“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” starts the famous saying about how you can always depend on the mail. But New Zealand Post’s customer communications management division, Datam, found it needed to update its outdated tech infrastructure. With IT partner DDS IT, it set out on a journey to consolidate its bloated and expensive systems in one easy to manage cloud platform, hosted on Azure. Now it’s fully scalable, secure and set up for years of seamless delivery.
Most people associate New Zealand Post with – well, post. Thousands of parcels and envelopes zipping their way from post boxes to mail centres and courier vans, connecting homes and businesses locally and abroad. What many don’t realise is that the NZ Post Group also manages business-critical communications via print, text or email on behalf of major public and private sector organisations.
Datam oversees mailouts and email communications for a host of blue-chip customers. If Kiwis receive notifications that their fibre connection is due to be upgraded, a power bill or a bank statement, or a government agency wants to consult citizens on a new policy – chances are, Datam is involved. In fact, the organisation holds what may be New Zealand’s largest digital archive.
However, like many organisations, Datam wanted to do more with the data it had, as well as make its systems more resilient. Its legacy on-premises cloud systems were becoming more costly as storage grew and infrastructure was added, with some applications duplicated across several systems. Many were becoming out of date, unable to keep up with the latest security requirements or scale to meet increasing customer demand. Without an automated security system, customers were usually the first to alert the team to outages. Meanwhile, improvements were slow to implement, requiring a request to be sent to Datam’s managed services provider. This also made governance challenging.
Datam was looking for a new, more cost-effective model that would provide better monitoring and insights, empower its own people to make changes quickly and easily, while being even more accessible to customers. And of course, for a growing New Zealand population, it needed to be scalable.
Post horses in the cloud
DDS IT was chosen to help Datam push the digital envelope. From the first, it identified Microsoft Azure as the best choice to deliver the scalability and resilience Datam was after.
“During tax season, our archives are hit hard as customers source important documents, but the rest of the year we don’t need that sort of capacity. Azure made sense as it can scale up and down as needed,” says Nyrell Japeth, Manager Technical Support and Special Projects at Datam.
Little did they know, back in late 2018, that a pandemic would send online communications skyrocketing and make cloud migration more important than ever.
The project was given a name – Project Whitehorse. While horse-drawn coaches used to get the mail through, the digital age requires a new breed of workhorse – ones bred from cloud.
Yet because of the nature of Datam’s customers, from banks to government departments, migrating to Azure wasn’t simply a case of flipping a switch overnight.
“Customers were a big part of the process. Unlike a lot of other organisations, many of them have strict requirements about sharing, storing and accessing data, so we consulted with them every step of the way to ensure the new system met their requirements. There were a lot of meetings and workshops, and a great deal of testing was required to ensure customers’ systems were properly integrated as well. All our plans had to be designed from scratch,” explains Norbert Bojarski, Executive General Manager, Investments and Ventures at NZ Post.
DDS IT recommended carrying out the migration in two key phases – the first focusing on core internal-facing business operations with the second larger phase focusing on external customer-facing systems that required close customer engagement and sign-off. This approach allowed for processes to be refined and risks mitigated.
The DDS IT team created explanatory documents and easy to understand diagrams about the migration and the process to help Datam communicate with internal stakeholders and customers. Because of the scale and complexity of the project, assistance was brought in from the wider NZ Post Group, and Microsoft’s own FastTrack cloud experts also supported with customer management and technical advice, bringing extensive experience of public sector migrations.
The Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 added an extra dimension, meaning teams were deployed on other urgent work. Fortunately, the crew had already adopted Microsoft Teams for collaboration, making it easier to keep things moving and keep spirits up at the same time.
Everard Borland, Head of Products at DDS IT, says focusing on people was just as crucial as focusing on the task.
“During these particularly challenging times, we supported the team through the transition to remote work by ensuring that everyone could access a variety of tools and resources such as Teams to support mental well-being, health and a work-life balance, with a particular focus on empathy for one another.”
First-class communications, 30 times faster
That approach was noted by the judges at the 2021 Microsoft New Zealand Partner Awards.
“DDS IT was named a finalist in the awards, not just for their technical brilliance, but for the way they put people first throughout the entire process. From helping Datam’s internal and external stakeholders understand what it meant for them, to supporting the wellbeing of their teams when we were all struggling with the fast-changing Covid environment, they get that technology is there to work for human beings, not the other way around. And when you consider that Covid-19 wasn’t even heard of when they first started three years ago, the whole project has been extraordinarily visionary,” says Matt Bostwick, Partner Director at Microsoft New Zealand.
Despite the hurdles, Datam is now up and running on Azure. And it’s been well worth the journey.
“It’s been so rewarding for us to hear all the positive feedback. Datam told us that before their architecture was in the cloud, patching and updates used to take hours. Now they describe them as ‘just a blip’,” says Simon Browne, CEO and founder of DDS IT.
NZ Post’s Nyrell agrees. “It means government organisations no longer need to put up banners on their websites alerting customers of upcoming outages. And if there’s sudden surges of demand on the system, we’ll be alerted straight away. It used to be customers who alerted us to the system being broken, but now DDS IT has set it up so we can fix things before they get to that point.”
While it used to take a month to get new servers working, having everything in the cloud makes adding capacity almost instantaneous. Better still, Datam’s own teams can make changes themselves without relying on a cumbersome external process. New platform upgrades can be rolled out in super-quick time.
Since going live with Azure, Datam has been able to deploy two new solutions to its customers and replace a legacy product running on traditional virtual machines. This new product has improved performance by 30 times, saving 30 per cent on the legacy running cost.
“The new cloud system means we can be more agile and quick at innovation, and the Azure functionality gives us a layer of insights that didn’t exist before. That makes reporting to our customers and stakeholders on things like security and costs easy,” says Norbert. “We now have a much more seamless customer experience, with significant cost savings.”
Because the Azure platforms include Microsoft Defender and Security Centre, as well as disaster recovery and high availability systems that back up data in case of emergencies, customers also have peace of mind should the unforeseen (like a pandemic) happen.
Writing its own page
So, what does this mean for the future?
It won’t only be Datam’s customers who see the benefits. Because Datam’s teams can now access the organisation’s data anytime and anywhere, it allows the business to enable flexible working in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.
And equipped with futureproofed, scalable tools and the freedom to make their own changes, Datam is now set up to provide the next generation of communications to Aotearoa’s citizens. In time, could we be seeing holograms deliver our tax refund? Be shown through a new infrastructure project in immersive augmented reality from our own phones?
Maybe not yet, but with digital horses, no leap is impossible. And now, Datam is writing its own page.