TAL Apparel moves to cloud in 'lift and shift' fashion

"It took a little longer for us to switch to Tata Communications, but the upgrade was very smooth, with setup and testing executed flawlessly," Kiang says. "Despite such a large scale offering, there were less than 50 issues outstanding when the norm is somewhere closer to 100."

This migration had little to no impact on the user experience, taking just three days of downtime from Thursday evening to Sunday night. The process involved stopping the ERP system, switching over to the new system, modifying all settings on the new desktops, starting up the new system and doing validations to make sure the system was working as designed.

"As we move to the AWS cloud, we expect Infor to be in charge of scaling our hardware as we expand and add more factories. That will help us grow the business in a more agile fashion versus taking care of it ourselves," states Kiang.

Phase Two -- Shift

No business processes were changed during the 'lift' stage, but the 'shift' stage, which began recently, will involve some process re-engineering, especially around how TAL manages its supply chain and production.

"Financials are rather standard, apart from perhaps a greater degree of localization with regard to tax matters," says Kiang. "We're really looking to change the way we manage our international supply chain to achieve greater efficiency."

Part of the plan involves developing industry-specific functions for the cloud ERP system.

"The old system contains a fair bit of customization. The plan is for Infor to help us incorporate these customizations as standards in the new system, so we can do away with modifications in the cloud as far as possible," explains Kiang.

Doing away with customization is expected to have the long term benefit of easing future system upgrades. Upgrades used to take place once every seven years at TAL, but this is expected to happen more frequently as the company transits to a cloud-based ERP system.

Cloud concerns

Challenges associated with the impending public cloud migration primarily concern process change, user education and system performance.

"Change management is of utmost importance. We'll need to ensure users are properly educated and embracing new processes," Kiang says. 

Also on the cards is a large amount of performance testing and fine tuning, particularly around application integration. "The application integration process is a complex one, since moving to the AWS cloud involves several changes to technical components. Some integration may have to be redone and subsequent scenarios have to be well tested before going 'live'," Kiang explains.

The quality of connectivity to TAL's factory in Ethiopia is another issue that needs to be addressed. Currently, a single instance of Infor M3 run out of Hong Kong supports all countries, but latency between Ethiopia and Hong Kong is far from ideal despite the deployment of a leased line between the two locations.

"We'll have to optimize our applications so the two locations can communicate more efficiently, and this will likely involve greater use of a pure web-based HTML5 client to counteract slow network speeds," Kiang says.

While certain companies may run the old and new systems in parallel not long after the deployment of a new system, this is a path Kiang firmly refuses to embark on. "Running parallel systems is always a bad idea and only creates more confusion for users," states Kiang. "We'd rather spend a couple more months preparing and testing than run parallel."

TAL is set to shift to the public cloud sometime in 2019.

Faith in future

According to Kiang, Infor's decision to host its cloud systems in AWS gives him and his team peace of mind. The IT team at embraces AWS internally and is now preparing to move some planning applications from on-premise to the AWS cloud.

And moving to the cloud is never just about saving money as long-term running costs will likely equal out between on-premise and the cloud.

"It's more about shifting investments away from hardware so software vendors can enjoy economies of scale to provide us with a better product," says Kiang. "Other cloud software providers such as Salesforce have built more reliable platforms than any single customer can do alone. We believe it's the same for ERP, with the future being industry-specific clouds."