Alliance Group transforms infrastructure to maximise efficiencies in the meat industry
New Zealand farming co-operation, Alliance Group wants to ensure its technology infrastructure will be able to transform its commodity into premium export.
However, unlike beef and venison, James Dring CIO at Alliance said, IT infrastructure doesn’t improve with age and which hampered the company’s performance.
Running a global, fast-changing networks relies on great communication, flexibility, and efficiency requires quality data to optimise operations and access to modern workplace tools so workers can do their jobs with minimum disruption and maximum security.
Unfortunately, Alliance Group’s IT systems and hardware were past their use by date. Unlike beef and venison, IT infrastructure doesn’t improve with age and it was hampering Alliance’s performance, said Dring.
“Our overall operating system was not well integrated at all. Employees were unable to easily work remotely, as they had no way of logging into the system, communication was fragmented and getting accurate data was impossible,” he said. “We had various Excel spreadsheets containing data, and each one had different figures from the next. “
The ageing systems – which were prone to crashing on an annoyingly regular basis – also created significant security gaps that left a lot of room for human error.
“Security was a key area of concern for us because we’d have staff logging in on a morning shift and leaving their computer open all day,” Dring explains. “A red flag was when we noticed one individual had logged into eight different devices because he had shared his personal credentials with colleagues.
Meanwhile, as we were not on the latest version of Windows, we didn’t get the latest security patches. This could have led to all sorts of business ramifications and frankly it was just bad form.”
Adding to Alliance’s challenges, their international offices in London and Singapore were running independent IT infrastructure. Globally, the group ran in silos and lacked any collaboration tools, making cross location communication incredibly challenging and adding unnecessary cost and complexity.
The Group envisioned a completely modern workplace offering flexible working for those who could work remotely, enhanced collaboration across the network, reliable data, more efficient operations and top-level security. Recognising Microsoft 365 as the best solution, Alliance looked for a partner to deliver exactly what it needed.
Total transformation without upsetting the apple cart
It was ICT services and solutions provider Lexel Systems who understood the heart of the problem. A lack of operational integration was the core issue. Solving that would in turn solve issues around remote collaboration and communication, data accuracy, cybersecurity and ultimately Alliance’s sustainability and growth potential in the digital era. At the end of 2019, Lexel set out to design and implement a fully integrated cloud platform based on Microsoft 365, complete with a suite of mission-critical tools and hardware that set Alliance Group up for the future.
A very timely move
The shift couldn’t have come at a better time. Less than three months after implementation the first COVID-19 lockdown hit, meaning the team had to adapt to remote working almost instantly.
“The benefit of the digital transformation was obvious as soon as we had to go into lockdown,” said Dring. “Prior to the deployment of the Microsoft 365 solution, we would not have been in a position to operate efficiently from remote locations, This would have severely impacted our ability to continue to operate as an essential service so this process has been invaluable for our company.”
With Microsoft Teams and Office 365, all its offices worldwide now have a collaboration platform for sharing documents and video conferencing. Microsoft Teams meant even further improvements could continue while people were working from home.
“We had a major Enterprise Resource Planning project going on right through lockdown and we were able to do the whole thing on Teams. With the assistance of Lexel we were able to stand up a project team and complete the implementation in a short time frame,” said Dring.
Beyond the lockdown, Alliance Group continues to use Teams for a whole host of tasks.
“We manufacture a lot of product to order, and we can now receive, process and share information about our product, such as labels and marketing collateral, via Teams,” he explains. “And it’s saving us money on travel.”
More accurate, real-time information is made possible thanks to Microsoft 365, which has brought everything together, enabling the environment to be viewed through one ‘pane of glass’. This not only enables better decision-making; it means the business’s leaders and stakeholders receive much clearer and more accurate reports. With automatic screen locking and two-factor authentication, data is also much more secure.
Meanwhile, if devices need reconfiguring or redeploying, the Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager with Intune device management tool makes it easy to configure equipment in real time too.
“People love it. They’re no longer having machines crash and they can just sign on and work effectively from anywhere,” adds Dring.
Enabling people, growth and innovation from pasture to plate
After this success, Alliance is bent on finding even more ways to build on its modern workplace. Lexel’s Davis is excited about the possibilities for greater automation and reporting opened up by the use of Power BI and data analytics tools. Even more Teams functions are also in the works.
“We are now looking to retire our old voice services infrastructure and fully integrate voice IP through Microsoft Teams. Also, as there’s a greater demand for traceability from consumers, we are looking to implement QR codes so that they can track product from pasture to plate. Being cloud-based really sets us up well to do this,” said Dring.
“It’s brought us up to where we need to be and enabled the company to go forward with its strategy as a modern business.”