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Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Laef Olson, CIO of RightNow (Part 2)

Posted on Tuesday, Feb 8th 2011

By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini

SM: What is the scope of your internal IT organization? What you mentioned just now is the IT infrastructure piece for delivering your cloud-based offering or product as a cloud vendor. What about the internal requirements of RightNow as a company?

LO: We are a fairly global organization, and with about 16 offices around the world we rely a lot on technology to help us run the company. We have about 1,000 employees, and half of them are in corporate headquarters here in Bozeman, Montana. We leverage cloud solutions ourselves and understand go-to-market and how to consume cloud solutions because we interact frequently with our clients on that aspect. It will be easier for us to adopt those solutions.

A couple of months ago, while on a panel, I was asked how many cloud solutions we used at RightNow. I took some time to calculate, and there are at least 20. We deploy a lot of them in major internal systems categories that would be typically on-premise for a lot of companies. But we pushed those into the cloud. I think we have benefited significantly from that position.

SM: I see. So, you have already brought on about 20 cloud services for your internal consumption. Would you elaborate on that? It sounds like you are very much in swing of things as far as internal cloud adoption in concerned. We will get to the vendor and delivery model issues in a moment, but let me also capture what kind of workloads, what kind of cloud services are you consuming today for your internal IT? Are they public cloud or private cloud based? What thoughts and strategies govern RightNow’s cloud adoption process?

LO: I think our thought process is similar to that of a lot of companies that have adopted private cloud solutions. Today, there are so many definitions of a private cloud. We have probably adopted more of a VMWare definition of how we provision internal cloud computing resources. It is an ongoing project that started a couple of years ago ‚Äď building a VMWare ESX clusters and really forcing most of our internal applications into that environment where we can quickly deploy applications or stand up a solution.

This is something that needs to happen. It probably represents the minority of what we do today. It is kind of private cloud work, but most of what we use is public cloud work, or depending on the definition, again, it may be hybrid. If you look at the solutions we have deployed internally, all of our HR-related systems come out of the cloud-based offerings.

SM: What are you using for HR?

LO: We use Workday primarily for kind of system for records, we also use Taleo for talent management and we are also using, as a lot of other people are, ADP, for payroll. So that makes up for most of the HRMS resources for the company. We just did a four-month conversion to NetSuite. We converted from Microsoft Dynamics enterprise resource planning (ERP) into an offering from NetSuite. It has been a very successful move for us, and NetSuite’s is a very similar business model. We are one of their larger customers, but it was a really great fit as we moved into a revenue subscription model.

SM: What is the driver behind going to NetSuite? What I hear a lot from other people is that ERP is almost the least of the drivers in terms of areas that are going to the cloud.

LO: Well, what is happening is that cloud-based solutions, say in terms of on-premise versus cloud, are maturing into significant drivers. If you go out and evaluate the various players, Oracle is one of the primary ones. At the end of the day, Oracle has more capability it can bring to the table in ERP solutions than NetSuite does. That is largely an innovation and maturation cycle, in my view.

There is nothing inherent about what NetSuite does in the cloud compared to what Oracle is doing on-premise that would make it a better solution over the long term. When we evaluated NetSuite from a future functionality perspective, it worked really well overall because we run such a slim IT organization that we tend to be heavily weighted toward system integration, business solutions, and business intelligence. We want to deal less with system administration and running of services. So, this is just because of the strategy or posture we have taken in terms of our business alignment. It makes a lot more sense to go into the cloud and harness NetSuite from a cloud provider [perspective].

Workday has their financial package, and there are a few others as well. They were definitely short-listed, and NetSuite became financially attractive for us. It was also nice in terms of being global. As you know, we are a very global company, and I was able to rely on NetSuite just coming back in and not having to manage that out of my own data center and try to optimize around it.

SM: Are there any others besides the HR and ERP cloud-based solutions? Is there any other major bucket in which your cloud services adaption would be categorized?

LO: Well you know the big three are ERP, HRMS, and customer relationship management (CRM); obviously, we use our own CRM for both.

SM: I see. I wanted to ask if you use your own CRM system as well, you see!

This segment is part 2 in the series : Thought Leaders In Cloud Computing: Laef Olson, CIO of RightNow
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