Friday, February 27, 2015

Mobility moves from 'nice to have' to 'must have' for large US healthcare insurer

The next BriefingsDirect enterprise mobile strategy discussion comes to you directly from the Kony World 2015 Conference on Feb. 4 in Orlando.

This five-part series of penetrating discussions on the latest in enterprise mobility explores advancements in applications design and deployment technologies across the full spectrum of edge devices and operating environments.

Our next innovation interview focuses on how a large US insurance carrier, based in the Midwest, has improved its applications’ lifecycle to make enterprise mobility a must-have business strength.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn how, we welcome our guest mobility leader, Scott Jessee, Vice President of IT for this Illinois health insurance provider. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Where is your organization in regard to mobility? Where do you stand?

Jessee: It’s important to think about where we came from. When we started off in mobile, it was not an imperative. It was not something where we had to get in. It was a nice-to-have that was in the forefront, but there wasn’t enough return on investment (ROI) in people’s minds. That shifted quickly in our business model when -- from a sales’ perspective -- it became an absolute requirement that we needed to have mobile in order for us to complete our sales.

So fast-forward to where we are now. We've been running with this for a little bit and we're primarily focusing on the consumer market, which is also exciting for us. We're in healthcare, and with the Affordable Care Act, and with lot of shifts and distribution channels, there has been a stronger need for us to have to focus on the consumer.

From a mobile perspective, most of our feedback and requests are driven in that fashion. We had to ask, "What could we do to engage through mobility? What could we do to give them more value as a product through mobility? And, how could we give it to them in a fast manner?" All those dimensions are hitting us pretty heavy right now in terms of what we are trying to think ahead for.

Gardner: Are you delivering mobility on an application-by-application basis? Or can you create a significant platform or reuse benefit in how you produce mobile applications?

Focus on multichannel

Jessee: For us, one of the biggest things from that point of view is getting a mobile application at the consumer level where we permanently focus on multichannel. That's huge for us, because the market is demanding you to have multiple devices, and there are more-and-more devices each and every year.

You have Samsung for the Android side, you have your iOS Apple on your Apple side, and then you have the tablets and smartphones and soon-to-be wearable devices. There is a plethora of different demands that people want to consume the information transaction that you get them in order to have the experience that they want.

From our perspective, we try to be as savvy as we can with that, and we leverage the Kony Platform to help us achieve that. We wouldn't be able to have as lean of a staff as we do to help support and drive that forward. And it’s primarily because the fact we can do some level of "develop once" and then deliver out through these different devices over a period of time. So it’s been big gains for us.

Gardner: What are the business benefits of going with mobile apps?
When they come to us with new pieces that they want, we can typically do it in six to eight weeks, compared to a three- or four-month cycle on the website.

Jessee: We get feedback on from our business folks that it's different than the web. We're able to deliver faster than we can in the web apps space. They're more satisfied on delivery time and cycle time. When they come to us with new pieces that they want, we can typically do it in six to eight weeks, compared to a three- or four-month cycle on the website. That’s just the nature of what we are doing. So they smile with us a little more in the mobile space, which is good.

You hit on metrics. We have good analytics we could provide in terms of page-views that they see. If they're trying to deliver a new content or something to that effect, we could show them that this worked, and this didn't work. We also have individual plans/states that own their marketing efforts. Based on their individual campaigns, we are able to provide them metrics of a particular state is seeing an uptake in downloads or usage of the mobile app.

So those are the two key things I think that they like about what we are able to deliver with them as relates to those two concepts.

Gardner: We're here at Kony World 2015 and one of the things we're hearing about is the importance of the user experience. Now that you're dealing with the Affordable Care Act, you're in more of a marketplace. The way in which your application comes across to a prospective insurance client compares to the other insurance organizations that they might be perusing. So how does the user experience factor into your development and deployment strategy, and how is Kony helping you with that?

Jessee: The big thing this week here at Kony World that was exciting to us is seeing the further enhancements of their Visualizer 2.0 product. Visualizer 2.0 allows marketing and communication leaders to sit up front and design the look/feel of a mobile application using an Adobe Photoshop-type experience. Our marketing communication teams demand this, because user experience is king.
The new imperative is consumer experience. You need to have something that people can use easily.

The new imperative is consumer experience. You need to have something that people can use easily, efficiently, and meet the demands that they're looking for as it relates to the functions they need to accomplish, and then beyond that what's your other value opportunities.

Kony does a great job of setting us up for success in that regard. In addition to the productivity gains we get out of this, they have good tools that will help us provide this customer experience in ways that we could show marketing communications to ask, "What do you think. Let's tweak it. Let’s alter it."

