Salvation Army marches onward to tech unification for Australia

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Salvation Army marches onward to tech unification for Australia

From "nuts" duplication to multi-cloud SaaS.

It might look like a unified front, but from its arrival in Australia over 120 years ago, the Salvation Army had operated as two distinct entities in different parts of Australia, with completely separate IT estates and strategies.

But the times are changing, and these days even Christian soldiers need a bit of network centric consolidation.

So, after a two-year amalgamation process that wrapped up late last year, Craig Tucker, former chief information officer of the 'Southern Territory' and current CIO of the new nation-wide organisation, described the topography he inherited as “nuts” at the recent Dell Technologies Forum in Sydney.

When the merger was first floated, it was billed as a way to do more of the work that mattered and less administrative work, Tucker said.

“We had two separate organisations with two IT departments, two HR departments, two finance departments, payroll duplication, social services, and social programs, not national policy.”

Tucker’s new national IT department inherited three legacy Active Directories, three Lotus Notes email domains, four data centres (three on-prem, one at Telstra), three MPLS networks, around 1000 applications and a lagging cyber security capability.

Shadow IT was also a huge issue, with individual chapters and business units not trusting the head organisation to run things for them, leading to “hundreds of hundreds of sequel databases being spun up all over the place”.

When he approached Dell Technologies’ Sydney team, the first conversations were around where to start in consolidating the resulting blancmange of hand-me-down solutions.

The Salvos settled on a multi-cloud strategy, including software-as-a-service to replace the legacy infrastructure and data centre network without requiring a significant upfront capital investment.

“So as a consequence, the business went down the path of going to Workday for the HR system for SaaS. We’ve got [Microsoft Office] 365 on the cloud as SaaS, we’ve got ServiceNow, TechnologyOne as the employment system.”

Aside from reduced capital expenditure, Tucker said the biggest advantage of the changes will be more mobility for the organisation’s 10,000 staff.

“The counsellors, social workers or case workers, our army officers - they’re mobile and visiting people.

“Something we’ve just done which they haven’t seen yet, but they’ll see shortly, is we’ve got about 4000 mobile phones in the organisation and we’ve just signed a managed service agreement to take the pain out of IT for customer experience.”

Tucker said organisation is now working on data consolidation following its 13-week migration to Office 365, and is in talks to launch Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive.

Dell has also been contracted to build an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot for use on Microsoft Teams to streamline people’s interactions with the IT department.

Tucker added that, if successful, the chatbot has the potential to be introduced into other operational areas to reduce overheads.

As a not-for-profit, reduced overheads and increased profits across the Aged Care, Salvos Stores and Employment Plus business lines will mean more of the money people donate to the organisation can go to service delivery, rather than IT overheads.

“We know that this money is coming from legacies, from people who have left bequests through wills, or from donations, and that we have an obligation to be good stewards of that scarce resource and achieve solid returns on investment.”

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