When you have seven individual financial businesses as part of your group, deploying the Cloud is a brave call. But that’s the challenge Aditya Birla Financial Services Group (ABFSG) is in the process of addressing, having planned for Cloud deployment across the enterprise.
ABFSG comprises of: Birla Sun Life Insurance, Birla Sun Life Asset Management Company, Aditya Birla Finance Limited, Aditya Birla Money Mart, Aditya Birla Money, Aditya Birla Capital Advisors, and Aditya Birla Insurance Advisory Services.
With seven businesses, ABFSG’s numbers are no child’s play. 1600 points of presence. 15,000 employees. Terrabytes of customer data. A variety of technology stacks across the companies, from Microsoft to IBM. Varied Databases such as SQL, Oracle and DB2. All of this, under a stringent regulatory landscape demanding that the IT team stay on top of its game at all times.
Playing it smart
Being in the business of money, G V Gopalakrishnan, COO, ABFSG, and Tarun Pandey, VP-IT, ABFSG, recognize that IT downtime or unavailability has a direct impact on the bottom-line. The duo has a smart model to meet all IT requirements. “Each company has their own requirements; we try and bring synergy in meeting these so that every entity benefits without impacting the time-to-market,” explains Gopalakrishnan.
Tarun Pandey, VP-IT, ABFSG
The logic behind it, says Pandey, is, “At best the utilization of a standalone server is 20-30%. Instead of all entities having their own infrastructure, we are managing this centrally, taking the utilization up, to 70-80%.”
Adopting this model could certainly bring in cost advantages for the group, but having seen the IT needs from individual companies grow, ABFSG recently took the decision to play even smarter. The enterprise is planning a move to the Cloud to optimize future investments.“The lead time for any computing resource was 3-6 weeks. Instead of keeping the business waiting, we chose to bring in agility by utilizing the Cloud,” adds Pandey. “Also when it came to replacing very old servers, we have simply decided to replace them with the Cloud model instead of a parallel server.”
“The main hook was server manageability and reduced overheads of AMC. We basically agree on SLAs and don’t need to worry about how it is managed. Plus there are added advantages of standardization, high availability, better controls, when going with the Cloud,” adds Gopalakrishnan, who started planning the move in September 2010 with the IT team.
Going with the private Cloud and starting with the less business critical functions, ABFSG has begun the process of user acceptance testing on the Cloud. The plan is to shift the production infrastructure to the Cloud after ironing out the glitches, if any. Today, their shared applications across businesses, as well as email, intranet, and portal development are planned on the Cloud.
The biggest leverage for ABFSG in their planned deployment has been the right choice of products. Gopalakrishnan and Pandey are unanimous. “There are many products available but instead ofgoing for new ones, we realized that we have the required interoperable products and features as a part of the OS itself. Microsoft Hyper-V is part of our existing stack from Microsoft and as per our licensing, we are eligible to use it free. This helped us meet the basic requirement and demonstrate capability.”
With such a large set up, we wonder if the business buy-in was a hurdle, but the duo is of the opinion that, “IT availability is a problem of technology not the business. The advantage with the Cloud is availability even at short notice, so this was definitely a plus. A good Cloud strategy makes the availabilityof existing and new resources easier and the business can see benefits in the long run in terms of real estate, power, management costs, opex,etc. If you migrate to the Cloud witha clear plan and go for only the essential purchases, there is no confusion. The justification is easy.”
In their own case, they developed a business case when it came to server replacement. Says Pandey, “Certain servers were getting replaced but some where in a good condition. While planning for the Cloud, we looked at reallocating some servers where legal issues around data security did not permit the use of the Cloud. It is better to be transparent on the savings, the initial spend, the benefits, and the reality that you might someday want to reverse the use of the Cloud for certain applications. Another enterprise wide advantage is that you can have company-wise and department-wise billing as per usage.” In ABFSG’s case, it took them two months for planning the architecture in tandem with the vendor, following which they sought approval from the business.
Leaving no stone unturned
What change management measures have ABFSG adopted to be Cloud-ready? Pandey adds, “The end user is unaffected. On thetechnology front, we have to monitor security and have multiple checks and controls. After all, it is Cloud based architecture and one single person (such as the administrator) can bring down the whole thing. Therefore the governance, allocation of duties, processes (risk analysis, fall back mechanisms), and controls must be strong.”
The winning post
The gentlemen agree that the intended move to the Cloud, will make their IT more responsive and agile. They will be able to launch more cross-business initiatives for better synergy, even as their team looks forward to the learning and talent development to be gained from the new environment. They urge the CIO community “To look at business transformation through new technologies; learn step by step, consult with experts, vendors,consultants to get an idea of how people are going about it. The world is going towards the Cloud, whether anyone likes it or not. It is better if organizations adapt.”