We could leverage agency input in a more efficient streamlined manner for the user interfaces that we create. So all those things are really going to springboard us forward, so we are not spending as much time doing it. From the visual consuming perspective, it should be a better experience, and that’s what we are hoping to get out of it, and showcasing the future opportunities there, too.

Gardner: The thing that’s been intriguing for me here at Kony World is I see their application marketplace and the new application, Kony Sales. This might not be an exact fit for you and your vertical industry, but it seems to me that they're taking a step toward having a packaged application targeted at a specific industry that takes you maybe 80 percent of the way you need to be with a lot of the back-end integration in place, with a lot of the ability to customize, but still governed by the IT department.

So, as the IT person, you're going to get a control over who can do what, but you're also going to have your end users, your line-of-business customers, getting a say as to what their app can do and can't do. It strikes me that another important part of user experience is having more say in an app and being part of the development process.

A step forward

Jessee: That's a big jump. I talked to [Kony CEO] Tom Hogan yesterday and he explained it really well, and he relates well to business users, too. Think of what’s going on with Salesforce, and how those constituencies and stakeholders that leverage that are used to configuring an application base or micro-applications. This is really taking Kony a step forward in meeting that marketplace and even extend it beyond that with the release of the both the marketplace and the two ready-to-go applications.

That's the opportunity at hand for potential business folks, as they've already been doing some of this today in some of the other venues, and now they have an opportunity to do this with Kony.

As an IT person, where we could really take advantage of it, is to reduce our workload with some of the configuration components, so it’s little off our hands. We could focus more on the marketplace, which would allow us to create these micro apps, these core functional areas, that we could then showcase, drop in, share, etc. That really puts us in a good position in terms of facilitating innovation, which obviously is hot in healthcare and all industries, but helps you further move that ball forward.

Gardner: What about the issue of security? Because you're in healthcare and regulatory compliance is so important, how do you see the security with the mobile application developing, and how again does that integrated platform -- write once, run everywhere -- benefit you?
That's the opportunity at hand for potential business folks, as they've already been doing some of this today in some of the other venues, and now they have an opportunity to do this with Kony.

Jessee: That’s a really hard part, especially in mobile. If you think back 10 years ago on the web space, security was probably where mobile is now. In 2013, there were no publicized or known mobile risks that were made, but in 2014 I think there were 9 or 10. So that was a big jump from 0 to 9 or 10 of big named companies.

What’s ahead in 2015 is even scarier, but that relates to what Kony offers. Tom Hogan showed today what they're trying to drive toward, and he used the acronym S-A-U-C-E to describe the value they are driving with their solutions: Security, Agility, Usability, Certainty, and Efficiency. The first one being security in priority order, which puts me at ease.

One of the things that has helped is through some of the security components in Kony. They've been pretty up-to-date with some of the trends that we pull from our third-party auditors that are looking at our mobile applications. It showcases things like SSL pinning, including that in your code, and helping you facilitate the transactions the right way. So that’s a good thing for us.

I think an opportunity for Kony is to continue to showcase those specifics to not just the customer base but the non-customer base. Mobile is going to continue to get exponentially more challenging when it comes to security, because the threats out there are just starting to hit it and they are just getting fresh into it.

Internet of Things

Gardner: Looking forward now to what’s going to come down the highway. We hear about the Internet of Things. We're seeing more and more, in healthcare, data being derived from sensors and devices, and we are seeing closer partnership between payers and providers when it comes to data sharing in the healthcare sector. So where does healthcare and mobility go for you over the next three to five years?

There was another interesting tidbit here at the show, where they said IDC is projecting that by 2017, 25 percent of IT budgets will be devoted in some way to mobility. Does that strike you as a low ball, and how important is mobility going to be to your IT budget?

Jessee: From a budgetary perspective that’s probably a fair guess, because mobility is also being redefined over time. A few years ago, it was just a smartphone, but now it’s people moving around, doing activities, transacting against a multitude of different devices, and I think wearable is a great example of that.
Mobile is going to continue to get exponentially more challenging when it comes to security, because the threats out there are just starting to hit it and they are just getting fresh into it.

What do wearables mean to us? It’s an unknown for us, and it’s on our radar that we need to identify some potential use cases, but we haven’t seen enough of it yet. We've got the Fitbits that are out there that are pretty hot, but now you have got the watches that are coming out. Samsung had theirs last year; Apple is doing theirs this year. What is that going to look like? We are not a 100 percent sure yet.

From our perspective, it’s making sure we have a flag against it for us to see what we could potentially do. It’s a little abstract for us to actually activate against, but we're not leaving it to rest either.

Gardner: And the issue about the sensors and the Internet of Things. Do you consider that mobility or is that a separate area, big data perhaps? How do you see the mobile drive for user experience and life cycle benefits now, and how does that compare to that Internet of Things and sensors and data in healthcare?

