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Microsoft Azure

Cloud fertilises Ruralco’s growth ambitions

Farmers understand the importance of good foundations – whether it’s soil, seed or stock. While they remain at the whim of the weather – without the strong foundations that they can manage, farmers’ results will be reduced.

The same holds true for Ruralco, an ASX-listed agribusiness with more than 40 specialist businesses and 500 outlets across Australia. It provides advice and services across a range spanning merchandise, fertiliser, wool, livestock, real estate, risk management, water, grain, finance and insurance to support farmers and farming communities across the nation.

Chief Information Officer Tom Hansen understands the importance of strong data and technology foundations to support the business, enable it to grow and deliver a great customer experience. Over the last three years Hansen and his team have worked to improve the data quality available to the organisation and transitioned its SAP solutions into Azure in order to leverage the scale, trust and resilience of the Microsoft cloud.

“The technology strategy is there to make sure we deliver value to the business and enhance the customer experience,” says Hansen.

“We need to enable that with technology in a cost effective, robust and reliable way.”

But Hansen didn’t want to pave the cowpaths – applying new technology over old processes and flawed data; instead he wanted to deploy technology judiciously, getting the foundations of data and process right before waving the technology transformation wand.

“We are well into the journey – but we needed to start at the foundational level so that things like data and processes are well established and trusted. You can’t build anything on bad data.”

Besides a strong foundation, Ruralco needed a secure, resilient and scalable platform.

A long term SAP user the organisation has significant M&A plans which exist alongside their major digital transformation programme.

But he understands only too well that the transformation could not be allowed to interrupt the day-to-day needs of Ruralco stores or the 1,000+ users of its SAP system.

With the company’s SAP server hardware approaching end of life and a strategy to adopt cloud solutions where possible, Hansen decided to transition Ruralco’s SAP solution to the cloud.

“We had a look at a privately hosted environment, at AWS and Azure. We had discussions with peers and came to the conclusion that Azure was the right mix and fit because of its scalability, cost, reliability and track record”, says Hansen.

Already a major Office 365 user, Ruralco understands the benefits of cloud based solutions.

Working with Microsoft partner BNW, Ruralco commenced a six month cloud transformation project, performing extensive testing along the way as they needed to ensure critical functionality such as customer invoicing and receipting worked without a hiccup from day one.

In mid 2017 Ruralco completed the transition to Azure of all its core SAP finance, supply and distribution systems, along with middleware that communicates to its point-of-sale environment. Azure also provides disaster recovery for the production environment.

Early Monday morning after Azure migration go-live, when the 500 stores opened their doors, the system was up and running as usual.

Since the switch of SAP to Azure, Ruralco has also conducted two performance checks – the first week it identified a 50% performance improvement for online transactions & dialogues and 60% improvement on batch jobs.

A month later a second performance check confirmed these results, with anecdotal reports from the business indicating that processing is much quicker and uploads & downloads are being processed in a fraction of the time they used to be.

“It has been a major success and our objectives have well and truly been met,” says Hansen.

And the future holds even greater promise.

“At the moment we have SAP on SQL in Azure; our next goal is to move to SAP on Hana then ultimately to S/4 Hana. Now we have a fast environment our database could be a bottleneck – so we’ve started planning the HANA move” he says.

For retailers, live and trusted data is essential – otherwise you could be running blind for a day or two.

– Hansen

Already a committed Office 365 user, Ruralco uses Skype for Business to support communications across some of its main offices. It is looking to deploy SkB more broadly to reduce travel costs associated with having hundreds of outlets across the country.

“We have a strong relationship with our technology partners and work closely with them to ensure our business can operate faster, more efficiently and react quicker to ever changing demands.”

In this, Azure is proving a critical ally.