You bite into a burger at the local club, and buy a loaf on the way home. Ever wonder how the ingredients got there?
Chances are that Countrywide had a hand in that. Countrywide has a network of more than 115 food distributors – its members – that supply pubs and clubs, bakeries, cafes, schools, aged care and health facilities. Chances are – if you eat it, they’ve supplied it.
Not surprisingly there are a lot of moving parts in that sort of business – but not a whole heap of margin. As an SMB – Countrywide needs clarity and efficiency – it needs a firm grasp on orders and stock levels, invoices and compliance. But it also needs good value and reliability.
When Ali Badr joined Countrywide as IT Manager, the business didn’t have the sorts of reporting tools that it really needed to keep distributors properly informed.
The business is set up as a member-based business; distributors work with Countrywide which has agreements with major suppliers such as Nestle and Devondale. Depending on how much product a distributor purchases they can get incentives or rebates – but if they didn’t have accurate reports they were flying blind and could miss out.
At the same time the business’s computer systems were either managed in house, or it used a series of third-party hosting companies.
Sometimes that came unstuck. For example, Munch Monitor is Countrywide’s system that allows schools to offer parents and students online canteen ordering. It had been hosted by a third party – but when that company had its systems compromised it was only the back ups and recovery plan that Badr had set up that got the service back up and running.
Now, instead of relying on a patchwork quilt of systems and suppliers Countrywide is streamlining its information services with Microsoft’s three clouds – it has implemented a site wide licence for Office 365, has moved a lot of core services to Microsoft Azure, and is planning to deploy Dynamics 365 next.
The transformation has already seen SQL Server Reporting Services, SQL Server, Domain Controller, Active Directory Sync, Exchange and Web Servers move from on premise virtual machines into Azure.
Other workloads which were previously tackled by virtual machines hosted in a third-party data centre and have now been moved across to Microsoft Azure include Web Server, and the Primary and Secondary database servers.
By February 2020 Badr hopes the transformation and embrace of Microsoft’s three clouds will be complete.
Besides providing the tools that Countrywide and its distributors need – Power BI has been a game changer for accurate reporting for example – that approach has also reined in the cost of providing basic IT services, freeing up resources for more value adding work such as tackling strategic projects and acquisitions.
Moving to a cloud-based solution has also had a major impact on the way that Countrywide employees and distributors work.
According to Badr; “Now they can work from home. All they need is an app and they have everything there. The documents – everything. And, that is without compromising security. It gives so much flexibility– Office 365 is fantastic for co-authoring, when people are working in collaboration. They’re all working together on one document at a time. And, Teams, for example – they can just pass their comments on what they’re working on. It’s just fantastic. It has revolutionised the workplace.”
Badr is also enthusiastic about the possibility in the future of using Teams for Countrywide’s telephony needs. It already leverages SharePoint as a secure way for its members to share information with external users.
“And, the best part is, Microsoft Office 365 has this security and compliance module which is like – it tracks each and everything.” Risk is reined in.
The approach means there’s much greater clarity for managers who can see the stock on hand, the inventory levels for members and customers – and be confident about the integrity and security of that information which is critical to support decision making and forecasting.
The result of the move to Microsoft’s three clouds – Office 365, Azure, and shortly Dynamics 365 is clear. Instead of needing four people to manage IT infrastructure, it can now do that with just one person – freeing up the other people for other more valuable work. It’s also significantly lowered backup and recovery costs.
Risk is reduced because of the resilience and security which are cornerstones of Microsoft cloud services.
At the same time the scalability and geographic reach that Office 365 and Azure allow mean that Countrywide can accelerate growth and acquisition; when a new business or user is brought on, they are simply provided the same tools and access as everyone else in the company – from day one.
And that’s sweet.