Jessee: It’s both. When you say mobility and big data, it goes two ways. One, it’s the consuming of these different sensors across mobile devices and mobile transactions that take place.

The other thing that happens is on the big data front is that it’s an opportunity to collect data and understand your consumer base, to understand your providers, to make better decisions, to help add value along the chain. But it’s two-way information that you have to collect in order to really activate both sides of the house, but they play together. They both have to.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Kony, Inc.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

RealTime Medicare Data delivers caregiver trends insights by taming its healthcare data

The next edition of the HP Discover Podcast Series highlights how RealTime Medicare Data analyzes huge volumes of Medicare data and provides analysis to their many customers on the caregiver side of the healthcare sector.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

Here to explain how they manage such large data requirements for quality, speed, and volume, we're joined by Scott Hannon, CIO of RealTime Medicare Data and he's based in Birmingham, Alabama. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tell us about your organization and some of the major requirements you have from an IT perspective.

Hannon: RealTime Medicare Data has full census Medicare, which includes Part A and Part B, and we do analysis on this data. We provide reports that are in a web-based tool to our customers who are typically acute care organizations, such as hospitals. We also do have a product that provides analysis specific to physicians and their billing practices.

Gardner:  And, of course, Medicare is a very large US government program to provide health insurance to the elderly and other qualifying individuals.

Hannon: Yes, that’s true.

Gardner: So what sorts of data requirements have you had? Is this a volume, a velocity, a variety type of the problem, all the above?

Volume problem

Hannon: It’s been mostly a volume problem, because we're actually a very small company. There are only three of us in the IT department, but it was just me as the IT department, back when I started in 2007.

At that time, we had one state, Alabama and then, we began to grow. We grew to seven states which was the South region: Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. We found that Microsoft SQL Server was not really going to handle the type of queries that we did with the volume of data.

Currently we have 18 states. We're loading about a terabyte of data per year, which is about 630 million claims and our database currently houses about 3.7 billion claims.

Gardner: That is some serious volume of data. From the analytics side, what sort of reporting do you do on that data, who gets it, and what are some of their requirements in terms of how they like to get strategic benefit from this analysis.

Hannon: Currently, most of our customers are general acute-care hospitals. We have a web-based tool that has reports in it. We provide reports that start at the physician level. We have reports that start at the provider level. We have reports that you can look at by state.
This allows them to look not only at themselves, but to compare themselves to other places, like their market, the region, and the state.

The other great thing about our product is that typically providers have data on themselves, but they can't really compare themselves to the providers in their market or state or region. So this allows them to look not only at themselves, but to compare themselves to other places, like their market, the region, and the state.

Gardner: I should think that’s hugely important, given that Medicare is a very large portion of funding for many of these organizations in terms of their revenue. Knowing what the market does and how they compare to it is essential.

Hannon: Typically, for a hospital, about 40 to 45 percent of their revenue depends on Medicare. The other thing that we've found is that most physicians don't change how they practice medicine based on whether it’s a Medicare patient, a Blue Cross patient, or whoever their private insurance is.

So the insights that they gain by looking at our reports are pretty much 90 to 95 percent of how their business is going to be running.

Gardner: It's definitely mission-critical data then. So you started with a relational database, using standard off-the-shelf products. You grew rapidly, and your volume issues grew. Tell us what the problems were and what requirements you had that led you to seek an alternative.

Exponential increase

Hannon: There were a couple of problems. One, obviously, was the volume. We found that we had to increase the indexes exponentially, because we're talking about 95 percent reads here on the database. As I said, the Microsoft SQL Server really was not able to handle that volume as we expanded.

The first thing we tried was to move to an analysis services back end. For that project, we got an outside party to help us because we would need to redesign our front end completely to be able to query analysis services.

It just so happened that that project was taking way too long to implement. I started looking at other alternatives and, just by pure research, I happened to find Vertica. I was reading about it and thought "I'm not sure how this is even possible." It didn’t even seem possible to be able to do this with this amount of data.

So we got a trial of it. I started using it and was impressed that it actually could do what it said it could do.
and gain access to the
FREE HP Vertica Community Edition
Gardner: As I understand it, Vertica has the column store architecture. Was that something understood? What is it about the difference of the Vertica approach to data -- one that perhaps caught your attention at first, and how has that worked out for you?

Hannon: To me the biggest advantages were the fact that it uses the standard SQL query language, so I wouldn't have to learn the MDX, which is required with the analysis services. I don’t understand the complete technical details about column storage, but I understand that it's much faster and that it doesn't have to look at every single row. It can build the actual data set much faster, which gives you much better performance on the front end.

Gardner: And what sort of performance have you had?

