The COVID-19 pandemic has caused businesses worldwide to shut down, slow down, or alter the way they provide services. For some, it’s been a wake-up call to find new ways to operate; for others, it’s been a surprising opportunity. Take the home improvement sector: According the latest U.S. Census Bureau report, building materials suppliers, home centers, hardware stores and garden centers saw a year-over-year sales increase of 22.6 percent. And in Europe, the do-it-yourself (DIY) home improvement retailing market will grow by (USD) $25.41 billion between 2020 and 2024, according to global market research firm Technavio.
One such company to see renewed activity is UK-based Headlam Group, Europe’s largest floor coverings distributor. Headlam provides a distribution channel between manufacturers, suppliers and trade customers. Operating for 28 years, Headlam is comprised of nearly 70 different companies serving a range of businesses, from smaller carpet shops that cater to the residential market to major contractors responsible for meeting the flooring needs of large venues.
But all with this activity – not to mention many other years of growth – Headlam’s physical servers started to show the wear and tear of age. They came to Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) to lay a new path to a virtual hosted private cloud environment. Now, higher availability and a nearly five-fold increase in performance translates into faster order processing across the entire organization. Cloud agility also supports Headlam’s growth-through-acquisition business model.
In the flooring business, with retail stores and contractors under pressure to fill customer orders, success can come down to processing the highest number of orders in the least amount of time. For the 20 Headlam distribution centers responsible for cutting carpets and shipping stock, and for stocking 50+ trade counters, anything that puts system availability at risk can impact production and profits.
Most of these distribution centers had physical servers supporting the business operations of many Headlam companies across the UK, as well as France, Switzerland and Holland. Although they ran the same ERP applications--including finance, HR and warehouse management--each site ran localized instances on disparate servers.
David Hitchmough, the company’s head of IT, explains the impact this infrastructure had on its 24/7 business operations. “A number of the servers had reached end-of-life,” he says. “We run a financial month-end close for all of our companies on the last day of the month. It could take hours at some sites, and basically stopped our warehouse operations because the server infrastructure was so old.”
Hitchmough estimates that replacing the IT environment would cost Headlam at least £300,000, just to stay in steady state. “After investigating our options, we realized we could migrate to a Sungard AS private cloud for approximately the same amount of money and have a more stable, resilient infrastructure behind us.”
Leveraging its experience in managing hybrid IT environments, Sungard AS designed a private cloud solution that could interact seamlessly with the legacy infrastructure. The 13-month, site-by-site migration involved transitioning data from 20 physical servers across the UK and Europe. “This was no ‘lift and shift’ situation,” says Hitchmough. “Since these servers constantly exchange information, the communication flow had to continue uninterrupted as we moved to a new virtual environment.”
The performance advantages of a modernized IT infrastructure include streamlining the day-end reporting and backup processes at distribution centers. That translates into decreased downtime and a significant jump in the number of orders processed daily at each center.
However, the most impressive results occur during the month-end close. Before, this process brought order processing, stock movements and carpet cutting to a halt. Things are quite different now. “As we migrated the sites into a Sungard AS private cloud, we had nearly a five-fold increase in processing speed,” Hitchmough reports. “Our month-end jobs that used to take several hours now run in minutes, without impacting our business operations.”
With a 99.99% SLA, Headlam knows it can count on the cloud to support its just-in-time delivery model. This is especially important when meeting the needs of customers in the residential market, including the independent retailers and flooring contractors who represent most of the company’s business.
“Our residential customers rely on us to store carpet or flooring and have it ready for them, so our next- day service offering is critical,” Hitchmough explains. “The stable and resilient systems we have in place now increase our ability to have an order ready for them just when they need it.”
The first site went live in late 2018, with the rest of the UK sites completed by August 2019. Now, users at these distribution sites access the cloud- based applications via the VPN. The remaining sites across Europe are expected to go live in early 2021.
We may be spending more time at home, but at least we can enjoy our surroundings – starting from the ground up. Having the flooring of your dreams ready to roll on your timetable proves that like Headlam are investing in the right technology to keep processes moving swiftly, securely and accurately.
To learn more about how Headlam trusted Sungard AS with its journey to the cloud, read our new case study on Headlam Group.