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Data Transform 10 min

As a tech visionary and cloud migration expert, Alan Perkins was tasked with the mammoth project of migrating Blackwoods’ data from proprietary enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to its current cloud based platform.

Sitting down with our Partner and Strategy Director Jason Donnelly, he explains how he pulled it off, and the false dichotomy he overcame.

Jason Donnelly

You opened up with kind of a message to the audience around people grouping together clouds and on-premise, and really outlining the distinction between the two and how they’re not comparable in that sense.

Alan Perkins

There’s a false dichotomy between something that’s on a cloud platform and on the other end on-premise. Cloud means off-premise and on-premise means not cloud. That’s not the case. It can be on-premise or off-premise and it can be cloud or not cloud. Cloud is about being able to deliver infrastructure at speed without having to think about provisioning.

I use this phrase: “Cloud provides the freedom to be remarkable.” It’s something I coined maybe ten years ago now. At the end of the day, if you can achieve what you want without fear of failure or fear of success, without having to worry about what the infrastructure is going to be, then that’s cloud. And that can be on-premise or off-premise.

Jason Donnelly

Okay, wonderful. Thank you for that, because I know in those conversations people have, they are it’s, “Are you cloud or are you on-premise?”

Alan Perkins

I feel that ERP vendors have pushed that. In a sense, they’ve confused the marketplace. It saddens me to be honest because I think we’ve lost a really big opportunity to make a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we view infrastructure.

Jason Donnelly

Having been on the vendor side, I do apologise personally to you. There’s many a presentation where I can picture the slide now with private or public cloud versus on-premise, so I apologise from the industry side of things to you.

Alan Perkins

That was a losing battle anyway.

Jason Donnelly

So the project you undertook was by your account where seven companies had already tried and failed at trying to achieve it. What I want to know is, and please, give a little snippet to what that project was, but also how did you manage to do it?  What was the fundamental that allowed you to achieve when seven had already failed?

Alan Perkins

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? We had a Cobol-based ERP system that had been developed for 30 years. It was highly idiosyncratic, lots of challenges of many generations of developers working on it with, and all of the standards to follow, which was the way back in the day. I didn’t actually know what had happened when I took on the project. At first, people were not all that helpful, but when they saw that I was being very persistent, they kept helping.

I did the whole thing on my own, and it was like seven days a week, 16 hour a day thing, and I just really worked very, very hard to decode it. I had three large 30-inch monitors with huge wraparound screens. There were billions of records in thousands of files. I had to uncover it, which required a lot of deep thinking. I even got my daughter involved in helping me to try and process some of these records to decode.

I started out by looking for something like a suburb name. I can see that this looks like some suburb name. Okay, so now go looking in the file and where’s that coming from? Okay, now I’ve got something as a hook, and from there I could expand it out. But I think the key to it was one person doing it.

Jason Donnelly

So really the key is each business who has any of these sorts of issues need an Alan Perkins. That’s really what we’ve got to, right? And your daughter, obviously.

Alan Perkins

And my daughter!

Jason Donnelly

Just invite the family to come in, and they’ll sort all the problems out.

Alan Perkins

So no, it was a difficult project and it did require a lot of experience and a lot of expertise to do, and I don’t think just anybody could have done it if I’m allowed to say.

Jason Donnelly

Wonderful. Well, so the problem and the project was hugely technical, right? Just explain that. Were there any key business commercial barriers and issues that you faced as well as those obviously complex technical issues?

Alan Perkins

I was trying to keep a lid on it because early on I built a prototype as part of my proof of concept. I showed a demonstration of an E-commerce web platform and I showed them their data in ways they had never seen before. I actually had people standing up in the room and going, “Oh my god, this is so exciting.”

They saw my prototype as an illustrative example. They saw it as the end product, and then people like the head of the call centre, the head of BI, the head of the digital platform, all started saying, “We can use this for all sorts of other purposes.” The chief commercial officer had to step in and say, “Hang on, this is for ERP data migration. Let’s limit ourselves just to that,” and that was actually a very good call because this could have become a monster project.

In the end, we had one use case. They went to the Cobol team and said, “We need this particular piece of data out of it.” They responded saying, “It’s going to take six months and we’re going to need something like $1.2 million worth of hardware infrastructure to deliver that data.”

So they came to me in desperation, and I said I should be able to give it to you in a few weeks. That’s because I could give them the data out of a relational database management system (DBMS), not out of a legacy pile of hex.

Jason Donnelly

Absolutely. Even though there were hugely successful areas where it could have helped, it was brought into scope again. Have there been spin-off projects on the basis of using that data, that methodology that you brought it?

Alan Perkins

It’s now processing 700 million records every day. The add-on projects are really around that digital platform where they’ve taken that data. External consultants are now using the data to feed the digital platform. That’s the only one that’s been scoped at this point, and I think that’s a wise thing. There’s been a lot of pressure to try and add an additional scope, but at the end of the day, there’s a new ERP platform coming for them, and when that comes, they’ll be able to do the right thing and do it in the platform itself.

My purpose is to provide a means by which they can get their data across, and also satisfy the statutory compliance of having seven years’ worth of unstructured data accessible.

Read a One-Pager of Alan Perkins’ speaking more on cloud computing, business intelligence, and his project and at Connected Cloud & DC Edge.

How Alan Perkins migrated Blackwoods’ “legacy pile of hex” to the Cloud

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