Hannon: Typically we have seen about a tenfold decrease in actual query performance time. Before, when we would run reports, it would take about 20 minutes. Now, they take roughly two minutes. We're very happy about that.

Gardner: How long has it been since you implemented HP Vertica and what are some of supporting infrastructures that you've relied on?

Hannon: We implemented Vertica back in 2010. We ended up still utilizing the Microsoft SQL Server as a querying agent, because it was much easier to continue to interface the SQL reporting services, which is what our web-based product uses. And the stored procedure functionality that was in there and also the open query feature.

So we just pull the data directly from Vertica and then send it through Microsoft SQL Server to the reporting services engine.

New tools

Gardner: I've heard from many organizations that not only has this been a speed and volume issue, but there's been an ability to bring new tools to the process. Have you changed any of the tooling that you've used for analysis? How have you gone about creating your custom reports?

Hannon: We really haven't changed the reports themselves. It's just that I know when I design a query to pull a specific set of data that I don’t have to worry that it's going to take me 20 minutes to get some data back. I'm not saying that in Vertica every query is 30 seconds, but the majority of the queries that I do use don’t take that long to bring the data back. It’s much improved over the previous solution that we were using.

Gardner: Are there any other quality issues, other than just raw speeds and feeds issues, that you've encountered? What are some of the paybacks you've gotten as a result of this architecture?
But I will tell people to not be afraid of Linux, because Vertica runs on Linux and it’s easy.

Hannon: First of all, I want to say that I didn’t have a lot of experience with Unix or Linux on the back end and I was a little bit rusty on what experience I did have. But I will tell people to not be afraid of Linux, because Vertica runs on Linux and it’s easy. Most of the time, I don’t even have to mess with it.

So now that that's out of the way, some of the biggest advantages of Vertica is the fact that you can expand to multiple nodes to handle the load if you've got a larger client base. It’s very simple. You basically just install commodity hardware, but whatever flavor of Unix or Linux that you prefer, as long as it’s compatible, the installation does all the rest for you, as long as you tell it you're doing multiple nodes.

The other thing is the fact that you have multiple nodes that allow for fault tolerance. That was something that we really didn't have with our previous solution. Now we have fault tolerance and load balancing.

Gardner: Any lessons learned, as you made this transition from a SQL database to a Vertica columnar store database? You even moved the platform from Windows to Linux. What might you tell others who are pursuing a shift in their data strategy because they're heading somewhere else?

Jump right in

Hannon: As I said before, don’t be afraid of Linux. If you're a Microsoft or a Mac shop, just don’t be afraid to jump in. Go get the free community edition or talk to a salesperson and try it out. You won't be disappointed. Since the time we started using it, they have made multiple improvements to the product.

The other thing that I learned was that with OPENQUERY, there are specific ways that you have to write the store procedures. I like to call it "single-quote hell," because when you write OPENQUERY and you have to quote something, there are a lot of other additional single quotes that you have put in there. I learned that there was a second way of doing it that lessened that impact.

Gardner: Okay, good. And we're here at HP Discover. What's interesting for you to learn here at the show and how does that align with what your next steps are in your evolution?

Hannon:  I'm definitely interested in seeing all the other capabilities that Vertica has and seeing how other people are using it in their industry and for their customers.
I'm definitely interested in seeing all the other capabilities that Vertica has and seeing how other people are using it in their industry and for their customers.

Gardner: In terms of your deployment, are you strictly on-premises for the foreseeable future? Do you have any interest in pursuing a hybrid or cloud-based deployments for any of your data services?

Hannon: We actually use a private cloud, which is hosted at TekLinks in Birmingham. We've been that way ever since we started, and that seems to work well for us, because we basically just rent rack space and provide our own equipment. They have the battery backup, power backup generators, and cooling.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: HP.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Columbia Sportswear sets torrid pace for reaping global business benefits from software-defined data center

The next BriefingsDirect innovator case study interview shines a light on how on Columbia Sportswear has made a successful journey to software-defined data center (SDDC).

Through our panel discussion at the recent VMworld 2014 Conference in San Francisco, we explore how retailer Columbia Sportswear has made great strides in improving their business results through modernized IT, and where they expect to go next with their software-defined strategy.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn more about the new wave of IT, we sat down with Suzan Pickett, Manager of Global Infrastructure Services at Columbia Sportswear in Portland, Oregon; Tim Melvin, Director of Global Technology Infrastructure at Columbia, and Carlos Tronco, Lead Systems Engineer at Columbia Sportswear. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: People are familiar with your brand, but they might not be familiar with your global breadth. Tell us a little bit about the company, so we appreciate the task ahead of you as IT practitioners.

