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IXOM migrates SAP to Azure, secures savings and positions for transformation

Even high school chemists know that attempts to split some compounds can prove explosive; by comparison the 2015 separation of Ixom from chemical giant Orica was a smooth operation.

It did however require extensive and careful surgery to separate two businesses that had been tightly interconnected. At the same time Ixom’s IT team needed to pay careful attention to ensure the company had the information systems and data needed to operate and grow.

A market leader in water treatment and chemical distribution in Australia and New Zealand, with a growing presence in Asia and North and South America. Ixom has more than 1,000 employees and operates in 15 countries around the world.  The organisation used the separation as an opportunity to take a completely fresh approach to its information systems and go “all-in on cloud” says chief information officer, Rowan Start.

Mr Start understood Ixom needed information systems that would be highly efficient, allow it to rein in operating costs and also provide a future-proofed platform to underpin growth and drive productivity improvements across the organisation.

Rather than bring legacy, end-of-life systems across from Orica, Mr Start sought a technology refresh: “We had to interject in the sale process to set up us to be more agile, more flexible. We knew could not sustain the old cost base.  We needed a new approach.”

That new approach was to move to the cloud, migrate Ixom’s SAP applications to Microsoft Azure, and take a cloud-first approach to the future providing Ixom with a fresh start computing-wise. It was a compelling argument and Start secured the funds to effect the technology transformation.

When it came to selecting the right cloud, Mr Start was clear that he wanted a single strategic technology partner. It was to be “Microsoft wall-to-wall” so that Ixom could leverage Azure, Office 365, Skype for Business, SharePoint, Yammer. The Microsoft partnership would also help Ixom move from VMware to HyperV, transition from DB2 to SQL, and give Ixom comfort that it was future proofed thanks to Microsoft’s clear product and services roadmap.

Mr Start is frank and notes that some of the reporting from Azure and the ability to scale up and down has not proved as smooth or simple as he had hoped, but overall the solution has delivered the goods – including improved SAP performance and already, significant savings.

“We have achieved our financial goals of reducing the IT spend in that area…in the order of 20 per cent across the board,” he says, That saving has liberated the funds needed to develop new CRM and web portal capability says Mr Start.

Ixom worked with Microsoft partner and SAP specialist BNW Consulting to design a blueprint for the transition to the cloud, while service provider UXC assisted with the transition and migration, and continues to provide a range of IT services to Ixom, supplementing Mr Start’s team of 20 full time IT professionals.

“The whole transition took 18 months – but nine months in the making of the SAP transition,” says Mr Start.

Mr Start describes the actual cutover of the SAP solution onto Azure as the “biggest single success” of the entire project. “We were able to do it really well.  I know when we discussed with the business, even the outage window, we asked for a four-day weekend.  We took the Friday and the Monday and we were able to do it in that time.

“It performed beautifully.  Better than we thought actually.  So running now on Windows SQL, it ran better than we had it turned on Unix DB2.”

Ixom is heavily reliant on SAP, using the ERP to handle everything from taking orders, managing procurement and tackling financials. The company also has an SAP business warehouse environment to handle reporting, and uses SAP’s SuccessFactors human capital management platform.

“We’ve got a user base who just expects it to be up all the time. It’s just fundamentally running the business day after day.

“The way it’s designed in terms of the application servers and the database servers, having resilience and replication across data centres; all those things need to be in play.  You just can’t gamble with that.  It’s just got to be there.  I even got asked in the board meeting were we all good on that front and I could happily answer that as a yes.”

Having made the transition Mr Start believes Ixom is also well positioned for growth, and has a clear information systems strategy. “Strategically I’m a Microsoft/SAP shop and with those two vendors I can solve most things.

“Our preference with new software is if there is SaaS (Software as a Service) we will take it – or hosted cloud,” he adds.  Being “all-in” on Azure delivers the benefits of single sign on through Azure AD along with improved accessibility which means Ixom staff can access systems anytime, anywhere using dual factor authentication. The Microsoft technical foundation also supports streamlined back up and technical coherency according to Mr Start.

From an organisational perspective the move to Azure has helped; “Reduce risk, ensure business continuity, is performing really well and took a lot of money out of business that we could use elsewhere.”

Mr Start also touches on the economics of cloud computing as well; “Somebody said to me once that Microsoft spend five or six billion dollars a year on their Azure R&D but, as a customer, you get to access that for a few dollars an hour.”

The move to the cloud and ability to access Azure’s broad range of features, functions and services has also prompted Mr Start to establish an innovation workshop to explore new opportunities.

“I think the platform allows us to do extra things. Power BI we are really keen on, Cortana as part of that,” he says. Mr Start is keen to use analytics and Cortana’s natural language capabilities to allow managers to interrogate Ixom’s data for insight to support strategic decision making. Azure’s Internet of Things capabilities could also be deployed in the future.

The transition to the cloud has been an important and successful technology transformation for Ixom. The next opportunity says Mr Start is to work on business transformation.

“Refreshing the technology gives us the agility and flexibility to go forward. It takes operating dollars out of your budget to free up for other things,” says Mr Start, noting that an ecommerce application that will streamline operations and help boost productivity is currently on the drawing board.

While this phase of business transformation necessarily involves personnel outside of IT, Mr Start says that they key to all successful transformations – technical or otherwise is to ensure that the business is always in the loop and understands why changes are taking place and the benefits that will follow.

“You’ve got to manage that risk because the rewards are there,” he says.

“We’ve now had many projects going on, as I’ve said, with the fast pace of business these days and we’ve been able to dial up and dial down various elements, not only in the SAP environment, and that’s a good feel for IT because sometimes we’re seen as blockers of certain business initiatives.  So, I think now we’ve got that agility, if you like.  So perfect.”

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