"How did you do it?” Perhaps the number one question I get asked when speaking about cloud migration at conferences, in interviews, to colleagues, and business partners. Everyone wants to know how to do it, but the more important question is “why?”
When I joined ACI Specialty Benefits in 2010 as Manager of Information Technology, my team was a resident help desk and in-house geek squad. The biggest IT crisis of the day was keeping the lights on in the data center. ACI was in the process of finalizing their database and had dreams of turning the traditional business into a SaaS business model—but the server was stuck in a small closet with a makeshift fan, and IT was an afterthought.
And then, boom! Business didn’t just grow, it exploded. Founded in 1983 by Dr. Ann Clark, ACI Specialty Benefits began as an employee assistance program. By the time I joined, ACI had already grown into a top-ranked global EAP, Student Assistance, and Work-Life benefits provider. Then three significant forces converged to catapult ACI into a new direction: ACI went international, acquired two companies, and expanded offerings with new concierge benefits and 24/7 access to service.
From a Benefits Provider to Technology Leader: A Digital Transformation
All of a sudden, IT was no longer an afterthought.ACI needed a scalable business model and new technology solutions to accommodate global growth, a growing demand for digital security, and integrating infrastructures from acquired companies. Instead of paper-pushing, we needed a more sophisticated way to enroll, incentivize, and deliver benefits in a convenient and globally-accessible customer-centric portal. Utilizing distributed ledger technology (blockchain), edge networks, wearables, microservices, and Internet of Things, ACI rapidly transformed into a technology-driven benefits leader covering over 12 million lives across 170 countries.
In business, as in life, most people don’t choose to change. Change happens and it is up to us to choose how to respond. ACI’s digital transformation impacted every aspect of business and turned the IT help desk into the epicenter of business operations and strategy. In order to scale business, continue to handle highly sensitive personal information for covered lives, and securely manage a 300 percent annual growth in data collection, I had to find the right technology solutions and act fast.
Every organization, across every industry, has to assess what technology they need to grow, evolve, and remain competitive
Making Live Cloud Migration a Reality
I was specifically looking for a way to consolidate hardware, improve performance, and streamline administration, all while reducing costs: a Herculean task if there ever was one. But with the right partners, the right team, and the right solutions, the impossible was more than just possible—it was one of the proudest moments I can remember of the interoperation of my multidisciplinary team.
With months of strategy, coordinating and sandbox experiments, ACI was able to leverage VMware’s migration tool, plus a team of only 10 dedicated staff to migrate from multiple colocation centers running private cloud technology to a VMware Cloud on AWS infrastructure. Since ACI runs worldwide with an SLA of 99.999 percent uptime around the clock for millions of concurrent users, we didn’t want to bring down our client’s systems to make the switchover—it had to happen live.
My team used vMotion to create a series of scripts that we first tested on smaller clients before migrating larger clients. Even though it took about 13 hours to migrate each client due to the size of data stores, the team was successfully able to migrate the entire workload from one environment to another before moving it to VMware’s cloud.
This cloud migration enabled ACI to quickly onboard acquired companies’ systems and data, provide end users with a 24/7/365 on-demand benefits experience, uphold an SLA of 99.999 percent uptime, and meet strict compliance requirements in diverse geographies. ACI subsequently secured its largest partnership to date, doubled ACI’s infrastructure, achieved measurable cost savings and strong results:
• Reduced ACI’s data center TCO by 60 percent, improved ability to secure mission-critical applications by 50 percent, and ACI’s developers are 20-30 percent more efficient in developing business applications to support sales
• Allowed ACI to meet and exceed guaranteed SLAs while providing 99.999 percent uptime, a 35 percent improvement in performance and stronger compliance processes
• Enabled ACI to deliver a mobile-first employee assistance program that offers on-demand access to mental health benefits—an industry first
• Helped ACI resolve problems 40 percent faster, and provide clients with up-to-date, easily consumable information about capacity and performance
• Freed up over 40 percent of ACI’s technical resources to focus on innovation instead of routine tasks.
Tackling the Next Big Industry Changes
IT is no longer in the era of “What can we do?” Possibilities are limitless. Change is constant. Instead, IT leaders have to ask and answer the tougher questions, “Why should we do it?” and “How does this drive business revenue?” Every organization, across every industry, has to assess what technology they need to grow, evolve, and remain competitive. IT leaders have to make sure the technology they invest in produces ROI and improves organizational performance. As a business leader and technologist, I know it is tempting to drive technology for the sake of technology, but remember business drives technology and technology powers the business.