Pickett: Columbia Sportswear is in its 75th year. We're a leader in global manufacturing of apparel, outdoor accessories, and equipment. We're distributed worldwide and we have infrastructure in 46 locations around the world that we manage today. We're very happy to say that we're 100 percent virtualized on VMware products.

Gardner: And those 46 locations, those aren't your retail outlets. That's just the infrastructure that supports your retail. Is that correct?

Pickett: Exactly, our retail footprint in North America is around 110 retail stores today. We're looking to expand that with our joint venture in China over the next few years with Swire, distributor of Columbia Sportswear products.

Gardner: You're clearly a fast-growing organization, and retail itself is a fast-changing industry. There’s lots going on, lots of data to crunch -- gaining more inference about buyer preferences --  and bringing that back into a feedback loop. It’s a very exciting time.

Tell me about the business requirements that you've had that have led you to reinvest and re-energize IT. What are the business issues that are behind that?

Global transformation

Pickett: Columbia Sportswear has been going through a global business transformation. We've been refreshing our enterprise resource planning (ERP). We had a green-field implementation of SAP. We just went live with North America in April of this year, and it was a very successful go-live. We're 100 percent virtualized on VMware products and we're looking to expand that into Asia and Europe as well.

So, with our global business transformation, also comes our consumer experience, on the retail side as well as wholesale. IT is looking to deliver service to the business, so they can become more agile and focused on engineering better products and better design and get that out to the consumer.

Gardner: To be clear, your retail efforts are not just brick and mortar. You're also doing it online and perhaps even now extending into the mobile tier. Any business requirements there that have changed your challenges?

Pickett: Absolutely. We're really pleased to announce, as of summer 2014, that Columbia Sportswear is an AirWatch customer as well. So we get to expand our end-user computing and our VMWare Horizon footprint as well as some of our SDDC strategies.

We're looking at expanding not only our e-commerce and brick-and-mortar, but being able to deliver more mobile platform-agnostic solutions for Columbia Sportswear, and extend that out to not only Columbia employees, but our consumer experience.

Gardner: Let’s hear from Tim about your data center requirements. How does what Suzan told us about your business challenges translate into IT challenges?
Melvin: With our business changing and growing as quickly as it is, and with us doing business and selling directly to consumers in more than 100 countries around the world, our data centers have to be adaptable. Our data and our applications have to be secure and available, no matter where we are in the world, whether you're on network or off-premises.

The SDDC has been a game-changer for us. It’s allowed to take those technologies, host them where we need them, and with whatever cost configuration makes sense, whether it’s in the cloud or on-premises, and deliver the solutions that our business needs.

Gardner: Let's do a quick fact-check in terms of where you are in this journey to SDDC. It includes a lot. There are management aspects, network aspects, software-defined storage, and then of course mobile. Does anybody want to give me the report card on where you are in terms of this journey?

100 percent virtualized

Pickett: We're 100 percent virtualized with our compute workloads today. We also have our storage well-defined with virtualized storage. We're working on an early adoption proof of concept (POC) with VMware's NSX for software-defined networking.

It really fills our next step into defining our SDDC, being able to leverage all of our virtual workloads, being able to extend that into the vCloud Air hybrid cloud, and being able to burst our workloads to expand our data centers our toolsets. So we're looking forward to our next step of our journey, which is software-defined networking via NSX.

Gardner: Taking that network plunge, what about the public-cloud options for your hybrid cloud? Do you use multiple public clouds, and what's behind your choice on which public clouds to use?

Melvin: When you look at infrastructure and the choice between on-premise solutions, hybrid clouds, public and private clouds, I don't think it's a choice necessarily of which answer you choose. There isn't one right answer. What’s important for infrastructure professionals is to understand the whole portfolio and understand where to apply your high-power, on-premises equipment and where to use your lower-cost public cloud, because there are trade-offs in each case.
What’s important for infrastructure professionals is to understand the whole portfolio and understand where to apply your high-power, on-premises equipment and where to use your lower-cost public cloud

When we look at our workloads, we try to present the correct tool for the correct job. For instance, for our completely virtualized SAP environment we run that on internal, on-premises equipment. We start to talk about development in a sandbox, and those cases are probably best served in a public cloud, as long as we can secure and automate, just like we can on-site.

Gardner: As you're progressing through SDDC and you're exploring these different options and what works best both technically and economically in a hybrid cloud environment, what are you doing in terms of your data lifecycle. Is there a disaster recovery (DR) element to this? Are you doing warehousing in a different way and disturbing that, or are you centralizing it? I know that analysis of data is super important for retail organizations. Any thoughts about that data component on this overall architecture?

Pickett: Data is really becoming a primary concern for Columbia Sportswear, especially as we get into more analytical situations. Today, we have our two primary data centers in North America, which we do protect with VMWare’s vCenter Site Recovery Manager (SRM), a very robust DR solution.

