Over the past year and a half, storage hardware maker Western Digital (WD) has been in the throes of a massive integration of three companies onto a single application portal.
After acquiring two multi-billion dollar competitors in the past five years – HGST and SanDisk – WD chose to create a new, single application web portal instead of choosing from among the three already in use by each company.
One of the drivers for starting from scratch with a single corporate app portal was to help speed up the integration of future mergers and acquisitions, as well as hardening mobile security. The company also wanted to empower end users by giving them open access to whatever business app they need on any mobile device.
WD chose VMware's Workspace ONE cloud portal because it has support for virtual desktops, according to WD CIO Steve Phillpott.
"We do run Citrix inside of the organization and we wanted to make sure the portal could run not only [virtual machine]-like capabilities, but also the Citrix-type capabilities. And, that's worked out really well," Phillpott said.
The other reason WD wanted a single cloud portal, which it has named "Launch," was to ensure employees could take advantage of what Phillpott called "mobile moments," a term he picked up attending industry conferences on mobility.
"People have windows of opportunity during the course of the day where if the technology is there and available on their mobile device, they'll take advantage of it to approve a requisition or fire up some other app," Phillpott said. "So we try to build as much capability in the mobile area to allow for those mobile moments."
The portal also made it easier (and faster) to onboard new hires or employees who were part of an acquisition or merger, Phillpott said. By offering workers a single view of all the company's business applications, new employees can connect with existing users on day one.
"As soon as you get them up and running, then all of a sudden people can find out who's who. If they have access to email, the intranet, Webex, and they're on a common Jabber and Box, now they can quickly find others in the company and it helps accelerate integrations," Phillpott said.
Dozens of active directories
Each of the three companies – WD, HGST and SanDisk – had gone through previous mergers or acquisitions prior to the buyout by WD. And each company had its own methods for enabling employee access to business applications; most used some level of user name/password within dozens of different active directory domains.
There was some heavy lifting, Phillott admits in getting a single active domain directory rolled out globally. That task was completed just last month.
As part of the changeover, the company also launched the VMware AirWatch enterprise mobility management platform for all of its mobile users.
"That's where the focus has been. As we go into 2018, we'll look more at unified endpoint management (UEM)," Philpott said. UEM allows IT to remotely provision, control and secure everything from cell phones and tablets, to laptops and desktops, regardless of operating system.
One of the more difficult aspects of the rollout was the enormous disparity in platforms. HGST and SanDisk, Phillpott said, had done seven to 10 M&A integrations themselves, and the companies hadn't even completed all of those before the WD purchase. Not surprisingly, there was no consistent, centralized capability – especially one that would allow WD to scale applications to meet current needs.
Among the three companies, there were some 3,000 to 4,000 applications, and four or five dozen of them performed the same function, Phillpott said.
"That's a big part of this. We need to put something in that allows us better manageability, better scalability, and ensures we have a good security footprint. There are quite a few drivers for us moving in this direction," Phillpott said.
The consolidation efforts have led to a single catalogue of 500 to 600 apps; employees can choose the ones most pertinent to work they need to do, and add the link to their bookmark page for easy access.
One of the bigger challenges was building out that single catalogue and consolidating just under 100 active directory domains and networks. "We were running a parallel project to consolidate to a single active directory shared or what we called AD.shared domain," Phillpott said.
Consolidating to one platform is atypical, and complicated
What WD has done is not typical, according to Jack Gold, principal analyst for J. Gold Associates. Even when companies merge with others, they tend to stick with the interfaces with which they're familiar, even if it's somewhat antiquated.
"Companies don't typically rip and replace until there's a specific need to do so. There's a lot of reasons they choose not to: cost and complexity being two," Gold said. "Not only are you replacing the software, you have to retrain all your users."
For example, many companies continue to use Lotus Notes for some business units or subsidiaries and Microsoft Exchange or Outlook for others because moving from one platform to another is difficult and expensive, Gold said.
"A lot of companies are saying, 'If it works, why mess with it?'" he said. "What's key is if it's going to cost me $10 million to move, No. 1, what's the ROI and No. 2, if I use that money for something else would it be better for my company?
"I've just not seen it as a huge priority," Gold added.
For WD, the rollout was no cake walk. One of bigger hurdles was change management, or getting end users who are creatures of habit on board the new portal.
Over the past year, WD has been on a communications campaign to educate those users about what's available to them and how to access it.
"We've talked about the user name and password log-in fatigue. We've said, 'Here's some of the tools, like activedirectory.shared and Workspace One, that are coming to help that user name and password log-in fatigue," Phillpott said.
That message has been communicated through the company's intranet, which includes how-to videos and success stories, and digital signage, which is in the majority of its larger buildings. The signage posts snippets of information about the new web portal and how to use it.
Then there's what Phillpott calls, "targets of opportunities," or times when groups of employees are gathered and a manager can educate them.
"So, for example, I'll be in meeting and doing a presentation and I'll add in a 'by the way,' and I might bring up my Launch, and say, 'Hey folks, are you aware there is an application catalogue, this is what it looks like and this is how it simplifies things,'" Phillpott said. "I never waste a teachable moment."
Change management for WD continues, as does continuing to add to the growing catalogue of applications.
"We've been really, really pleased with it so far," Phillpott said. "So, for folks who need to get access to applications, instead of the typical, 'How do I get this application' or 'Where's the link to that application,' we put it all in the Workspace One portal."
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