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Inside Coles' technology transformation

Nadia Cameron | July 10, 2014
Coles CIO, Conrad Harvey, is an advocate for helping your business peers see technology as an opportunity to drive transformation.

"But at the heart of everything Coles IT has to do is deliver ways in which the business can save money so we can reinvest that money into the price point. That's core to our business."

Technology transformation

There are plenty of technology changes underpinning how Coles meets this objective. Among Harvey's list of priorities is adopting a hybrid cloud model, and he's moved up to 40 per cent of total workloads to cloud infrastructure to date.

While there are some savings in using external cloud environments for test and training activities, Harvey admits significant cost reduction hasn't been apparent. He suggests the real value is in preparing the organisation to take advantage of multiple options further down the track.

"On average, we would perceive that hosting most loads is still marginally cheaper internally than externally, but we expect that as the cloud fully matures that line is going to shift," he says. "By building the right cloud technology and orchestration today, we have options for the future.

"What's exciting for me over time is narrowing down my focus on infrastructure, and making it less of a discussion point for small and medium-sized projects and workloads. Against that I always need to balance the right levels of robustness, security and location that means I'm delivering the right outcomes for customers."

According to Harvey, certain loads are always going to be difficult for large corporates to move into the cloud. "It will remain so until cloud [providers] understand and contemplate the same levels of redundancy we take for granted in the way we have active-active data centres, for example," he claims. "At the moment, the cloud isn't really geared for that; it's geared for quick and easy renting of capacity. And you almost wonder whether it will ever model itself on that, because it's always going to be a relatively low use case. "As a startup I'd love cloud, but Coles is not a startup. We run millions of transactions every day and it's necessary for us to have the sorts of resilience that still naturally come out of two data centres hooked together by dark fibre. This may evolve as cloud models evolve, but at this stage you've got to trade off tomorrow against today."

Big data to deliver business efficiencies and better customer engagement is another majority area of focus for Harvey, and he explains his team is taking a three-pronged approach to information management.

The first - and ongoing - strategy is an extensive replatforming of the group's structured data warehouses to Oracle Exadata boxes.

"This means we can now get data out of the warehouse at a pace that was previously unthinkable," Harvey says.


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