We're very excited to work with an enterprise-class cloud like vCloud Air that has not only the services that we need to host our systems, but also DR as a service, which we're very interested in pursuing, especially around our remote branch office scenarios. In some of those remote countries, we don't have that protection today, and it will give a little more business continuity or disaster avoidance, as needed.

As we look at data in our data centers, our primary data centers with big data, if you will, and/or enterprise data warehouse strategies, we've started looking at how we're replicating the data where that data lives. We've started getting into active data center scenarios -- active, active.

We're really excited around some of the announcements we've heard recently at VMworld around virtual volumes (VVOLs) and where that’s going to take us in the next couple of years, specifically around vMotion over long-distance. Hopefully, we'll follow the sun, and maybe five years from now, we'll able to move our workloads from North America to Asia and be able to take those workloads and have them follow where the people are using them.

Geographic element

Gardner: That’s really interesting about that geographic element if you're a global company. I haven't heard that from too many other organizations. That’s an interesting concept about moving data and workloads around the world throughout the day.

We've seen some recent VMware news around different types of cloud data offerings, Cloud Object Store for example, and moving to a virtual private cloud on demand. Where do you see the next challenge is in terms of your organization and how do you feel that VMware is setting a goal post for you?
vCloud Air, being an enterprise-class offering, gives us the management capability and allows us to use the same tools that we would use on site.

Tronco: The vCloud Air offerings that we've heard so much about are an exciting innovation.

Public clouds have been available for a long time. There are a lot of places where they make sense, but vCloud Air, being an enterprise-class offering, gives us the management capability and allows us to use the same tools that we would use on-site.

It gives us the control that we need in order to provide a consistent experience to our end-users. I think there is a lot of power there, a lot of capability, and I'm really excited to see where that goes.

Gardner: How about some of the automation issues with the vRealize Suite, such Air Automation. Where do you see the component of managing all this? It becomes more complex when you go hybrid. It becomes, in one sense, more standardized and automated when you go software-defined, but you also have to have your hands on the dials and be able to move things.
Tronco: One of the things that we really like about vCloud Air is the fact that we'll be able to use the same tools on-premises and off-premises, and won't have to switch between tools or dashboards. We can manage that infrastructure, whether it's on-premise or in the public cloud, will be able to leverage the efficiencies we have on-premise in vCloud Air as well.

We also can take advantage of some of those new services, like ObjectStore, that might be coming down the road, or even continuous integration (CI) as a service for some of our development teams as we start to get more into a DevOps world.

Customer reactions

Gardner: Let’s tie this back to the business. It's one thing to have a smooth-running, agile IT infrastructure machine. It's great to have an architecture that you feel is ready to take on your tasks, but how do you translate that back to the business? What does it get for you in business terms, and how are you seeing reactions from your business customers?

Pickett: We're really excited to be partnering with the business today. As IT comes out from underground a little bit and starts working more with the business and understanding their requirements -- especially with tools like VMware vRealize Automation, part of the vCloud Suite -- we're now partnering with our development teams to become more agile and help them deliver faster services to the business.

We're working on one of our e-commerce order confirmation toolsets with vRealize Automation, part of the vCloud Suite, and their ability to now package and replicate the work that they're doing rather than reinventing the wheel every time we build out an environment or they need to do a test or a development script.

By partnering with them and enabling them to be more agile, IT wins. We become more services-oriented. Our development teams are winning, because they're delivering faster to the business and the business wins, because now they're able to focus more on the core strategies for Columbia Sportswear.

Gardner: Do you have any examples that you can point to where there's been a time-to-market benefit, a time-to-value faster upgrade of an application, or even a data service that illustrates what you've been able to deliver as a result of your modernization?
Our development teams are winning, because they're delivering faster to the business and the business wins, because now they're able to focus more on the core strategies.

Pickett: Just going back to the toolset that I just mentioned. That was an upgrade process, and we took that opportunity to sit down with our development team and start socializing some of the ideas around VMware vRealize Automation and vCloud Air and being able to extend some of our services to them.

At the same time, our e-commerce teams are going through an upgrade process. So rather than taking weeks or months to deliver this technology to them, we were able to sit down, start working through the process, automate some of those services that they're doing, and start delivering. So, we started with development, worked through the process, and now we have quality assurance and staging and we're delivering product. All this is happening within a week.

So we're really delivering and we're being more agile and more flexible. That’s a very good use case for us internally from an IT standpoint. It's a big win for us, and now we're going to take it the next time we go through an upgrade process.

