Moving core IT into the enterprise fast lane

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright July 9, 2014
Ambitious young, global enterprises don't have time to wait for old-school IT. Here are four defining features of IT in the fast lane

Crossing the Finish Line
I recently described the emergence of a two-speed enterprise software market, divided between slow-paced core systems of record and faster, largely cloud-based or mobile applications.

Most enterprises face a hybrid future, with IT systems planted on both sides of this divide. But there are some that are starting to shift all their IT into the fast lane.

These are typically younger, smaller organizations that have not yet built up a large IT infrastructure. A fast-growing business with a few thousand employees will already have built up a surprising tally of legacy systems over the past decade or two of its existence, but it won't have the multi-million-dollar sunk costs of more established enterprises. That makes it easier to think about ripping everything out and starting over.

A case in point is SDL, a global customer experience management provider founded in 1992. Operating in 70 countries, it had been managing HR through a mish-mash of incumbent systems, mostly inherited through acquisitions. Last year it swapped all of them out for a single, cloud-based system that it deployed in less than four months.

SDL is one of three organizations shortlisted for a EuroCloud UK award this year for "Best Business Impact" from use of cloud computing. Diginomica is a media partner for the award and is due to write about all three finalists, which gives me a convenient pretext for my theme today. In fact I'm already familiar with the story as Fairsail, which supplied the new HCM system, recently commissioned me to write a white paper about its rapid implementation approach, and I've been speaking to several of its customers.

Not waiting around for IT is a pervasive characteristic of fast-lane behavior. SDL is typical of the enterprise demographic that exhibits this behavior: young, fast-growing multinationals with several thousand employees. These organizations are in a hurry: they can't afford to hang around.

So what are the characteristics of this 'fast-lane' IT being adopted by this young, agile enterprises? Here are four of the most striking features.

1. Not waiting to make changes

Sam Tomlinson Wowcher clip
Earlier this month I spoke to Samantha Tomlinson, head of customer service at Wowcher, a UK-based Groupon competitor owned by the same group as the Daily Mail. The daily deals site last year replaced the automated call answering system in its call center with a cloud-based alternative from NewVoiceMedia.

The old system was typical of traditional IT. Unlike the live dashboard that the NewVoiceMedia system provides, there was no live visibility into metrics about how long customers were waiting or how many were abandoning calls. Making changes to any of the menus or pre-recorded messages was a long-winded and costly process, says Tomlinson:

If we wanted to make any amendments we had to pay £750 [$1300] a time and we had a four week timeline on it. It was all wrong for us.

With the new system in place, Tomlinson gets daily reports that tell her exactly how customers are behaving as they navigate the interactive voice response (IVR) system, and can add new options or messages on-the-spot.

Our IVR is done by one of the girls in our office. We give her a script, she reads it out and we put it up ... I can change something in the next ten minutes if I want to.

The corollary of course is that, if it doesn't work, they can just as easily change it back again. Wowcher now has a system that allows far more fine-tuning of their automated voice system than was ever possible before. The result has been a significant drop in the number of customers ending calls without getting a resolution.

2. Not waiting to respond to customers

Rene Falch Olesen

Larger, more established companies are also finding they have to upgrade at least the part of their operations that customers interact with. DSV is a global supply chain logistics operator with around $9 billion in annual revenues and 22,000 staff spread across 75 countries. It has turned to cloud-based Apttus to roll out a global quote-to-cash system. As chief commercial officer Rene Falch Olesen explained to me recently:

When I shop on the Internet, I only go with the sites that give me the answer that I want.

If one of my customers is asking for a price for a service, are they willing to sit and wait for me to pull my finger out and come back to them in two days' time? I don't think so.

Like most established businesses, DSV runs its core operations on conventional ERP systems. It has four of them, one of which was put in thirty years ago. Those systems don't offer the agility or functionality DSV needs to interact with its customers, and therefore it has realized it has to layer cloud-based systems around that core to meet that need. As Olesen explains:

Cloud is absolutely great when it comes to the quote-to-cash layer because it tends to be more agile than the ERP systems are.

3. Not waiting to get a global view

One of the consistent themes in the growth of cloud ERP vendors such as NetSuite, Intacct and Workday has been the ability to deliver a single view of global operations to enterprises that operate in several different countries. Instead of drowning in a spreadsheet reconciliation quagmire when consolidating data from separate local systems, executives can view a single consolidated dashboard of information and instantly drill down to get the local story behind the global numbers.

It's interesting to see Fairsail now tapping into the same need in the HCM arena. SDL admits that, before implementing Fairsail, it could take up to three days just to work out the headcount in a division because of the obstacles to extracting and consolidating the information.

For high-growth businesses operating in competitive markets, it's vital to get timely information on how much you're spending on payroll or how effectively performance is being rewarded. Fairsail's CEO Adam Hale says:

Because of growth, these problems have flipped from being important to urgent.

4. Not waiting for implementation

EuroCloudUK-awards2014 -fairsail-sdl
SDL and Fairsail at EuroCloud

The long-winded implementation cycles of old are no longer appropriate for these fast-moving businesses. Cloud-based solutions win out here because they are ready to use almost instantly.

At Wowcher, the long-winded procurement cycles of the parent group left the business with just one week before go-live by the time all the paperwork had been signed. NewVoiceMedia still managed to deliver a working solution in time for that deadline, says Tomlinson:

It was literally a case of us logging on, showing the agents what to do, and away we went.

SDL evaluated a dozen vendors before settling on Fairsail, in part because of its rapid implementation cycles. Some vendors, including SaaS providers, were quoting timescales of 18-24 months, says Roddy Temperley, group HR director. Fairsail was able to provision an instance within a week and the complete implementation took less than four months.

SmartStream, which provides software and managed services to the financial services industry, is another Fairsail customer, currently in the middle of a three-month implementation. The short timescale is crucial, its global HR director David Porter recently told me:

It's a fast moving business. We have lots of challenges. We can't afford to be distracted for a lengthy period of time for an internal software implementation.

Disclosure: Workday and NetSuite are diginomica premier partners. diginomica is a media sponsor of the EuroCloud UK award for best business impact. Fairsail is a consulting client of the author, who serves as volunteer chair of EuroCloud UK.

Image credits: Race winner © olly -; Tomlinson headshot courtesy of Wowcher, Olesen headshot courtesy of DSV, Award winners @DT

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