Reach for the clouds: the inevitable architecture journey

As part of Deloitte’s eighth annual Technology Trends report, we sat down with Mark McDonald, Executive Director of Operations and Technology at QIC to get his take on using cloud based services. Here’s what he had to say.

The logistics industry is in flux. Existing players are being challenged by new, nimble market entrants.

Not only are business models in the industry rapidly changing, but new technologies are completely redefining what we can do. Until recently, Toll has been operating in a legacy environment of multifunctional teams working independently across the organisation, each requiring considerable support.

This changing environment creates an unrivalled opportunity for the IT function to step up, and work alongside the business to rethink what we are doing, how we are doing it and how we can deliver break-through performance.

QIC

Inevitable architecture at QIC means that the systems and processes of the IT organisation are appropriately aligned to deliver strong business outcomes. In the last two to three years, there has been a significant evolution of our IT architecture and infrastructure, and so we are moving to a greater use of cloud based services.

What has changed is that we are no longer limiting our ability to deliver on business outcomes based on current in-house skill sets and technology contained within the organisation.

This shift gives QIC the freedom to better meet business needs. There is no real place for inefficient IT infrastructure anymore. We are trying to leverage cloud services to design an environment that allows us to be mobile, work anywhere any time, empower the organisation and to improve collaboration. This approach will ultimately allow the business to operate more efficiently.

There are five themes that QIC has focused on: cost reduction and efficiency, value optimisation, workforce maximisation, hyper scaled delivery, and risk aggregation. Each of these drive our approach to delivering new architecture.

Inevitable architecture means embracing the fact that our technology team can’t ‘do it all’. Instead, we have developed an ecosystem of partner organisations who have the right technologies and skills to augment our capabilities and can support our vision.

The maturity of the market in this area, coupled with extensive due diligence, has given us the confidence to consume these services, harness its advantages and provide a much higher IT value proposition.

QIC is extensively utilising automation. Key elements include infrastructure provisioning for production systems, BCP system recovery and vendor recovery options. We can now provision for and develop a recovery plan and standup new environments in hours, including a significant amount of automation for activities that previously would have taken us days, weeks or even months to implement.

Using cloud-first strategies gives a business freedom to move

Taking advantage of automation is a huge valueadd because we have built infrastructure which is not ‘locked in’ to any individual service provider in the ecosystem. Should the worst happen, we are also ready to re-provision our services with other providers in a seamless manner. This would not have been possible in the past.

The inevitable architecture journey

The journey started some two and a half years ago, when we recognised that our current platforms would not support the long-term growth strategy of the business. This required a thorough rethink of our traditional approach.

We took the time to understand our requirements and risk position, and sought buy-in from the Executive and Board. We underpinned our conversations with strong analysis, due diligence, supportive data, and focused on addressing data sovereignty issues that also considered regulatory risk. This was a considerable change to our technology infrastructure, so we consulted heavily throughout the business for a year to prepare for the change and took the time to clearly articulate how the plan was aligned to core business outcomes.

One of the most interesting challenges was resistance to change from the technology department itself, given that staff had skills sets that have been developed over many years. Successful cultural change was very important to the success of the program.

My advice to CIOs embarking on similar programs is to focus on clearly communicating your strategy to take people on the journey with you. With persistence and education, change will occur. Strong financial management is also core, particularly monitoring vendor costs, in delivering tangible benefits to the business.

CIOs should also consider if their business is at the right stage in its IT investment lifecycle. QIC was ready to shift from a Capex to Opex model, and timing is everything. Pricing is competitive, but change should be introduced at the right point in the capital lifecycle if it is to be economically prudent.

One of the most pleasant surprises from the process has been the strong level of acceptance and uptake from the broader business in the transformation program. The shift created a tremendous amount of goodwill and willingness to harness technology and improve connectivity. Several colleagues have told me that it has completely changed the way they worked, including flexibility of work practices and location, employee engagement and improvements in productivity: a very positive impact on culture.

Other pleasant surprises were the positive outcomes in cyber risk and vendor risk: in terms of whole cloud vendor risk, we can recreate and shift our platform to a new cloud provider in a matter of hours. This is a significant improvement to the risk profile of the business.

From a whole of business strategy point of view, the move has created a range of opportunities. The Cloud IT Transformation has provided the organisation with a scalable global platform allowing the capability to grow into other geographies and to scale up or down on demand.

Sound initial planning and design has been valuable. Being a cloud-first organisation means that everything that we work on is focused on future growth and the ability to move rapidly. IT is no longer viewed as a problem or issue, but a business enabler. IT has moved from slowest moving part in the business to being one of the fastest.

What is next?

With the right architecture in place, we need to fully utilise all the services available. From a personal perspective, a key piece for the future is exploring the opportunities that blockchain technologies may offer. Also on the radar is a digital client management strategy, evolving business intelligence and use of artificial intelligence.

 

Mark leads QIC’s Operations and Technology division and is responsible for managing the investment operations, information technology, facilities, projects and change management functions. His team provide services to all investment teams and business units across QIC.

Prior to joining QIC in June 2014, Mark was the Head of Investment Operations for Colonial First State Global Asset Management. Before this, he was Vice-President, Head of Middle Office for State Street Global Advisors based in London.

Mark holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Masters in Business Studies from University College Dublin.


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