The year 2013 was tough for Zespri.
The PSA virus was decimating its growers’ high value, gold kiwifruit crops across New Zealand. As well, a major initiative was underway to help growers replace existing cultivars with a more disease- tolerant variety, Sun Gold.
The hope was that this cultivar’s vigorous fruiting qualities would also lead to strong production, that it would be outstandingly successful with consumers, and help sustain the growth of the industry.
The Zespri board and executive had witnessed the devastation of the Christchurch earthquakes and the Japanese tsunami, and recognised a risk to their offices in Mt Maunganui and backup IT services in Tauranga. Zespri operates a global supply chain, and losing its IT services could leave crops unpicked, left in storage or stuck on wharves anywhere in the world.
To compound the challenge, Zespri’s IT infrastructure was approaching end-of-life, and required a substantial capital investment to upgrade and enhance existing services.
In short, the kiwifruit marketing, grower-owned company faced the following risks:
A substantial capital investment is a challenge to any business. The competition for funds is fierce. In this case of an IT upgrade there would be a multi-year burden on the balance sheet as the items depreciated, whilst uncertainty swirled around the business’ long term viability.
If the crop yield grew as hoped, then there was a need to quickly scale up to markets new and existing. If the crop yield fell then the IT investment would be oversized compared to the need going forward, with the burden sitting on the balance sheet. Either way, replicating the current IT environment was not the answer.
Natural disaster risk
Christchurch’s earthquakes and Japan’s tsunami had changed the risk equation for Zespri’s business forever. Natural disasters were now a very real threat to continued IT service in a 24/7/365 global enterprise. Were data centres, even if distributed across the North Island, really a robust answer?
Global reach risk
Offices across the globe required access to IT services, many of which were operated out of Mt Maunganui. These services were delivered via complex, secure VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). Technically this approach worked, but it placed all the business’ eggs in one basket. With a real business need for application access via mobile phones, tablets and roaming devices, VPNs seemed a very complex way to access services. The question came from above:
I get easy access to Facebook and LinkedIn when I am travelling. Why not my business information?
How does a New Zealand company deliver acceptable levels of support to cities across the world? What if the network connection goes down in Tokyo during the peak season? Who do you send? What service guarantees are there? Who gets priority in a major crisis?
The solution options
- Keep things as they are: unacceptable.
After the earthquakes and the tsunami, having two data centres within the same region was now seen as just too plain risky.
- Moving to new, geographically separate hosting facilities: marginal.
- Moving equipment and services into a hosted environment didn’t solve the problem of scaling up and down, or offer a financially sensible option. Commercially, Zespri would have to upgrade the IT equipment to have it hosted, or sign up for a fixed term to have a supplier own and operate it on their behalf.
- Shove it all up into the cloud: scary.
But that is exactly what they did.
Now three years later Zespri is in growth mode. The gold crop is producing record numbers and is in demand across the planet.
The IT systems scale up and down as seasonal and market demands require, consuming services as needed and switching them off when not required.
Costs are no longer tied to capital investment. The IT financial model is consumption-based with close monitoring and management of expenses using a combination of financial analysis, real time online analytics provided by Total Utilities and constant reappraisal of the business’ requirements based on the insights delivered.
Access is via a stable and secure data network, delivered by a world class provider. The supply chain resides in multiple Microsoft Azure data centres globally, ensuring business continuity.
This managed, outsourced Azure environment delivers critical supply chain services globally. Coupled with Office 365, Skype for Business and SharePoint, Zespri is competing for market share on the world stage. It is able to scale with speed, delivering a robust and repeatable IT environment as new offices open and new services emerge and evolve, and all this at a lower cost per tray of kiwifruit than was previously thought possible.
No innovation comes without a new set of risks and challenges though. As with international roaming mobile data services, bill shock can be an issue.
In my next post, I will address managing and monitoring consumption-based IT services locally and in the public cloud.
David Spratt is director of ICT at Total Utilities. Email [email protected]