From Legacy to Cloud

R.L. Polk shifts IT into overdrive with a private cloud JD Edwards solution.

August 2011

R.L. Polk & Co. (Polk) is an industry leader in automotive intelligence and marketing solutions. Automotive manufacturers worldwide rely on Polk’s global data and business expertise to help them understand their market position, identify trends, build brand loyalty, conquer new business, and gain a competitive advantage. The company’s CARFAX reports are used confidently by millions of consumers every year to verify the ownership and accident history before a vehicle purchase.

Based near Detroit in Southfield, Michigan, the company is a process-driven and highly technical enterprise—winning awards for the data its systems collect and present to customers from more than 34,000 datasources.

Despite the technical mastery underlying Polk, the system that ran Polk’s back office, based on Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne applications, was built on an aging hardware platform. “We needed to replace the enterprise server for an application used by Polk offices around the world—23 hours a day, 5 days a week. We had one full-time IT staff member who supported the platform. He’s highly skilled and very dedicated, but he was on call to respond if there was any service disruption. From a business perspective, I knew that this created a single-point-of-failure risk,” says Deborah Jackson Lum, senior director of business information systems at Polk.

The situation raised a fundamental question for IT staff at Polk: should the hardware platform be hosted internally or externally?

To answer that question, Polk engaged WTS, an experienced provider of hosted solutions for Oracle’s JD Edwards EnterpriseOne and JD Edwards World product families. Seattle, Washington-based Oracle partner WTS focuses on application hosting, managed disaster recovery, and infrastructure as a service for Oracle’s enterprise software and complementary products. WTS suggested that Polk outsource management of the JD Edwards platform.

“We stepped back and said, ‘Maybe it makes sense to look at a hosted service model,’” says Lum of the guidance she received from WTS. “We were able to leverage the breadth of their expertise in providing operational support whenever we need it. And we avoided the heavy capital investment of a replacement server.”

Ward Quarles, director of marketing and communications at WTS, says Polk’s situation is not unusual. “Many JD Edwards customers deliver Oracle applications in an operational model that does not provide scalable infrastructure, lacks critical component redundancy, and does not leverage the advantages of virtualization,” he says. “If they reach end of life on a key operational component, we will build into their project plan a refresh of that technology. As part of Polk’s in-the-cloud model, they’re getting the latest and greatest in terms of technology and operating systems by manufacturers of their choice.”

Indeed, the experience that WTS staff has with moving customers to a private cloud platform proved invaluable to Polk. For example, WTS knew that the only way to guarantee secure delivery of sensitive financial data during production cutover would be to hand-deliver it to Seattle from Detroit. And if the first set of tapes failed, a second set of tapes needed to be delivered.

“Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought about this,” says Lum. “But WTS knew this because of their expertise in doing implementations. And sure enough—that’s exactly what happened. WTS built a contingency into the plan, executed against it, and allowed us to complete the conversion on schedule.”

Since the system went live in July 2010, Polk has upgraded the tools layer to the latest release and conducted a successful disaster recovery test. Both events went flawlessly. Lum was especially impressed with the partner’s ability to identify and plan for the unexpected. “Things we never thought would happen, they’d thought of already,” she says. “We went through an implementation timeline that was very reasonable and very aggressive—three months from start to finish.”

Now, Lum says that moving to the cloud has liberated Polk’s technical team to focus on product delivery to Polk customers—a function that is at the very core of the company’s business. And that translates into a bottom-line benefit. “You sleep better at night,” she says of the hosted model. That’s a benefit that R.L. Polk & Co. can now share with its customers.