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Scabal is migrating all of its IT systems to the cloud and transforming the IT department in the process

Scabal is migrating all of its IT systems to the cloud and transforming the IT department in the process

Scabal, a Brussels-based luxury clothing designer whose threads have been donned by the likes of Daniel Craig and David Beckham recently embarked on an ambitious cloud migration project, moving all of the company’s IT infrastructure including voice communications over to Interoute’s cloud platform. Jose Largo, the company’s IT director and the man leading the migration says that the project will help make Scabal more flexible as it grows – and completely change the nature of its IT department in the process.

Scabal grew organically from humble beginnings in the 1930s, when it began as a cloth merchant with just six employees to having more than 600 spread across the world today, supporting the company’s made-to-measure clothing and accessories business.

The company, which has its entire supply and production chain in Europe, moved away from its IBM mainframe system around 15 years ago and invested tens of thousands in developing an in-house SAP-based system because it gave the company more flexibility in how it controlled the production pipeline for its products. But during that time its business changed significantly, particularly with the rise of eCommerce and the shift towards mobile working, and Scabal has also broadened its European operations to include new outfits in the UK and Germany.

“This forced us to be even more flexible, not only in how we open shops but for communications with other partners, franchisers, wholesalers and the like. We looked for new technologies that would allow that easily, and in the end we sought to build something so huge internally that the total cost of ownership was quite high,” Largo says.

Last year Scabal’s management sought to centralise all of those systems in one building, which prompted a review of the company’s entire IT estate. That was when the company took the decision to move nearly all Scabal’s IT infrastructure over to the cloud.

“Now we’ve reached the size we are at today the business very much depends on the speed and resiliency of our IT systems. So we investigated uptime, latency and a DR plan and in the end we thought there was no point going internal for one solution and external for another. So we moved it all, including voice communications” Largo says.

The migration

“If we just take apart the costs there were lots of things that were simplified by going external – like systems management, physical infrastructure management, and this prompted the idea to move externally – then we would save internal resources at the IT department,” he says, adding that the company’s newly-appointed CEO is driving the IT department to devote more resources to “value adding” activities.

The company moved the majority of its infrastructure over to Interoute’s infrastructure as a service, including the company’s internal IT helpdesk and the corporate business systems for its staff, and Largo says that it’s eyeing a public cloud Citrix VDI implementation because thin clients are easier to maintain, more secure, and help reduce the company’s energy consumption.

VDI would also allow the company’s salespeople – who spend most of their time on the road with vendors – to tap into corporate systems on their mobile devices, many of which are increasingly brought from home.

“In addition to the amount of internal resource we would have to use to maintain internal hardware, and also the space – which is quite expensive, extra infrastructure for backups, on conservative measures we’re making over thirty per cent savings.” he says. “That calculation doesn’t even include costs associated with energy or cooling systems for the computing room, or power redundancy – but flexibility even more than cost is the key driver for this.”

Most of the migration, which the company hopes to complete in the next four months, is expected to go smoothly – at least from a technology perspective, Largo says most of the kinks are already worked out.

“In the textile environment you have to purchase things like raw materials, and plan for the production of – eventually – thousands of garments per month, but you need to make sure that the production planning will include getting all of these fabrics in due time, and when we know that we also sell online through the web and have lots of people, partners and tailors sending us orders every day, we need to react very quickly”

But the way in which Scabal uses SAP systems to emulate a real-time product planning pipeline makes putting it in the cloud somewhat prohibitive: “You can get a cloud service from SAP but another specificity of our business is that we aren’t using SAP in the way others use it. SAP systems are normally very good for normal input and output operations performed manually, and for some backend jobs, but it is not a real-time system. And Scabal, due to the way we work, makes SAP simulate a real-time system. This puts a huge burden on the processes and disks all the time.”

“We run an MRP [Material Requirement Planning] every hour, which is not normal – usually companies do this once a day or once a week, then you purchase materials and feed your production pipeline from there. You never know what the customers buy every day so we need to make sure we plan accordingly in terms of our purchase of base materials, which is why we run SAP as a real-time system. That makes things so complex and going to a cloud model will be too costly and even more complex,” he says.

The complexity and cost issues are not unique to Scabal. Recently published research suggests that a majority of ERP implementation projects either stall or become abandoned due to higher than expected levels of complexity, cost and time over-runs.

When it comes to shifting these systems over to the cloud the situation has not been helped by the fact that big vendors like SAP and Oracle, which like other legacy IT incumbents have been rather slow to address the harmony between on premise and cloud versions of their products and services, have only recently introduced robust license portability options.

The biggest challenge however has little to do with the technologies themselves.

From ‘IT Department’ to ‘IT Business Services’

“Moving to another office at the same time as moving to new technologies and becoming more mobile, it’s a huge challenge for people, particularly for change management within the company,” he says.

Largo says that the company’s move to the cloud will create some fairly big changes in the way IT works at Scabal. The IT department has been re-named to ‘IT Business Services’ in line with the expectation that IT personnel will work more closely with internal business units to support Scabal’s business at the divisional level; 80 per cent of the questions posed to Scabal’s IT team are related to the business primarily, with some technical solution needed to support a business function of one kind or another.

“That’s why more and more of the meetings we do, at marketing, sales or finance, they include someone from IT. They need to make sure that what they are going to propose and explain is supported by the application or software or infrastructure we are running. And they depend very heavily on that, now more than ever. We’re living in an age where we are consolidating IT into the business departments themselves – the team is no longer isolated in a tower somewhere,” he says.

“We need to apply procedures that aren’t really meant for medium or large business to develop IT projects: slice it into very specific units of development, then have very quick and small meetings and sprint develop that to the deadline requested. And that’s forcing IT personnel to move away from how things are traditionally done in this environment.”

“We make the business work because we are part of the business itself,” he adds.

Largo explains that the dramatic shift in how IT functions in the business obliges Scabal to educate and train its staff as it seeks to redeploy database, systems and infrastructure administrators to take on new tasks.

Skills re-devolpment in this space is more important than ever according to IT decision makers like Largo (despite some IT professionals claiming otherwise), and Scabal is in a position many medium-sized businesses are increasingly finding themselves in, which is in many ways a by-product of the cloud revolution: The company’s IT team is expected to roll out applications and solutions with the rapidity of a small business but operates at the scale and level of complexity of a large enterprise.

Occupying the awkward space a between small and large business, Scabal is moving away from the project management model of delivering IT towards a ‘sprint development’ cycle, and its integration within the wider business means staff will be expected to hone commercially-minded analytical skills; technical resources will be focused largely on BYOD and other integration points.

“In the training planning, normally each person has ten days training per year. Before it was ten days for technology, but now half of that time would be spent training on sales, distribution, logistics and financials, and the other fifty per cent will be more technical,” he says. “This is something that is very difficult for an IT person that went to school for five years studying technology and programming languages. But the mentality of the staff will have to change as they move from suggesting technically-focused solutions to supporting the business on an outcome-centric basis.”

“IT should support these kinds of changes – it’s a huge challenge in the long term as technology becomes less of an issue. And they aren’t just our challenges, but the challenges faced by many medium-sized businesses,” he concludes.