Migrating to the cloud makes a lot of sense in view of the potent benefits, but a large slice of the market still hesitates to bid good-bye to on-premises solutions. An exception is Journal Communications, Inc., a Milwaukee, Wis.-headquartered diversified media company, which successfully moved 30 connected systems (including core systems) and hundreds of applications to the cloud using Redwood Software’s RunMyJobs platform. Based on this success, they’re planning to move even more to the cloud. What gave Journal’s executives the confidence to do more than test the waters in the cloud?
Troy Hartfiel, IT director at Journal, says the company wanted to embrace a different way of doing business plus drive costs down while also improving efficiencies. It’s no secret that news organizations are under siege and challenged by the digital world. Journal Communications is an umbrella for dozens of TV and radio stations in multiple states, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel daily newspaper, weekly newspapers in Wisconsin and Florida and specialty publications in four states. Whether Journal can deliver the news effectively, efficiently and inexpensively makes or breaks the business.
Dennis Walsh, president of Redwood Software, describes its RunMyJobs platform as a plug-and-play solution that takes an automation system for a business process and facilitates moving it from a data center to run in the Amazon Web Service (AWS) cloud. It could be something as mundane as an IT process of job scheduling or backing up servers each night. Or it might be something more complex such as a financial close process each month, an order-to-cash or procure-to-pay process or a supply chain automation process.
The first systems Journal moved to the cloud were its circulation, distribution and billing systems. Hartfiel says the pre-cloud environment on the publishing side of the business had many home-grown disparate systems that began as boxed software but grew complex with added APIs and ended up being a collection of systems that needed 24/7support. There were also three different automation tools that moved different portions of the production workflow to produce the newspaper.
“There was a lot of manual intervention, a lot of failures and not a lot of opportunity for what automation defines,” says Hartfiel. “On the publishing side, four to five of our 35-member IT support staff monitored daily jobs of the movement of data from one system to another. This support had to be 24/7 because much of the production of a newspaper happens from the end of the business day through the night and into the morning.”
The move to the cloud caused Journal’s manual systems oversight to go from 150 hours per month down to approximately 40.
“Moving to the cloud improves performance, utility and usability,” says Walsh. “Companies just need to learn to let go. They jump on the wagon once they see that it’s stable, secure and delivers the promised value.”
Journal Communications’ cloud road map
The company first moved its two distinct IT groups (for the publishing division and the General Broadcast Group) into one supportive organization across the enterprise.
Step two was to determine where they could consolidate like systems. The publishing unit had a separate email system, and the broadcast group had 15 different installations of Microsoft Exchange. So the first goal was to get the entire company on one messaging platform. They chose Gmail and Google Docs solutions, and Hartfiel says that really helped to kick off the company’s cloud strategy.
The successful experience with the shift to Google helped Journal’s executive team get over the hurdle of risks involved in moving data out of the company’s four walls into the cloud. They held group meetings and one-on-one discussions about how to mitigate the risks. Their comfort level rose when they experienced the compliance measures Google had built into its systems. They also realized that Redwood Software had invested a lot of money and effort into the security of its platform. “We decided to leverage what our cloud partners have already paid for. We can’t build that same level of security that they already have,” says Hartfiel.
With the green light for executive buy-in to the cloud strategy, they also looked at their technology refresh strategy. Hartfiel says they decided to use the need for software upgrades and hardware refreshes as “opportunities to find out if the existing provider or another provider had a cloud solution or some other hosting solution so we wouldn’t need to host it in our data center.” That’s how they learned of Redwood’s RunMyJobs platform, as another Redwood automation tool was already installed on premises.
Journal moved three of its top five systems within the application tier to the cloud. On the publishing side, its circulation system and advertising system now reside in a cloud-based managed-services environment and its news system moved to a co-location facility.
“We have a number of systems within operations revolving around production and press functionality. We use the RunMyJobs platform to move data from our newsroom system in Madison to our platemaking system in our data center in Milwaukee. RunMyJobs makes it a lot easier than people manually exporting and importing data into different systems to get the newspaper out on a daily basis,” states Hartfiel.
They also used the cloud move as an opportunity to consolidate three automation tools. “We cleaned up jobs we don’t use anymore, combined three or four jobs into one and wrote more automation. RunMyJobs is a robust tool that allowed us to expand what we wanted to do within our cloud strategy and helped us clean up some of our legacy jobs,” says Hartfiel.
They also use the platform to turn application resources on AWS up or down as needed, greatly reducing costs.
One of the most significant aspects of Journal’s cloud strategy is that the company didn’t reduce its IT staff. There was some effort involved in transforming the department away from a daily reactive mode to fixing systems; but they now focus on innovation, finding more efficiencies and helping the business move forward.
The platform also makes it easy for Journal to troubleshoot resubmission of jobs with an offshore support partner.
“Prior to using this solution, at least every other day somebody from our operations team had to work an average two hours a night on specific jobs that either were not running correctly or were failing,” explains Hartfiel. “Through this process, we’re now able to have a less technical team monitor the existing jobs and resubmit the jobs and spend less time on man hours and overtime.”
How the automation aspect leads to the cloud
Later this year Journal Communications plans to bring the RunMyJobs platform into the broadcast side of its business. Hartfiel says the TV and radio business is still a very manual process, especially in getting advertising on air, and there is a lot of opportunity for automation.
“We have a unique, extremely powerful technology that helps companies automate processes,” says Redwood’s Walsh. Working with subject matter experts at a customer organization, Redwood’s automation consultants review a business process and identify steps to eliminate and/or automate. The consultants are skilled in identifying the high-value processes for automation, and they share advice as to how other companies structured their process, migration team, and implemented change management.
“Then we package the process for migration. Once it’s in the cloud, all they need to do is access it and start using it,” says Walsh. “Our platform makes it easy for companies to jump in to a cloud strategy.”
Walsh says Redwood’s cloud-migration conversations with prospective customers today are much easier than two years ago because of successful proof sources like Journal Communications. He expects the cloud migration rate to pick up significantly in 2014.
Troy Hartfiel is IT director at Journal Communications, Inc. He has over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology industry and is responsible for determining Journal Communications’ technology direction related to IT infrastructure through research and evaluation of new technologies. He strives to improve processes and drive efficiencies within the operations of the business while building and developing a highly skilled team. Follow him on LinkedIn.
Dennis Walsh is president of Redwood Software, known for business and IT process automation and for its RunMyJobs platform. He is responsible for North America, LATAM, South America and Asia-Pacific operations. With more than 20 years’ experience, he worked with major corporations such as Apple, Dell, The Dow Chemical Company, Eli Lilly and Company, General Electric, Halliburton, HP, Sony, Toyota and others to deliver enterprise-wide automation to businesses in every industry, delivering measurable improvements for businesses.