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The challenger’s cloud platform

The challenger’s cloud platform

When your goal is to disrupt the market, it helps to use disruptive technologies as well, the CIO of Skinny demonstrates.

Paul Touhey, CIO, Skinny
Paul Touhey, CIO, Skinny
Being CIO of Skinny - a ‘challenger brand’ – means Paul Touhey tackles things differently.

Skinny is a pre-pay mobile brand, and does not have brick and mortar stores. The website is its store front, and also where users manage their accounts.

Last year, when Skinny focused on the online channel, the goal was to provide a simple online experience for customers, while keeping the complex system integrations behind the scenes. Skinny says it wants customers to be able to join without having to call the customer care centre.

Touhey says the preference was to find a complete package that could meet all of Skinny's website requirements.

“We prefer to keep our own team lean and use outsource partners who can bring in needed expertise,” says Touhey.

For the latter, Skinny chose DNA and SilverStripe to provide the whole design right through the hosting and management system which was optimised to go into the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

The previous site ran on an onsite hosted system that was not easy to change even for simple updates, he explains. An offshore company provided web support, which led to frustrations due to the difference in time zones and the need to involve them for content changes.

Read more: Presbyterian Support Central makes ‘bold move’ to the cloud

Skinny applied lessons from its ‘pay as you use’ mobile service to the project.

Because we are growing, we need a solution that will let us grow infrastructure-wise, very easily.

Paul Touhey, Skinny

“As a growing business ourselves it was an obvious choice to select a platform that has the flexibility to seamlessly expand with demand whilst ensuring we are only paying for what we need,” says Touhey.

Read more: ‘Not using cloud is just like fighting gravity’: Glenn Gore, AWS

“We need a solution that will let us grow infrastructure-wise, very easily,” he says. “With the cloud based solution, we can have elastic growth.

“We can run a marketing campaign that we know might put extra load on at specific times. The solution will expand to meet those and then contract again.”

“It is very easy to do new developments,” he adds.

From a pricing perspective, it enables Skinny to control cost. “So long as you are careful with the management of the solution, you can control your cost by adding servers as you need them, and then shutting them down again to organise those peaks and troughs,” says Touhey.

Read more: ‘Do not walk into the future facing backwards’

The SilverStripe team also actively monitors security advisories and proactively patching to prevent vulnerabilities. This was tested during the Poodle security threat, says Touhey. When this vulnerability was discovered, the site was patched within 24 hours and limited the chance for a malicious attack.

This is Touhey’s first role as CIO, although he has been with Skinny from day one.

He was programme manager at Spark (formerly Telecom, the parent company of Skinny), where he worked on the decommissioning of the 025 network, and the development of the XT network.

“When Skinny came along, they were looking for somebody to manage the setup,” he says.

Read more: What do you do when 900 startups are targeting your service?

That was four years ago, and a year after setting up the systems, the CIO role was created. “I stepped up from programme management to CIO.”

Paul Touhey with members of the marketing and communications team at Skinny.
Paul Touhey with members of the marketing and communications team at Skinny.

Related:From fail fast – to fail forward: New Zealand CIOs discuss how the cloud allows them to innovate and meet disruption head on.

Read more: Winning users’ hearts and minds

Object lessons for the long-term

His pointers for CIOs working with cloud partners?

One of the key things you need to do is understand the pricing model that you are buying into because they are quite complex, says Touhey.

“You need to be aware of any hidden charges like storage, for example.”

I stepped up from programme management to CIO.

Paul Touhey, Skinny

Another area of insight is migration, he states. “You need to understand how you would move to another provider if you wanted to.

“With data migration, for example, you need to make sure you don’t risk locking yourself up into a particular solution which you could if you can’t migrate off that very easily.

“That is something you can overlook easily upfront which could cause you issues later on,” he states.

This comes down to understanding as well; it is not just the cloud provider. “It's who you partner with, and being very clear on what is covered in the contracts and SLAs you have with them,” he says.

“It is important to know who is going to be security patching the platform, who is going to be monitoring, who is going to be maintaining the systems and the underlying software, the actual platform itself."

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

Read more: The five steps to successful digital transformation

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