We've had this big win and now we're going to be looking at other technologies -- Java, .NET, or other solutions -- so that we can deliver and continue the success story that we're having with the business. This is the start of something pretty amazing, bringing development and infrastructure together and mobilizing what Columbia Sportswear is doing internally.

Gardner: Of course, we call it SDDC, but it leads to a much more comprehensive integrated IT function, as you say, extending from development, test, build, operations, cloud, and then sourcing things as required for a data warehouse and applications sets. So finally, in IT, after 30 or 40 years, we really have a unified vision, if you will.

Any thoughts, Tim, on where that unification will lead to even more benefits? Are there ancillary benefits from a virtuous adoption cycle that come to mind from that more holistic whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts IT approach?

Flexibility and power

Melvin: The closer we get to a complete software-defined infrastructure, the more flexibility and power we have to remove the manual components, the things that we all do a little differently and we can't do consistently.

We have a chance to automate more. We have the chance to provide integrations into other tools, which is actually a big part of why we chose VMware as our platform. They allow such open integration with partners that, as we start to move our workloads more actively into the cloud, we know that we won't get stuck with a particular product or a particular configuration.

The openness will allow us to adapt and change, and that’s just something you don't get with hardware. If it's software-defined, it means that you can control it and you can morph your infrastructure in order to meet your needs, rather than needing to re-buy every time something changes with the business.

Gardner: Of course, we think about not just technology, but people and process. How has all of this impacted your internal IT organization? Are you, in effect, moving people around, changing organizational charts, perhaps getting people doing things that they enjoy more than those manual tasks? Carlos, any thought about the internal impact of this on your human resources issues?

Tronco: Organizationally, we haven’t changed much, but the use of some thing like vRealize Automation allows us to let development teams do some of those tasks that they used to require us to do.

Now, we can do it in an automated fashion. We get consistency. We get the security that we need. We get the audit trail. But we don’t have to have somebody around on a Saturday for two minutes of work spread across eight hours. It also lets those application teams be more agile and do things when they're ready to do them.
We can all leverage the tools and configurations. That's really powerful.

Having that time free lets us do a better job with engineering, look down the road better with a little more clarity, maybe try some other things, and have more time to look at different options for the next thing down the road.

Melvin: Another point there is that, in a fully software-defined infrastructure, while it may not directly translate into organizational changes, it allows you to break down silos. Today, we have operations, system storage, and database teams working together on a common platform that they're all familiar with and they all understand.

We can all leverage the tools and configurations. That's really powerful. When you don't have the network guys sitting off doing things different from what the server guys are doing, you can focus more on comprehensive solutions, and that extends right into the development space, as Carlos mentioned. The next step is to work just as closely with our developers as we do with our peers and infrastructure.

Gardner: It sounds as if you're now also in a position to be more fleet. We all have higher expectations as consumers. When I go to a website or use an application, I expect that I'll see the product that I want, that I can order it, that it gets paid for, and then track it. There is a higher expectation from consumers now.

Is that part of your business payback that you tie into IT? Is there some way that we can define the relationship between that user experience for speed and what you're able to do from a software-defined perspective?

Preventing 'black ops'

Pickett: As an internal service provider for Columbia Sportswear, we can do it better, faster, and cheaper on-premise and with our toolsets from our partners at VMware. This helps prevent black ops situations, for example, where someone is going out to another cloud provider outside the parameters and guidelines from IT.

Today, we're partnering with the business. We're delivering that service. We're doing it at the speed of thought. We're not in a position where we're saying "no," "not yet," or "maybe in a couple of weeks," but "Yes, we can do that for you." So it's a very exciting position to be in that if someone comes to us or if we're reaching out, having conversations about tools, features, or functionality, we're getting a lot of momentum around utilizing those toolsets and then being able to expand our services to the business.

Tronco: Using those tools also allows us to turn around things faster within our development teams, to iterate faster, or to try and experiment on things without a lot of work on our part. They can try some of it, and if it doesn’t work, they can just tear it down.
Today, we're partnering with the business. We're delivering that service. We're doing it at the speed of thought.

Gardner: So you've gone through this journey and you're going to be plunging in deeper with software-defined networking. You have some early-adopter chops here. You guys have been bold and brave.

What advice might you offer to some other organizations that are looking at their data-center architecture and strategy, thinking about the benefits of hybrid cloud, software-defined, and maybe trying to figure out in which order to go about it?

Pickett: I'd recommend that, if you haven’t virtualized your workloads -- to get them virtualized. We're in that no-limit situation. There are no longer restrictions or boundaries around virtualizing your mission-critical or your tier-one workloads. Get it done, so you can start leveraging the portability and the flexibility of that.

