This week, I’m spending time at the Gartner Symposium on the Gold Coast. It’s a really insightful and interesting experience. The pace of change that we’re experiencing in the technology industry is on show and you get a true sense for how much CIOs are having to contend with.

It’s clear that there are some big, already well documented trends that are high the agenda. Trends such as cloud, big data, mobility, CoIT and enterprise social, among others. These are big disrupting trends that are not only technology driven, but socially and demographically driven as well. To make any sense of them, you have to be tapped into the bigger picture.

I think it’s reasonable to say that some CIOs and IT departments are more reactive to these trends, while others are keen to get on the front foot, to understand how they can harness these forces to drive innovation and get ahead of the curve. For me, it’s about disruption and how you handle it. You can either be disrupted or you can be the disrupter. There is a rich opportunity for the CIO and the broader IT discipline to build on our heritage to become the true guardians of innovation within our organisations and communities.
 
When Microsoft talks about our Cloud OS vision, that’s really at the crux of it. That is, giving CIOs and their organisations the infrastructure and tools to provide cloud powered platforms and services that will enable agility and mobility, unlock insights, drive innovation and draw down on the flexibility and economies of scale that the cloud offers.

As enterprises move to the cloud we believe they are going to partner with vendors that have best-in-class SaaS (software as a service) applications, operate a global public cloud that supports a broad ecosystem of third party services, and deliver multi-cloud mobility through true hybrid solutions. If you look across the industry landscape, Microsoft is truly delivering in all of those areas.

In Asia Pacific, Microsoft Azure has grown at least three times faster than the market growth rate for IaaS and PaaS cloud services while demand for Microsoft’s virtualisation solutions, which support private and public cloud infrastructures, has grown 30% year-on-year in Q2 of 2013, outpacing overall market growth of 1%ii. This strong momentum was bolstered by a rich partner ecosystem, datacenter-class solutions with industry-leading cost of ownership.

We also recently announced the general availability of Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, delivering “wave 2” of Microsoft’s Cloud operating system (OS). The launch of these new cloud products and services in Australia gives our customers clear options that will better meet their fast changing and varied business demands. This means infrastructure and services which are scalable, secure and which can be better managed than ever before.

I mentioned earlier that there is rich opportunity for CIOs to seize the mantle of Chief Innovation Officer in their organisations. At Gartner this week, it’s been our absolute pleasure to partner with one such innovator - Warwick Hutton, CIO from Coca Cola Amatil – to showcase how this great company is transforming around the cloud and living up to its reputation as being one of the most innovative and highly valued brands in the Asia Pacific.

I had a chance to catch-up with Warwick and wanted to share some of the insights that he will be delivering at Gartner Symposium later today:

Q: Tell us about the big picture – what is CCA’s business and where is the company headed? What is your growth strategy?
A: CCA is one of the largest bottlers of ready to drink beverages in Asia Pacific and in the top five Coca Cola bottlers globally. We are an Australian listed company operating in six countries – Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa.  The company employs close to 15,000 people across the group and has access to 270m consumers and 700,000 customers. In a very competitive environment our goal is to become the beverage supplier for all occasions, and a key part of that strategy is continued growth in Indonesia, expansion of our already profitable alcohol business and significant efficiency gains through best in class manufacturing, sales and distribution across the group.

Q: What are some the big trends that CCA is facing and how do you view the role of technology in responding to those trends?
A: Across the group one of the biggest challenges is differentiating our products in a scenario where consumers have more choice than ever before, and who have a greater awareness around what they are purchasing as a result of digital media and social networking. In a time poor world, people are after convenience. Yet they are also looking for something innovative that meets their specific needs and represents good value. Technology plays a critical role supporting our customers in providing relevant and targeted offers to their shoppers, driving traffic in store and growing sales, which is why we’re investing heavily in new product and packaging innovation, better and more energy efficient cold drink equipment, as well as digital technology to fuel growth across our markets.

Q: In your role as CIO, how do you approach innovation from an internal/external technology perspective to deliver value back to the business?
A: At CCA we’re heavily focused on innovation and were pleased to see our efforts recognised recently when we were ranked as one of the top four most innovative Companies in Australia by BRW magazine. Innovation in IT and investment in state of the art systems across the company is seen as a competitive advantage for us. I sit on the executive team for the Australian business and my boss, Barry Simpson, who is the Group CIO, sits on the management team for the group. Both of us are tasked with proactively looking for opportunities to grow our business in those forums. That can involve innovation in technology but also looking for new business opportunities in a broader context. While CCA is an independent Australian listed company we have strong links to IT groups in The Coca-Cola Company and the Coke bottling community across the world. That gives us a unique ability to use innovation in other parts of the globe but tailor it specifically for our markets in this region. That connection along with active participation in the local IT community through the Australian Computer Society and developing young IT graduates gives us a large pool of innovation to draw from.

Q: What is CCA’s overall IT strategy?
A: At a high level, CCA’s IT strategy is based around optimising the investment we have made in our core systems, such as SAP, making them easier to consume and more flexible in meeting user needs. With the proliferation of smartphones and an “always connected” society you no longer have control over when people want access to your corporate data and how they will consume it. To cater for that we have adopted an agile, app-based approach to developing systems for both internal and external use which can adapt to the ever changing needs of our employees and our customers. To deliver those systems we are using cloud based platforms to deliver the flexibility to scale up and down capacity and provide access anywhere it is needed.

