As an industry leader in automotive intelligence and marketing solutions, R. L. Polk & Co. needs its IT staff to keep an open mind about the technology products they deploy to serve their customers. And while the in-house Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition and Oracle Exadata solution deployed by Polk Vice President of Application Development and Support Kelly Garcia and Director of Database Development and Support Douglas Miller effectively addressed some core business challenges, there are other strategies available to meet similar performance and data management goals.
For example, the JD Edwards EnterpriseOne system from Oracle that previously ran Polk’s back office was built on an aging hardware platform, and it was not delivering the service levels the business required. “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 Oracle partner and an experienced provider of hosted solutions for the JD Edwards EnterpriseOne and JD Edwards World product families. Seattle, Washington-based WTS focuses on application hosting, managed disaster recovery, and infrastructure as a service for Oracle’s enterprise software and complementary products, and the company suggested that Polk outsource management of its 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, it’s getting the latest and greatest in terms of technology and operating systems by manufacturers of its choice.”
Indeed, the experience that WTS staff has in moving customers to a private cloud platform proved invaluable to Polk. The WTS team 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, Michigan. 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 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.