Start looking at the next steps, which will be automation, orchestration, provisioning, service catalogs, and extending that into a hybrid-cloud situation, so that you can focus more on what your core offerings are going to be your core strategies. And not necessarily offload, but take advantage of some of those capabilities that you can get in VMware vCloud Air for example, so that you can focus on really more of what’s core to your business.

Gardner: Tim, any words of advice from your perspective?

Melvin: When it comes to solutions in IT, the important thing is to find the value and tie it back to the business. So look for those problems that your business has today, whether it's reducing capital expense through heavy virtualization, whether it's improving security within the data center through NSX and micro-segmentation, or whether it's just providing more flexible infrastructure for your temporary environments like SAN and software development through the cloud.

Find those opportunities and tie it back to a value that the business understands. It’s important to do something with software-defined data centers. It's not a trend and it's not really even a question anymore. It's where we're going. So get moving down that path in whatever way you need to in order to get started. And find those partners, like VMware, that will support you and build those relationships and just get moving.

20/20 hindsight

Gardner: Carlos, advice, thoughts about 20/20 hindsight?

Tronco: As Suzan said, it's focusing on virtualizing the workloads and then being able to leverage some of those other tools like vRealize Automation. Then you're able to free staff up to pursue activities and add more value to the environment and the business, because you're not doing repeatable things manually. You'll get more consistency now that people have time. They're not down because they're doing all these day two, day three operations and things that wear and grate on you.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: VMware.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

How Tunisian IT service provider Tunisie uses cloud for improved IT service management capabilities

The next edition of the HP Discover Podcast Series explores how a Tunisian IT services provider improves their IT service management (ITSM) offerings and capabilities leveraging cloud-based services.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn more about better IT control and efficiency using the latest ITSM tools and services, we are joined by Fadoua Ouerdiane, IT Projects Director at SMS and Tunisie Electronique in Tunis, Tunisia. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Tell us a little bit about Tunisie Electronique.

Ouerdiane: Tunisie Electronique is a systems integrator for multiple vendors, including HP, for more than 40 years. We serve customers of different sizes covering almost all possible sectors. 

Gardner: Tell us a little bit about the challenges that you're facing. What problems are you trying to solve for your customers?

Continuous development

Ouerdiane: Support activity is the pillar of our company. We're in a continuous development process to fulfill our customer expectations. As a solution integrator for HP and others, we are the first interface toward our end customers.

We're asked to be as reactive as possible to all kind of customer requests: incidents, claims, and services support. The number of such requests is getting higher on a daily basis.

Gardner: There are an awful lot of IT challenges nowadays. People are doing more on mobile devices. They're doing more services from the cloud. Things are changing very rapidly. Therefore, they also have higher expectations about speed for solutions. Tell us about what you're putting in place in order to better serve these very complex needs.

Ouerdiane: Knowing how to manage those requests, consolidating, delegating to relevant resources, escalating, following up, and making sure that service-level agreements (SLAs) are respected are all crucial for our support department.
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In the past, we have tried to manage those needs using in-house development tools and then open-source solutions. However, in each case, we were first confronted by different limitations. Finally, we decided to use the Service Anywhere solution from HP in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) mode and install it in a cloud environment.

Gardner: Why has the cloud environment delivery model been so important? What are the benefits for you in going to cloud rather than on-premises?

Ouerdiane: Our motivation to make the choice was that Service Anywhere is not only offering functionality that perfectly matches our needs, but it has more advantages. The first is easy deployment. My team made the solution available in less than one month. No extra infrastructure is needed. That means no administration efforts, especially with high availability. This will help us to reduce costs effectively.
It's bringing a lot of added value for the support team as well as our end customers.

Gardner: Do you have any sense of what this brings? What do you get in return for this in terms of metrics of success and business benefits? How have you been able to measure how well this is performing for you?

Ouerdiane: Today, using HP Service Anywhere, the support department is much better managed. It's bringing a lot of added value for the support team as well as our end customers.

Information is systematically shared with the relevant persons, thanks to the Service Anywhere notification functionality. There's better access using any device, at anytime, from anywhere; better tracking of each incident or support request. The main benefit is the improved customer satisfaction that we felt and experienced.

Customer reaction

Gardner: Have you gotten any feedback? Do you have examples of what people tell you they like about it? How are your customers actually reacting to this new approach?

Ouerdiane: The customer no longer needs to send emails, to make calls, to get updated about the status and progress of its requests. Reports and dashboards are provided on a regular basis. Customer satisfaction is our main target and daily concern. Service Anywhere is bringing us closer.
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Gardner: What do you think you will be doing in the future to provide even better IT services and support?

Ouerdiane: The next HP ITSM cloud release will be available soon with very important features, such as a multi-tenant feature, which we need. We'll work on the platform to add more content, to add all our customers’ content and support contacts.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: HP.

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