This UK and European retailer operates 800 centres across five locations, as well as operating multiple brands to service a critical need in travel and transport. It sells over 6 million products per year, achieved by being the number one choice for its customers, as well as a leading automotive aftermarket employer and an acknowledged innovator in the industry.
The customer faced Cloud Transformation on two fronts; ensuring reliability of its systems and digitally transforming how it uses data within the business. From the cloud native design of modern applications through to the 24/7 operation, the customer has a trusted partnership with Softcat and Expert Thinking, leveraging IaaS and PaaS on Microsoft Azure for core IT systems and a new data platform.
- An international business group, operating across five European locations
- Operating multiple retail brands including 800 centres in the UK and Europe
- Seeking new ways to evolve use of technology as well as adopt cloud native technology for new business initiatives
Many years ago, the customer had made the strategic decision to use Cloud as its preferred platform for IT and digital services. But some of the associated decisions (architecture and build related) were done so without the wider context of how Cloud would grow in line with the business needs – a difficult prediction that many businesses face. This began to present challenges pertaining to scalability, reliability and security. The compounding factor in this scenario was the availability of their internal resource, which was tied up managing BAU and trying to allocate time to new cloud native digital projects to support the growth of the business. The customer identified the need for an ongoing partner to provide 24x7x365 platform operations, to ensure continued best practice but while ensuring a partner could assume responsibility for the day-to-day, freeing up internal IT to support new business digital initiatives. The customer’s strategic technology team was also ramping up its need to build a modern data platform, capable of warehousing and analysing a variety of business data sources with the objective of identifying new areas to monetise and exploit said data. The need here was clear; resource to help with the data analytics aspect coupled with Microsoft Azure resource to define the cloud native building blocks for the new platform.
"As with many IT teams, we were trying to balance the needs of BAU support alongside new digital initiatives of the business. We reached a point where additional scale was required to help us realise efficiencies in our Azure platform, which in turn freed up our resource to focus on new initiatives." – Customer spokesperson.
Critical success factors
- Reduce monthly costs and improve operational reliability/security
- Minimise use of internal resource for BAU
- Ensure close collaboration with multiple parties to build a new data platform for the business
Based on the partnership to date, there were two clear objectives; firstly, drive efficiency into the existing Azure platform followed by alleviating the 24x7x365 PlatformOps burden from the company’s internal IT and secondly, provide cloud native engineering resource to support the company with its new data platform initiative. Moreover, these two objectives required execution in parallel to avoid delays and risks to IT and the business as a whole.
On this basis, a programme team was formed, combining four distinct areas of resource; internal IT & Strategic Technology, Softcat, Expert Thinking (Softcat’s preferred partner for large scale modern Azure data platforms) and a leading systems integrator as the customer’s preferred data analytics partner. From there, the programme team split into two workstreams to deliver:
• Azure Platform review and onboarding into a Softcat Managed Service; our priority was to review the current state of play, identify all areas of improvement (security, architecture, reliability, commercial) and importance. Without prioritising this first, there was a high degree of probability that the data platform build may be exposed to additional complexity. Several items were identified and remediated by the team as part of the follow-on onboarding into the Softcat Managed Service.
• Azure Data Platform design and build; all parties collaborated to create a cloud native Azure data platform, built ground-up via infrastructure as code, with automated delivery pipelines and data source testing. Crucially, this leveraged a new Azure spoke architecture with integration into an existing hub, to ensure overall interoperability and governance
“The journey with this customer was fast paced and exciting on multiple levels. We had tight timelines to help the company progress a critical new data project leveraging our partnership with Expert Thinking while helping alleviate PlatformOps pressure from the customer’s IT team. The result is a thriving partnership where our teams are enthused about working together.” - Matt Larder, Head of Cloud at Softcat.
- 24x7x365 Azure PlatformOps
- FinOps to ensure maximum optimisation and alignment of IT to business needs.
- Ongoing architectural oversight to help shape new projects inline with best practice and operational efficiency.
The key result is a more efficient Azure platform (technology) with a Softcat 24x7x365 managed service for PlatformOps to ensure continuous governance (architecture, commercial, security and reliability) alleviating pressure on the company’s internal IT team.
In addition, we have jointly delivered a modern Azure data platform (built and maintained by code and automated pipelines) to support the growth and monetization of data across the customer’s business.
A spokesperson for the company, explains:
“Our work with Softcat and Expert Thinking, has uncovered a new layer to our already long-standing partnership. We worked in close collaboration, learning lessons from each out as we went.
“As with any complex project, there were some bumps along the way, but our approach to overcome these was testament to the partnership depth and expertise of the combined team.”
At a Glance
- Reduction in the amount of time internal teams spend on BAU activities
- Greater integration with native Azure features for visibility, security and recovery thus reducing operational complexity
- Opportunity to rationalise unused assets, reduce ongoing costs and secure discounts on future provision