A Sound Idea

A Sound Idea

Australian success story Cochlear was growing too fast for its IT systems.

International expansion into the US and Europe had resulted in a host of different platforms in the three regions - all unable to communicate with each other. It was clear Cochlear needed a new global IT infrastructure with a common application and architecture across its operations.

It was neither by design nor fault that Australian hearing implant device manufacturer Cochlear made the headlines in July this year after the US Food and Drug Administration warned of a link between meningitis and hearing implants. The company's shares initially slumped as a result of the scare but soon rebounded when experts and analysts decreed that patients using Cochlear's Nucleus 24 product were not at risk. Rather, the potential threat existed more with its US rival Advanced Bionics' product, which is designed and operates differently.

The story, as least as regards Cochlear, consequently faded from the news. Behind the scenes, though, Cochlear is busy rolling out a new global IT infrastructure to support its rapid growth and international expansion as well as to institute a common application and architecture across its operations. The project is the first official ECOstructure-based implementation in Australia (see "Independence Day",) and will change the way Cochlear interacts with the end users of its products.

With headquarters in Lane Cove, NSW, where all manufacturing, design and development takes place, Cochlear now has operations in eight countries and employs more than 600 people. Its new infrastructure is based on the Oracle 11i e-business suite running on Sun servers under Unix and an Oracle database, and incorporates EMC Symmetrix Storage Arrays on a storage area network (SAN), Cisco core and content switches and security devices, and Veritas software. It will replace three disparate legacy environments in Australia, the US and Europe.

As Leo Port, Cochlear's senior vice president business systems, explains, when the company first started in Australia, its systems naturally focused on Australian regulatory, financial and commercial requirements. But as it grew and expanded into the US and a few years later into Europe, it selected systems most suitable for those markets and their business requirements there. For example, Cochlear's Australian system comprises manufacturing and financial functionality, whereas the US system comprises distribution and financial functionality.

"We evolved with quite different systems in the three regions that were not able to communicate with each other," says Port. "When the company was small it was probably not that critical, but as the company grew, and especially when it became public, we had to collate all of the accounts.

"We also want to know what our inventory is and where it is at any particular time around the world. This is still very important because we're dealing with a pretty expensive product and it becomes a real struggle to take all of this information out of the three different systems."

However, the company was not exactly bleeding from lack of information and, still being relatively small, Port admits that it took Cochlear some time to come to terms with the fact that it needed an integrated system. Prior to embarking on the Oracle implementation, Cochlear implemented Hyperion, which Port says eased some of the pain of consolidating information from around the world but still does not consolidate any transactional information about inventories and the like. According to Port, though, the principal driver behind migrating to the new IT infrastructure was to have an Internet-enabled system, which the legacy systems were not.

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