Specsavers: In three years, we will be based largely on the cloud

Cloud will underpin opticians' focus on exciting new technology projects

Specsavers' IT will be housed mostly in the cloud in three years' time, according to its CIO.

Phil Pavitt is offloading the management of decades of legacy infrastructure at the opticians to Accenture in a five-year deal, as he concentrates on projects designed to prioritise customer data, create a worldwide digital presence for his brand, and reorganise his back office.

Some of these schemes will eventually be based in a private cloud, he told Cloud Pro, allowing Specsavers to realise some benefits of having a virtualised infrastructure.

Pavitt said: “We are looking at cloud-based infrastructure globally. We are also changing our network provision globally, so they will be the underpinning elements of those big three change programmes.

“I wouldn’t say [they will be based on the cloud] straight away, it will be a migration over the next two or three years [when], yes, we’ll be largely based on the cloud.”

Legal issues like data not being able to leave certain countries could limit Specsavers' cloud use, but Pavitt said the aim is to create a network that spans geographies to give the company one single backbone on which systems can be hosted.

“We need a strong global presence, and cloud-based gives us the computing power we need,” he said. “We have thousands of retail outlets so we need a strong network to maintain that. That’s why we’re very attracted to the cloud.

“There will be some public but primarily it'll be at the private cloud end. Like everybody who experiments in this space, we’ll probably start there and as time goes by and we get more confident, we’ll probably take advantage of more and more public cloud.”

Out with the old

But first Pavitt needed to do something about what he calls Specsavers' “heritage systems” - legacy kit, some of which is now 20 years old.

This infrastructure was holding Specsavers back, not in terms of any requirement to divert resources to maintain it, but the actual technical limitations of the systems.

“There came a point where those systems didn’t stop us trading, but certainly meant we were fairly less efficient than perhaps we could have been,” he said. “They also didn’t give us the digital flexibility we need for the future.”

As Pavitt explains, Accenture will provide maintenance, support and, in some cases, minor improvements to Specsavers' legacy infrastructure in cases where that kit will be useful for a few more years.

“They are really bringing to us and for me personally a degree of comfort that says 'okay I now have a professional partner managing my heritage systems',” Pavitt says. “I now don’t have to worry so much about that, now let’s worry about our new ones.”

Global platform

One of those aforementioned projects is, in fact, a cloud-based one - Specsavers is hosting customers' eye records on an eClinicalWorks cloud platform, and is linking it into Specsaver's CRM, product data, store ordering and finance systems.

Pavitt says: “We are currently piloting a new platform and we intend, once that is successful, to have a single global platform around the world, which is allowing us to bring an omni-channel solution to our retail and online presence. That’s a very important programme for us.”

The database has been implemented in New Zealand, with UK and Australia roll-outs due in 2016.

Back office centralisation

Linked to this is a project to reorganise back office IT, centralising most of Specsavers' kit on Oracle and converting smaller systems to that kernel.

“We are primarily becoming more and more Oracle at our core,” says Pavitt. “The Oracle products that we have are integrating a supply chain, logistics, manufacturing and finance, ERP. It is very hard to put those on separate systems, so having a system like Oracle who can handle all those aspects is entirely integrated makes a lot more sense.”

That said, other kit including an SAP HR system and Google software will remain separate from the Oracle systems, because they offer best of breed functionality.

Customer data

Lastly, Pavitt wants to make better use of Specsavers' customer data, potentially by using it to enhance the customer experience in-store.

“Like any organisation we have lots of customer data that you don’t necessarily join up or use as well as you could,” he admits. “We are discovering that for ourselves like everybody else is. We’re trying to work out how to organise it and systemise it.”

Saying Specsavers is right in the middle of doing that, though staying quiet on the details, Pavitt adds that its millions of customers offer a “rich seam that we can actually use to help those customers have a much better experience with us”.