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Journey of the cloud



Implementing cloud computing

Cloud computing has regularly topped lists for the one item which should be implemented this year. Despite it appearing at the top of these lists, many IT chiefs remain sceptical of the benefits of the system. One man who has embraced the technology though, is Paul Cheesbrough, CIO of the Telegraph Media Group (TMG).

An example of a company pinning a lot of their hopes on cloud computing, is Microsoft, in an interview with The Telegraph at the beginning of March, Microsoft's chief executive, Steve Ballmer stated how 70 percent of Microsoft employees are working on cloud-related projects, and that figure will reach 90 percent within a year. Microsoft, which has traditionally earned most of its revenue from its operating systems and computer software, is keen to find ways of adapting this model for the internet age.

TMG uptake

Back in April 2009 Cheesbrough first said the company was looking to move as much of its back office IT into the cloud as possible. At the time, around 50 percent of TMG's back office systems was hosted on the internet, Cheesbrough stated: "We would like to get that much closer to 100 percent so we can free up resources."

The move into the cloud was prompted by the way in which the Telegraph's business was changing. The company had experienced a five percent annual drop in newspaper circulation and stood at around 800,000, while there has been a 120 percent year on year increase in online audience, which was around the 28 million mark. As a result the digital side of the business was becoming much more important and required a significant upgrade to the company's online technology capabilities, silicon.com reported.

Development

TMG is all about trying new technologies and new ways of working. In July 2008, it moved its 1400 employees onto Google Apps following to access email, documents and other work-related information.

After six months of using the new system, the survey found that 82 percent of employees rated using Gmail instead of Outlook, and 65 percent of employees felt they are able to work more effectively than they could before the shift. It also found that staff spend nine percent less time searching for documents and emails and seven percent less time managing their inbox.

The business is now using hosted CRM from Salesforce.com to manage its subscription service and advertising sales, as well as its expanding ecommerce business. TMG has also been using Amazon's EC2 cloud computing infrastructure to support business intelligence and analytics work carried out via Salesforce.com's Force.com platform.

Now, TMG is coming near the end of their three-year cloud-based technology transformation, Cheesbrough spoke to silicon.com about the transformation.

"We took a view that a lot of things that are unique to us as a media company - things like content production and content packaging - we consciously decided to keep the technology, systems and the talent for managing those systems on site and in house and alongside that we were trying to use the cloud to transform a lot of the back office functions and to try and both save money but also do things more efficiently," he told silicon.com.

One area which has remained relatively untouched until now has been the financial side of operations, something which Cheesbrough intends to change during the final six months of the three-year project.

The company has decided to implement FinancialForce, a cloud-based financial application developed by Salesforce.com and Agresso.

FinancialForce will also provide a web front end to give clients information such as outstanding orders, money owed and a payment record, something that can't currently be done with the in-house system due to the security implications of allowing customers access.

Financial operations is one of the most complex areas to tackle with cloud computing due to rules about where data is stored, security concerns and the amount of related legacy technology.

With much of TMG's back office tech now in the cloud, TMG's tech team is now able to work on developing technology as well as supporting it.

"We've shifted the resource balance of the technology department away from being 95 percent operational - which is where we were two and a half years ago when we started the journey - towards, in six months time, we'll be 30 percent operational. So we will have released about 65 percent of our resource to focus on more value-creating activities like our digital business and things like change management and new ways of working."

Facing a challenge

Although cost was less of a priority than improved agility, the project has had an impact there, according to the CIO.

"We've just reduced our datacentre footprint through a consolidation exercise - we've got one-eighth of the footprint that we had previously. Part of that is the move towards the cloud because we require less horsepower, the other part is just taking advantage of things like virtualisation... that's had a huge impact in terms of cost of space and power. We know for sure that this has easily paid for itself just in the reallocation of resource."

The project hasn't been without its challenges though . With such a significant shift in the way that the company's technology is delivered, one of the major focuses for the IT department has been to help users adjust to the new way of doing things.

"There are a lot of vendors out there in the cloud space that say because it's web-based, it's as easy to use as eBay or Amazon and all of these sort of analogies that get trawled out, but you mustn't go into this thinking that every user knows how to embrace those kinds of systems - you need to spend as much time on supporting and training them."

With the final six months of the cloud computing effort ahead, Cheesbrough and his team will be focusing on the implementation of FinancialForce while there will be additional HR and training functionality put into the cloud. Cheesbrough said the company will continue to follow developments in cloud computing beyond the lifetime of the project, "because what's hot today isn't necessarily hot tomorrow", he said.

Jodie Humphries

Jodie Humphries graduated from Bath Spa University with a BA Hons in Creative Writing in 2008. She has worked for GDS Publishing for the digital group since July 2009. She has previous experience with writing for the web, running her own website since April 2007.

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