. We don’t have to worry about individual licensing and manage that at a site or machine level.”

Detailing the biggest change to the IT department since the move to the Cloud, Lamb said along with the impact on infrastructure investment, there is also an implication for staff.

“I have certainly talked to my people — I have two fantastic technical resources who have grown up in their careers looking after boxes — and have said, ‘guys, this isn’t what you are going to do anymore, are you OK with that?’ There is definitely an impact on internal resources and you don’t want to frighten [your staff],” he says. “I said, ‘guys, this is the new paradigm, embrace it,’ and they have.”

By way of advice, Lamb said that CIOs should also consider long term relationships with their Cloud providers, as well as the extensibility of Cloud platforms.

“We started with a very narrow base… but it has the potential to do so much more for us,” he says. “While we calculated the ROI within the narrow focus it can actually be achieved much quicker [using the broader base].”