Q: How does Microsoft fit into CCA’s technology strategy?
A: Microsoft has been a key strategic partner of CCA and the global Coca Cola system for many years. We use the Microsoft suite of desktop and server products across the group and Active Directory is the core component in our Single Sign On architecture for all systems. I would say that our relationship with Microsoft in past years has shifted with the advent of cloud based platforms. Today, CCA is focused on lowering costs and delivering a more agile platform to drive our business forward, whereas previously we were simply renewing licenses and enterprise agreements. Microsoft technology is now a key part of our strategy to provide innovative solutions to our employees and customers, and we frequently work with the Microsoft development teams to ensure their solutions meet our requirements now and in the future. 

Q: CCA was one of the first companies in Australia to move to our cloud productivity solution BPOS and then subsequently Office 365? What impact did this have on your business?
A: CCA was an early adopter of the Microsoft BPOS cloud based, shared email platform that replaced an aging in-house Lotus Notes system. The migration process and start up on the new platform was handled extremely well and was a tremendous success with all employees. While we were coming from an older platform to new technology the most telling factor in the success was the ability for people to communicate from any device and at any time. This fundamentally changed how people worked and really opened our eyes to the possibilities of cloud based platforms and what they could offer.  We have now migrated to the latest Office 365 service and are leveraging more of the cloud based services than ever before.

Q: Where are you currently in the deployment? When do expect to finish the project?
A: The focus for now is to optimise the Office 365 cloud architecture to provide productivity applications to our business via a web browser on any device. Over the next few months we will be moving personal and team documents across the business into Skydrive Pro from local file servers to ensure they are easily accessible from almost anywhere. The plan is to then move people across to the online versions of Office and away from PC based software. In parallel to that we are replatforming our company Intranet on the Office 365 Sharepoint architecture and migrating our company social networking platform with it. To augment the functionality of the public Sharepoint platform we will be utilising Azure to provide some CCA specific customisation and linkages to core systems. We aim to have a large portion of our business using web browser based applications by Q2 2014, and Microsoft is working directly with CCA to ensure the web versions of the software will meet our requirements. 

Q: What is CCA’s hybrid cloud strategy?
A: Many years ago CCA outsourced data centres as we did not want to be in the business of maintaining that infrastructure ourselves. We centralised much of our processing and used virtualisation to get economies of scale in those environments. We run a pretty lean operations team that are responsible for provisioning and managing those environments however that architecture is still too expensive and cumbersome to change. Our strategy for cloud is to use shared infrastructure as much as possible to lower cost and provide the flexibility we need. This is a mixture of SaaS and IaaS depending on the type of system we are deploying and we will continue to use a mix of public and private cloud platforms to satisfy our requirements.

Data security is still paramount, however we can no longer keep everything locked behind corporate firewalls if we want to provide innovative solutions to customers and our employees. This is where we see Hybrid cloud models working for us.

Q: How does Windows Server, System Centre 2012 and Windows Azure fit into this strategy and address some of your business challenges?
A: One of the key objectives for our move to cloud based platforms is to ensure a seamless transition for our business and our customers. Using Windows Azure and Windows Server technology we are able to extend our current security models into the cloud space with minimal impact to users. There should be no difference in accessing our systems regardless of where the platform is located.

CCA already uses System Centre to manage our Windows Server environments and devices across the group. It is just a natural extension to use that toolset to manage cloud environments as well. The ability to be able to get a consolidated view of all services and applications running regardless of the platform is essential in maintaining our reliability and performance benchmarks.

We expect Microsoft to continue to invest in the Windows Server platforms, Azure and System Centre bringing new innovation and value for CCA to make the most of.

Q: How does Windows Azure fit into CCA’s wider platform strategy? Can you talk a little more about the apps you planning to host and develop from both an internal and external perspective to enable your mobile workforce?
A: Windows Azure plays an important role in our move to web based office productivity tools, providing CCA specific functionality in a hybrid approach with the Office 365 platform. In addition to that we see Azure offering a lower cost, more flexible option for hosting a number of our current applications. In particular where mobility or broad accessibility is required we see many benefits using that approach, and we are looking at a combination of IaaS and PaaS on the Azure platform. Where it makes sense we will take advantage of management further up the stack to reduce dependency on internal resources managing environments and reduces our cost.

Some of the systems we are looking to host on Azure would include our self-service customer portal –  myCCA – which includes a website as well as iOS and Android mobile apps, our tablet and phone based mobile sales tools as well as our business reporting platform that uses SharePoint as the delivery mechanism. All these need to be easy to access, mobile and flexible while maintaining real time linkages with our core systems. This is where we see Azure fitting into our landscape moving forward.

Q: What’s the next on your IT agenda?
A: Business pace and competition is only going to increase in the future. Therefore, its critical CCA is able to create innovative products and offers to differentiate ourselves in that environment. IT must be able to deliver the insight and systems required to support that innovation wherever and whenever it is needed. We are using cloud platforms and an app based approach to address the accessibility and delivery of information, and with an increasing amount of data available to us from the Internet and our customers the challenge is turning that into relevant insight quickly and efficiently. While we have made progress I think our next challenge is using Big Data more effectively to drive business growth.

i.Source: IDC Worldwide Cloud Black Book 2013

ii.Source: IDC Worldwide Virtualization Tracker 2013 Q2 – Published Sept 2013