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Joval Wine Group uncorks full benefit of cloud with lower costs, greater performance and enhanced agility

Three of the acid tests for successful cloud migration are improved elasticity, scalability and agility. Not many organisations expect to conduct those tests under the conditions that faced Joval Wine Group in early 2020.

Established in 1963, Joval Wine Group is a family owned collection of trading entities that span the full breadth of the wine industry. They include grape growing and production (Joval Family Wines), wholesale distribution (Red+White and Mezzanine) and warehousing/logistics (BAM Wine Logistics). They have offices, vineyards and warehouses throughout Australia and New Zealand, with alliances in Asia, Europe and North America.

When COVID-19 struck, demand fell off a cliff and Joval needed a way to support staff working remotely.

Having moved 100 per cent of its applications to the public cloud just prior to the pandemic, Joval was able to rapidly scale back cloud use, rein in costs, and quickly pivot to a work from home model for all 300 staff.

Elasticity, tick; scalability, tick; agility tick.

Now, as the business enters the recovery phase, as bars and restaurants gradually open and demand picks up, the business will be able to meet rising demand without a hitch according to Andrew Stoneham, Joval’s chief technology officer.

When Stoneham joined the company a traditional IT infrastructure was in place, featuring a large collocated datacenter running on premise applications (with some e-commerce hosted on AWS). “Most of our technology spend and team effort was focused on maintaining our legacy datacenter environment and troubleshooting associated performance issues, when we really wanted to be working across our business on delivering new initiatives to enable the strategy.  With our five-year data centre agreement coming to an end we knew a move to the cloud could offer us a much better outcome and Azure was a logical choice given our Microsoft centric environment,” says Stoneham.

Working with Microsoft partner Olikka, the company transitioned 100 per cent of its applications to Azure in just nine months. As a result, says Stoneham; “We’ve reduced our server count by two-thirds and also reduced our infrastructure costs by about 40 per cent.”

“We’ve moved forward with a leaner infrastructure team and the guys have done a great job in re-skilling for Azure and making the new environment hum.”

The cloud transition also delivered the scalability and elasticity Joval needed during the pandemic.

According to Stoneham; “We’ve been able to further reduce our Azure costs by a third, which we did within a week of going offsite. We were able to scale down the Azure environment in response to the drop in transactions and the cost pressures that we were under.

“In our original business case we were very focused on the flexibility to scale up the environment in line with the strong growth trajectory the business has been on. In this situation we’ve been able to scale down and reduce that cost, knowing that as the industry recovers and volumes increase, we can turn things back up. Just a whole level of flexibility that we’ve never had before.”

Meanwhile the cloud has improved the performance of Joval’s ecommerce platforms and core business systems delivering an enhanced user experience for both customers and employees, while the cloud move also positions Joval for its planned expansion into new markets.

Working with Microsoft partner Olikka, the company transitioned 100 per cent of its applications to Azure in just nine months. As a result, says Stoneham; “We’ve reduced our server count by two-thirds and also reduced our infrastructure costs by about 40 per cent.”

Speedy transition

To help plan and execute the transition to Azure, Olikka used a range of Microsoft tools such as Azure Migrate, Azure Site Recovery, Azure App Service Migration Assistant and Azure Database Migration Service. This approach allowed Joval to decommission more than 100 servers and reduce the number of servers that needed to be migrated to Azure.

With Azure as the underlying cloud foundation for the entire business, Joval also uses Office 365, Power BI and Dynamics, it has raised its overall security posture, and is exploring how it can further leverage Azure Platform as a Service in the future. It’s also currently working with Olikka on its Azure based disaster recovery program and continues to be supported by a team of specialist technology experts from Microsoft.

Having Azure-based platforms in place by February 2020 meant Joval was able to pivot to a work-from-home model with just a few days’ notice when COVID-19 struck. According to Stoneham; “Microsoft Teams has been invaluable, and we were able to use the crisis to smash through all those traditional change management barriers and get the entire group using Teams for productive collaboration within a few days.  This has made the working from home model far more effective than we could have imagined.”

While staff have been working from home during the pandemic, Joval has offices, warehouses and vineyards across Australia and New Zealand in addition to its alliances in Europe, USA and Asia.  Stoneham explains; “We have seen a real step change in how we collaborate across the group.  For example, we now have our New Zealand winemakers joining meetings to provide our Melbourne team with live video updates of the current harvest, from the vineyard.”

Stoneham expects that having access to Teams for communication and collaboration will be an enduring benefit as staff start to return to the office. He says many are already using tools like Planner to gain transparency about who is working on what, and any associated priorities – insights that will be as valuable when staff are working in the office as they are when they are working remotely.  “We are taking maximum advantage of this wave of adoption to unlock the full capability of Teams.  With basic collaboration embedded we are now in the process of replacing our file servers, PABX and contact centre with Teams based solutions.  Cost and collaboration benefits aside, this approach enables our people to perform most of their daily tasks in a single user interface that works on any device”.

The move to the cloud and adoption of Power BI is also delivering much needed insight to managers and executives.

Stoneham explains; “We’ve previously been very focused on static rear-vision mirror style reporting that simply tells us what happened yesterday, last week and last month against budget.  We’re really shifting more to actionable insights using near real time data to drive action today, so Power BI is our strategic platform for reporting and analytics now.”

As Joval phases out its legacy reporting platforms and ramps up Power BI adoption the improved user experience has been very well received.  “Our legacy reporting was typically distributed via email in Excel or PDF format and viewed on a smartphone which is a pretty dreadful experience.   Through the Power BI app, the new reports are live and optimised for mobile, with many of our field teams streamlining access further by using Siri voice prompts to access their high-volume reports”, says Stoneham.

Access to the Microsoft software ecosystem led Joval to BrandPrint which has used Power BI to create an advanced data analytics solution focused on optimising wine sales and marketing activities.  Stoneham explains; “This partnership has allowed us to tap in to industry leading data analytics and put it in the hands of our sales and marketing teams quickly and cost effectively.   BrandPrint provides our sales force with deep insights into sales patterns and trends via simple visualisations which deliver a clear understanding of the opportunities and priorities for sales growth.

“Coming out of COVID we can see that our key markets are forever changed and the insights we are getting in Power BI leave us far better positioned to proactively respond to these changing conditions.”

Sales forecasting is another high priority for Joval and it has recently completed a data science proof of concept with Microsoft partner Versor.   Stoneham explains; “As a distributor of over 150 wineries, we manage inventory of around 3,000 separate SKUs which all change with every vintage. We see a big opportunity to improve our working capital by leveraging AI and Machine Learning to optimise our inventory levels.  The prototype we developed with Versor using Azure Machine Learning has shown real promise and we hope to pursue this further post COVID”

It’s exactly where Stoneham wanted to be following the cloud migration – where Joval’s technology team can focus on value adding rather than just managing the nuts and bolts of keeping a data centre running and applications patched and up to date.  “It’s enabled the team to really step up and become more agile and focused on delivering business solutions while decreasing our overall technology spend,” says Stoneham.  “Working right across our three businesses, the technology group is in that rare position of having a 360-degree view of our business processes and opportunities for improvement and we are now taking advantage of that.  The profile of our team has really shifted in recent times from back of house to partnering with the business and driving the digital transformation required to maintain our market leading position”.