A moment with Jason Chin
October 15, 2010 Leave a comment
Continuing our look at cloud computing through the eyes of the end user — Cloudtopia talks with one of Singapore’s top decision makers, Jason Chin, Chief Strategy Officer of the Helutrans Group.
What cloud computing technology does your business utilise?
We are now actually using Salesforce.com, so we use the system for a number of CRM related processes, which are for front and back office. We use them as well in terms of tracking for all of our shipments. And we have a few projects that are ongoing to increase the level of integration across our departments and divisions of business. That’s what we have with Salesforce.com.
Now if we talk about cloud computing, we are also exploring to basically make some changes to our IT infrastructure. We are trying to move to a very cloud-centric (model) and now we are in a process of evaluating a cloud vendor to host all of our email and messaging services. We are doing quite a number of things that is related to cloud.
What difference has the adoption of that technology made in terms of cost savings and productivity?
Well i think that when it comes to cost savings — when you have a savings benefit here you end up paying elsewhere, I think the biggest benefit is that you are able to see your cost structure and cost components more clearly. With a cloud vendor you can break it into per-user license, so every time you have a new headcount you can see what kind of expense as compared to the old-school on-premis.
You end up with a heavy investment and you have to monetise over X number of years, so its less clear and you constantly have to make a decision. Then you have to try to guess what your capacity is and with cloud nowadays you can actually scale up or down very easily — i think that is a major benefit.
What challenges did you have to overcome when you made the jump to the cloud?
Of course, and i believe a lot of our peers have faced the same challenges and i think one of the biggest challenges was to overcome the concept that when you don’t host your data on-premis, its a security issue. This is — i think — the first one that most people encounter and same for us. We spent quite a lot of time trying to understand how security is being maintained with our cloud vendors and we want to only work with cloud vendors who have a good reputation and a safe system and Salesforce.com is one of them.
Was there any reluctance inside your organisation before moving to cloud-based operations?
I think the kind of reluctance that we encounter is not so much related to cloud or non-cloud, its more of a technology perspective. I say that because in our business there is quite a significantly large number of users that are of a certain age group and above, and naturally they are not as tech-savvy as the younger generation. This are the kind of people who — over a number of years — they start getting into Facebook so they are not comfortable dealing with a computer.
So i think this is the challenge that we face, whether it is cloud or non-cloud i think is pretty transparent to them.
What aspects of cloud technology do you believe could use some improvement?
Well, i think that one of these things that the market can do to close the expectation gap is to be very clear on what is really a cloud and what is semi-cloud. (There are) new players in the market that are trying to market solutions that look like cloud, but really it isn’t cloud and these are the kind of things that are sending a lot of mixed signals to perspective buyers. When you go for a cloud solution, technically the infrasturcture should be multi-tenanted and have all the economies of scale.
A lot of smaller time players, even in Singapore, are basically trying to sell you a hosted solution, but you still end up buying your own dedicated server so that is not a real cloud per se. There is a fine line and i think that with digital technology, the decision makers need to discern what they are buying and that is going to be really important.
Was there much re-training or change management needed when you made the transition to cloud-based services?
I think the retraining aspect is more of in terms of understanding conceptually what a cloud is about. It used to be where we used a CRM system, as well, but its local area network based so you have to be in the office to do this and that and now with a lot of cloud solutions there is high availability of data and you can work from anywhere. You can go down to Starbucks and work from there.
I think the kind of retraining we are going through is more in terms of management retraining. Managers, especially senior managers that are up there in age, they need to understand its not about seeing your employees working, you’ve got to be looking at what kind of end result we get out of it and you look at logins instead of looking at who is in the office. Its more on the bigger picture side of things, not so much on user being able to use the appllcation.
Do you believe that your foray into the cloud computing world lived up to the hype?
Yes of course, i think we are very satisfied with the kind of system that we have today. One of the major advantages that we have faced is that the mobility is unparalleled and being able to deploy across the globe is very important for us. If you look back 5 or 8 years ago, and you are on a traditional in-house based CRM or ERP solution, you always require very expensive hardware to always do your virtual private network (VPN) connections. secure VPN for your mobile clients and with cloud computing all this has become something of the yesteryear, so i think we are happy with what cloud has given us so far. I think it is here to stay and we are very excited to see how we can integrate new aspects of our business to embrace cloud computing.