Moving to the cloud was always going to be beneficial for Intelematics. We are a data business with large storage requirements and a need for great processing power. But if you asked me when we started planning the transition back in 2019 if I thought it was going to have the level of impact that it has had on our business, I would have said no – as I wasn’t planning for a once-in-a-generation pandemic.
Back in 2019, Intelematics decided to double down on its strengths in data. We are a data-rich company, and know-how Australians move better than anyone else. It made (and continues to make) sense to harness this and concentrate on our core strength.
But for a data company, we were fairly restricted IT-wise. Our data was stored on a mishmash of network-attached storage devices, which often ran out of space, requiring archiving onto inflexible tapes. This was far from ideal and made recalling historical data challenging. We were running tens of virtual servers to manage our software, each of them requiring regular maintenance. From an IT perspective, to keep these systems running as efficiently as possible we attempted to reduce cases of incompatibility by running all servers and desktop/laptop computers on the Microsoft Windows platform. Though this worked, it meant the best tool wasn’t always deployed for the task, with maximum compatibility and reliability trumping having the right tool.
For collaboration, we ran a localised Exchange and Skype for Business system that – while operational – wasn’t designed for large meetings given the physical system limitations brought by an in-house setup.
Having this setup may have helped avoid expensive overheads, but it limited our potential for growth. It meant some of our best people were spending a lot of their time maintaining systems rather than creating useful products that serve customers. This is known in the industry as ‘undifferentiated heavy lifting’ –the concept of spending time on something that produces little output for your business.
There were also additional problems with the scattered approach we had. With a renewed focus on data, the company needed to move toward artificial intelligence (AI) to process data. But AI only works if you have data readily available and a lot of power to process this data. With data stored on tapes and a lack of processing power, the cost savings from not paying for technology as a service overheads were actually becoming an opportunity cost.
There were five major components to the full transition, which were planned and executed over the past 18 months:
- Move from internal Microsoft communications platforms to cloud-based Microsoft 365
- Move from virtual machines to containers & serverless
- Retiring of Windows as the de facto operating system
- Move from network-attached storage to AWS S3 – including the processing of this data
- Adoption of new technology to process machine learning and serverless code
The transition plan
Moving major IT systems – used by over 150 team members in three different countries – was never going to be simple. That’s why our plan also included how we involve our people and help them on their move.
I firmly believe in investing in our people, and this paid off for us with over 50 per cent of the Intelematics workforce achieving AWS professional training certification. This was a huge feat – particularly given that only around 60-70 per cent of staff make up the tech team. By positioning the transition as a strategic culture change rather than merely an IT change, we empowered employees to take the transition seriously and engage actively in the training process.
We were also able to bring employees along with the change by planning for some early wins. This included the choice of new personal IT equipment. Since Windows was no longer the de facto system with customer-facing applications running on Linux systems, our people could now choose between Windows-based HP laptop or a Macbook Pro, since both platforms were equally compatible with Linux and the 365 environments.
Staff also enjoyed the collaboration features of the platform, which had instant productivity benefits through its time-saving features.
As expected, the AWS system has had a massive impact on the way we distribute data and develop software. Going from limited storage to virtually unlimited, with instant recall has increased our capability immensely, allowing products to be rolled out locally and globally simultaneously. What we do in one jurisdiction can be instantly accessed in another so long drawn out software updates on multiple devices – the ultimate ‘undifferentiated heavy lifting’ – are a thing of the past.
Thanks to AWS, many aspects of our traffic management system was able to be automated with intelligent machine learning protocols. This has allowed staff who traditionally spent hours manually trawling through news and social media to be upskilled and moved into product development roles. The opportunities for less restriction and true scalability were starting to be realised. Then COVID-19 hit.
On 17 March, the company made the call to transition people to a remote working arrangement. While it may have been pre-emptive, it was the right call, as our workforce felt that the decision meant that we not only cared for their wellbeing but trusted them to work more flexibly. After the call was made, we had 72 hours to transition our workforce to work from home. The first tranche to work from home was the core IT team. We didn’t know how – or in fact – whether it would work. We’d never tried anything so radical. But if there was ever a time, we were going to test the true capabilities of our transition to the cloud – this was it. And it shone. At the end of the first week, we were operating as usual. We even had a company-wide town hall meeting, with everyone dialling in via Microsoft Teams. It was close to flawless. If we had tried to run the same scenario under our old internal platforms, it would have crashed.
This was an incredibly proud moment for me because I realised that with our transition to the cloud, we had indeed future-proofed the company. As well as increased productivity, allowing for greater business opportunities, the transition to the cloud had acted as an insurance policy, enabling continuity at a time of great uncertainty around the world. It meant that the scalability factor could be applied not only to how we serve our customers, but also how we deploy our workforce. The system had acted beyond its original intention and done us all proud.
The cloud-based transition – which had always been touted as a positive business decision – has now become a vital business decision and one I will remember forever.