The chief data officer who decided to ‘look forward, not back’
- 16 June, 2017 07:00
What other businesses do we build out of the data assets that we have?
Duncan Reed says his title - chief data officer - is a “misnomer”.
Reed took on the inaugural role at the valuation and property services company QV nearly a year ago, but clearly has a wider scope than his title suggests.
QV is a data company, that is the primary reason for his title, he explains.
“It is a Tier 2 role, I report directly to the chief executive."
Reed has a core team of 10 full-time staff, but they have a partnership model with Tenzing.
“I have all of the technology accountability. The infrastructure, the IT and development team all report to me, as well as looking at the technology-enabled business change from the service design that we need to transform our business for the future.
"Part of my role is to provide technology platforms and services for people to be efficient and effective in their job.
“You could largely characterise QV as a professional services business,” he says.
“We have a couple of hundred people who go out everyday to provide valuation services across New Zealand."
"But the other half of my job is looking after data," he says. “There is a huge data asset that we have as a business.
“Bridges, airports, apartments, schools. We know where every single property is in New Zealand, every single building in every parcel of land. We have been to all of them,” he says.
“We know what condition they are in, we know what their worth is, what the market looks like around them and historically, we have used that to help us bring better value as a professional services company.”
So part of his role too is about evaluating “what other businesses do we build out of the data assets that we have?”
Tackling 'technical debt'
When Reed joined QV, the organisation decided it needed to replace a nearly 20-year-old core line of business set of assets in the technology space.
The goal was also to provide a new set of tools and technologies for its professional services people, says Reed, who brings to QV a raft of experience in both the demand (customer) and supply (vendor) sides of information technology.
His previous roles included GM system transformation of the Department of Internal Affairs; enterprise strategy and architecture practice lead, consulting practice manager at Microsoft; chief enterprise architect at Inland Revenue Department and enterprise architect at Fujitsu New Zealand.
But, he explains, “at QV, we have the standard challenges in a technology-enabled business; including “heritage platforms with technical debt”.
At the infrastructure level, he saw an opportunity for change. “Do I want to buy any infrastructure in? I don’t think so.”
On that basis, we decided we were going to be ‘all in’ in the cloud, he states.
The shift, he says, suits QV staff - who work across New Zealand and large parts of Australia.
“The cloud mapped beautifully well to that,” he says.
Partnering with Tenzing on the software development, Reed says QV has also been supported by Amazon and its local consulting partner Consegna on the migration.
QV worked with Consegna to use AWS services such as as EC2, S3, SNS and Lambda, and to allow the Tenzing development team to work in a highly agile environment.
The move to the cloud accelerated QV's time frame for digital transformation, he says.
“End to end, the complete rewrite of our line of business systems was going to take us less than two years," which he says was "already pretty quick.”
“It is a huge opportunity to accelerate our development pathway and to minimise our infrastructure spend.
“The additional step we took was to look at our heritage environment hosted in a more traditional model in New Zealand, with a local service provider."
He says there was the risk of having two environments separate for a period of a year, while they managed both of them through a transition to the cloud.
"All the front end services have moved into the new environment. So my business team and external people were logging on to the new front end, but the background services were challenged," he explains, on some of the issues they faced.
He says they were getting significant outages caused by synchronisation problems between “the old world and the new world”.
The move to the cloud accelerated our time frame for digital transformation
They had the option of planning for a series of outages, or take the risk and move these to the cloud.
“Of course, I can always swing back my legacy environment if I ever need to because it is all virtualised anyway,” he explains.
But at that time, “I was between a rock and a hard place. So I made a decision of looking forward, and not looking back.”
Thus, he asked both AWS and Consegna if there was an opportunity “to cost effectively lift the rest of the company's legacy platform and put it into a new environment alongside our cloud native environment”.
“The answer was 'yes', and, crucially I was able to do that within the financial year,” says Reed.
“Because the value proposition was so strong, I was able to make the transition investment and reclaim the benefits in terms of reduced costs within the financial year.
We started the project at the end of February this year and completed it in May, he states.
He says the move involved 500 or so virtual servers across 14 major line of business systems.
These are systems 300 people use everyday as these include finance, document management and GIS.
“We have gone all in,” he says, “and it took us about nine weeks end to end.”
The company will move to fully serverless computing in the next year, he adds.
“I come to the next [financial year] clean, with a reduced cost base on all of my environment including my legacy things and my risk mitigation.
“The money I would have spent for infrastructure management, goes to pay for the bills for the transition,” he says.
He says today, QV has a secure, cost-effective, scalable, future proofed environment for the company's next generation line of business systems.
He says reporting to the CEO was critical in the shift to the cloud.
“The governance of this is important to have at the right level,” he says.
A major lesson he can share is choosing the right cloud partner.
“If you think you can do it yourself, you are wrong,” he clearly states.
“In transitioning all in [to the cloud], you will need help with the technology layer. Your IT team is full of great people, but they have never done this before. You need people who have done this, to help bring the level of conversations out of technology.”
“You have to figure out a way to change the conversation about you [IT] being a cost centre, to being a value [provider].”
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