Migrating to the cloud – the non-techie perspective

Car and campervan hire specialist Jucy Group has migrated its whole IT operation to the cloud – but it was a bumpy ride, according to Jucy COO Dan Alpe.

The rental company, which started in 2001, also runs a cruise business in Milford Sound; a hotel in central Auckland; and a bus business in Queenstown. Jucy operates in New Zealand, Australia and the United States, with sales offices in the United Kingdom, Germany and China, said Alpe. He described the company as “next-generation tourism company” that is very much into social media.

“We now see IT as a critical part of our business,” he said.

But that hasn’t always been the case.

“We were not strong in IT,” Alpe said. “In fact, for the first seven years, IT was an absolute pain in the ass – a big cost and something we’d rather [not have] in our business.”

Jucy started out with a manual booking system. That eventually evolved into a computer system with Microsoft Terminal Services. The server was located in the kitchen of the office and there were no backups. There were also email issues.

“Once, we were out of email for four days. This was a wakeup call for us.”

The company invested in a Windows Small Business Server, still onsite, and with the help of an IT support person, set up an online backup system. At the time, Jucy had a Telecom Corporate Internet Direct connection with a 200GB limit.

“The first month we got a $2,500 bill for overage. I freaked out a little but talked to the IT guy and we put it down to the first online backup. We talked to Telecom and they agreed to credit us.”

A couple of months later, Alpe got a notification from Telecom that his current bill was $25,000 and growing. He quickly got hold of Gen-i and established that there was a problem with the backup – it was backing up the whole server, rather than just doing an incremental backup. He thought the issues were sorted until the following month when he got a $60,000 bill.

“I turned to my IT support guy only to find he was long gone. He had run for the hills.”

With this experience under his belt, Alpe went looking for an IT provider that could help and “tell us what we needed to do”. The company ended up working with Origin IT, which did a review and came back with three options: to do a refresh of the infrastructure and keep it on-premise; to move to Origin IT’s data centre on the North Shore; or go for a cloud-based Citrix solution hosted at Orcon’s data centre.

“For us, it was like trying to figure out how to fly. I had no idea what they were talking about with most of this stuff.”

But one thing on Alpe’s mind was that he didn’t want to deal with problems. “So if it was someone else’s issue that would be a good thing for us.”

Jucy chose the cloud option and with it came benefits such as scalability, a predictable monthly charge and increased security, he said.

Jucy is a seven-day-a-week business, open from 8am to 8pm. The move from the existing office to Orcon’s data centre started a Friday night at 8.01pm and by the next morning at 8am, the business was fully up and running, including the call centre and the hotel.

Using Citrix over Terminal Services was a vast improvement to the remote branches, he said. However, three years on, the company is now in the process of replacing the thin clients – which Alpe thought would last ten years – with “proper computers”, he said.

Another challenge was growth. The company grew from 120 staff to more than 200 in a matter of months. This led to escalating licensing and support costs, and on top of that, Jucy needed to replace the original server.

“We could have planned [the IT journey] a bit better from a growth perspective,” he says.

“Also, I wasn’t an expert and I probably tried to act as if I understood a bit more than I did. That’s something I have learnt now. I’m not afraid to get a consultant in to work on our behalf.”

Among the lessons learnt is to find an IT partner that really fits your business and to evolve that relationship, he said.

He also recommended to keep communicating. “Our staff and the IT support guys need to know what the plans are and what we are doing next.”

After some consideration, Alpe and his team decided to go for Office 365 over Google Docs. “I had every man and his dog tell me why one was better than the other,” he said. “But ultimately, the thing for us is we can now have every single member of staff online, using our intranet, using our shared drives and communicating.

“Where we have got to today has set us up well for where we want to go tomorrow,” he said. “We are a growing business. We want to have the ability to start another operation in another country with a cookie-cutter approach to how we roll out IT.

“I’m glad that we got to the realisation that IT is actually very important for our business – not just an expense.”

Dan Alpe presented at the Cloud Computing conference in Auckland this week.

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