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Layering on cloud transformation at Papa John's with Google Cloud and HCL

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan October 18, 2021
Papa John's multi-year commitment to Google Cloud is gathering speed and producing benefits.


Pizza chain Papa John’s International earlier this year announced it was migrating more workloads to Google Cloud as it accelerated its cloud strategy in response to the surging consumer demand for online orders during the COVID crisis. But while that’s the starting point, the longer term transformation journey is going to be more far reaching.

Speaking at last week’s Google Next event, Sarika Attal, Vice President of Enterprise Architecture & Technology Services at Papa John’s, expanded on the reasoning behind the firm’s Google gambit:

If we look at Papa John's from a technology perspective, 70% of our business is driven by digital experiences. We’re looking at multiple aspects of the other areas of the business and how we can transform those as well. When we talk about infrastructure, it's like the foundation of your home. Everything that kind of generates out of that foundation powers your home and makes it the most efficient and modern and adaptable to future needs. And that's how I see the infrastructure focus area for us - it’s the foundation of all the digital aspects of every part of technology that we support here at Papa John's.

The firm had already made a significant investment with Google for Platform-as-a-Service workloads and this has provided a useful foundation for the accelerated cloud strategy, she added:

It has made us very agile. A customer-centric, data-driven mindset helped us bring that to life. There is a different pace that we can move with because of these foundational workloads. Like many organizations, we started with experimentation in the cloud and got our feet wet and then realized the power of being cloud native and continued expansion over the past few years. Then we looked at another portion of our technology profile and we realized that there is a lot of diversity in terms of the technologies we use. It's not just the tool sets and technologies, but it's also processes, the way we do on prem versus the way we do things in the cloud. That heterogeneity was slowing us down. So we took the approach of doing a lift-and-shift with what we had in the data center. Think about it as helping us get faster on all the tracks of the transformation.

At the start of the data center transformation initiative, Papa John’s didn’t actually have a formalized cloud strategy, said Attal:

We started slowly and over the years our footprint kept getting bigger. This kind of forced us to think and decide various components of the cloud strategy...On the way  in this journey we were fortunate enough to be able to decommission a ton of stuff. We knew that there is no point in taking some of these apps [forward].

A key benefit of the formalized thinking has been to make core infrastructure components part of our architecture governance processes, she added:

We were really good at application architectures, data architectures, but for some reason the infrastructure side of things were not folded in as tightly into the architecture governance processes. This data center transformation helped us tighten that and close the gap there.

Google Cloud was an easy choice, she recalled, based on the experience with existing workloads To assist with the transformation program, services giant HCL was contracted, also an easy choice according to Attal:

One of my leadership principles is to know that I'm not the smartest person in the room. So, get the smart folks out there and get the help you need and achieve your goals. We strongly believe in our partnerships to drive business outcomes. Secondly, why re-invent something that others have already done? HCL has all this experience with other enterprise level clients in their data center transformation. This engagement helped us leverage that experience and expertise and accelerate our move. HCL helped us with identifying where our workloads should land and which components of the backbone we should be using.


As noted above, this is a multi-year journey that’s still in its early stages, but already Attal has some key learnings and advice to share with other organizations on a similar route:

Have that long term view and have your full modernization roadmap, if not necessarily defined but I'd have a strategy...transition first and transform later. That's kind of what we have adopted here at Papa John's. We see this data center transformation as kind of the first step. We are calling it a lift and shift here, but there are several macro and several micro decisions you have to make along the way.

The three pillars of process, people and tools must be kept front of mind, she advised:

When you look at processes, it’s not only architecture governance at the highest level, but the way we work is very different now in the cloud. So, do the back-up and recovery mechanisms that we have now apply in the cloud versus on prem? Are the monitoring tools that we have today enough as we build this new infrastructure? I would start with metrics, metrics and metrics. Establish your baseline on your various types of metrics - the number of apps you have, how often they're updated and supported? Which of these will be migrated - and as you go through the migration process, keeping a tab on what's left out there is very important…The other thing to keep in mind is, don't lose your momentum post-migration, because once you're done with the initial migration effort, there are the stabilizing the operations aspects.

From a people perspective, the transformation program has entailed some adjustment of Papa John’s usual mindset, Attal said:

We strongly believe at Papa John's that technology innovation doesn't always happen at the top or in a particular layer in the organization. We view that it happens at the ground level work. The people who are doing the work and the approvers to the work, those are the ones who are the best decision-makers. It's the same with our partners - we believe in innovation and ideas coming from everywhere.

But this type of major transformation project impacts a lot of teams, so it's very important to have top tier sponsorship:

Typically we wouldn't say that. Generally it's been a very collaborative organization and it's not necessary to have that top-down approach on everything. But this being such a transformation journey, you want to make sure that the conversations are had with every leader of the organization and people are prepared for the change and the complexities that you're driving.

She added:

That C-level sponsorship is key because your app engineering teams are always going to be delivering on the other business apps. Having that strategic view of how this transformation program is going to impact everything else in your portfolio is very critical.

A long term view of ROI is also important - don’t measure in months or a year -  to make it more attractive and sensible. It’s also essential to set realistic expectations about how complex the transformation work is and what impacts might be felt across the organization, she recommended:

Communicate multiple times at multiple places that you know this is coming, this is what it's going do,  but in the long run, it's going to take you there much faster. The marketing of this project is as important as actually delivering it.

And always keep coming back to the people aspect, concluded Attal:

You can create all these PowerPoints, but if you don't have everyone on the team energized about it and bring their best to the table on this project, it's not going to go well. Make sure that you plan for the training, the reskilling, believing in the benefits of this concept, and showing [people] the full view of what's going to happen in the next few weeks, next few months, next few years, as much as possible. Bring everybody along and they will invest in the new ways of working at the same time.

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