Contributing writer

What The Clover Group does to address legacy-related challenges

Case Study
Aug 17, 20237 mins
CIOCloud ManagementIT Leadership

For Clover Group CIO Tsholofelo Moeca, moving away from ageing technologies was non-negotiable. Here’s how he and his team found the right solution—and partner—to help them on their modernization journey.

Tsholofelo Moeca stylized
Credit: The Clover Group

CIOs have a lot on their plates right now with expanding roles, but in recent years, they’ve also been asked to move beyond managing IT and become a strategic business leader to leverage technology in order to create real value for the business.

For Tsholofelo Moeca, CIO at The Clover Group, South Africa’s largest dairy company, this puts additional pressure on CIOs to ensure the technologies brought into the business deliver results the business really needs. Take cloud for instance. While some have made the move and others are in the process of moving, he believes that everybody is still trying to make cloud make sense. “From where I sit, it’s inevitable—all businesses have to use the cloud in some way,” he says. “But there’s still a lot of room for understanding and the creation of tailored solutions that make sense for specific industries or specific companies, which provide the right business benefits.”

But costs remain a major stumbling block for many businesses, and a headache for CIOs, when it comes to cloud. Most businesses that have dabbled in it have been bitten at least once before because so much of it is consumption based, meaning it can be quite easy to overspend without realizing it. “It’s a cost containment issue,” he says. “When everything was on-prem, CIOs could budget to a tee and if they told the CFO something was going to cost R10 million, it would cost R10 million. But with cloud, there could be an event that causes your consumption to spiral and then tomorrow you have to go back to the CFO and explain you need another R2 million.” This isn’t to say that businesses should stick to on-prem, he asserts, but it does mean CIOs need to keep a close eye on their cloud usage if they don’t want to incur unnecessary costs.

A legacy issue

When you’re in charge of digital transformation at a business that’s been around for over 120 years, legacy-related issues are unavoidable. For Moeca, this is one of his greatest challenges. When equipment is nearing end-of-life and no longer supported, you’re walking a tightrope with no safety net. In addition, when you’re using such systems, you struggle to find people with the skills needed to solve any problems you might have. “In a business that’s been around for as long as we have, skills are also an issue because we become victims of our own success,” he says. “We bought a system years ago and it still works so we don’t want to touch it because it’s still doing what it’s supposed to do. This is fair enough but it means people aren’t open to learning new skills or updating existing skills.” But when everyone else is driving a car and you’re still riding a horse, it’s inevitable you’re going to lose the race, he adds.

He cites a data management project he’s currently working on, which is a key component in his current IT transformation strategy. The aim of the project is to use the vast wealth of data the business has more effectively. It just so happens one of the data warehouse systems they use—an IBM Netezza Mako data warehouse solution—has come to end-of-life and, therefore, no longer supported. “If this thing breaks, we’re on our own,” he says.

Keen to address this issue before it becomes a big problem, Moeca embarked on a comprehensive RFP process to find the right product and the right partner. This was essential because he and his team had to decide exactly what they needed, spell that out to potential suppliers, and then assess which solutions best met these criteria. “The first thing I looked at was the product,” he says. “Can it do what I need it to do? And then I looked at who could provide this product and asked if this partner is the right fit for the business and for the project.”

When determining the project requirements, he and his team took time to talk to different departments across the business and find out more about their data requirements, and to make sure the new solution met everyone’s needs. Compiling this information was incredibly important because it helped them narrow down their list so they only considered the players and solutions that met all of their requirements. “We had very clear criteria,” he says. “If you meet these criteria, you were our solution of choice. It was that simple.”

They ultimately decided on a Snowflake data warehouse solution, delivered by a local partner called Intellinexus. After choosing a solution and a partner, Moeca and his team then had to determine if their migration would be a ‘lift and shift’ or if they’d lift it, fix it and then shift it. They opted for the former, in a phased approach, with various enhancements and improvements planned for subsequent phases.

This decision was all about eliminating the unnecessary risks that come with delaying upgrades of end-of-life technologies. “We were really running against time and very quickly needed to make a move before everything collapsed,” he says. “So, phase one was about making sure our new data warehouse was up and running, and that we could connect to it and access everything we needed to run the day-to-day business.”

Securing business buy-in

According to Moeca, phase one of the project took about 11 months to complete, but he confesses that almost of a quarter of this time was spent trying to convince the people holding the purse strings about the value of the project. “As CIOs, we often have these amazing, big plans but we fall short because we don’t have the money,” he says. “Sure, this makes sense given the economy and the world we live in, but we need to balance out being conservative with our budgets and being left behind. Making sure that business is aligned with your IT strategy is key.”

When Moeca joined the company a year ago, there was a lot of work to be done to investigate all the different tools and technologies available, but the business knew nothing about it; they were never brought along on the journey, he says. “Part of my job was to make sure they understand the issues and they know where we want to go from the beginning,” he says. “So by the time we bring a solution to them, we don’t need to convince them because they have a clear understanding of what we’re trying to achieve.”

He admits that this did occasionally entail using a few scare tactics to ensure that business grasped just how bad things would be if their end-of-life data warehouse solution suddenly stopped working. For Moeca, getting these conversations right demands that the CIO finds a way to articulate what the potential costs could be of not doing something, while also showcasing the benefits the business will enjoy by making a change.

While it’s still early days, he can already see how their migration has improved operations. “When you look at how we did things in the past versus how we do things now, the change is pretty big,” he says. “We used to have to do a lot of work manually, but now it’s as simple as sending someone a link and they immediately have access to the data they need.”