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Guinness World Records bets on Office 365 and AWS to boost business expansion

Rob Howe, director of IT at Guinness World Records, opens up about how cloud is supporting the organisation’s ongoing push to diversify its business

The Guinness Book of World Records is a verified publishing phenomenon, having sold 141 million copies over its 62-year history, and three million of those in 2017 alone.

Each year, the book contains thousands of entries, charting the record-breaking feats and achievements of the human race and the wider natural world, all pulled together by a relatively small, yet geographically dispersed, in-house team of people.

At the same time, the company has also been making a concerted effort over the past five years to diversify its brand, and expand its business interests beyond book publishing, while still drawing on its expertise and knowledge of all things record-breaking.

For example, the organisation now provides support to third-party organisations that may want to incorporate a record-breaking feat into the launch campaign of a new product, as part of its wider marketing efforts.

Behind the scenes, this push for diversification has been underpinned by an overhaul of its internal IT setup, from both an infrastructure and applications points of view, that has seen its IT department embrace cloud wholeheartedly.

That includes migrating 200 of the firm’s employees from on-premise Exchange to Microsoft’s cloud-based business productivity suite, Office 365, while working towards moving much of its IT infrastructure estate to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

“It is the IT department’s job to make sure we can respond to the ever-growing changes within our business model, so we can take up new opportunities and move into new markets,” says Rob Howe, IT director at Guinness World Records.

And sticking with “static” systems such as on-premise Exchange were at odds with the company’s push to become more “flexible and dynamic”, he says.

“Going forward, cloud gives us far more flexibility to grow, rather than being constrained, and that’s always my focus – that we have more options than less,” Howe adds.

Particularly as the size of the company has increased steadily during Howe’s six years with the organisation. Its corporate footprint has doubled in that time from three offices to six, with sites in London, Miami, New York, Dubai, Beijing and Tokyo.

“It is the IT department’s job to make sure we can respond to the ever-growing changes within our business model”

Rob Howe, Guinness World Records

“We also have people in Australia, and we have someone working in Brazil, and one in Italy and Turkey,” he says. “They might not all work for us full-time, but they are our representatives and need to be kept up to speed, engaged and connected.”

Which is why the move to Office 365, which the firm undertook with the help of IT service provider Exponential-E, has been so important, says Howe.

“We started planning it in July 2017, the actual work started in September and we finished the entire migration in November,” he says.

“We’re still rolling out certain modules, but the actual core of the work was done in November, so it was quite a short timeframe, and was perfectly in line with the project plan.”

The fact that the migration went without a hitch was all in the planning, as the project was designed with flexibility built in to accommodate any hold-ups, says Howe.

“Exponential-E are really good at going through things in detail and making sure they understand the business and key dates, rather than just the technology, and from my perspective it was about making sure we understood the overall picture, not just the detail, of what we were trying to achieve,” he says.

“We also made sure there were enough discrete chunks of work built-in that we could chop and change if we needed to, and move tasks around without affecting the overall project because we followed the agile methodology technique of making it discrete deliverables.”

Meeting the brief

One of the key drivers for Guinness World Records’ move to cloud was to achieve greater business flexibility, while helping its geographically dispersed workforce feel more connected to each another. And the deployment has fulfilled both those ambitions, says Howe.

“They all like Skype for Business, which has improved our video conferencing capabilities and reliability across the world, and people find it intuitive to use, whereas some other video conferencing tools have proved challenging in the past,” he says.

Rolling out Microsoft’s cloud-based storage service OneDrive to users as part of the move to Office 365 has also helped reduce the time it takes the IT department to roll out new PCs and devices to people because the team no longer needs to move user files from one machine to another.

“We have gone from rolling out one machine in a day and a half to two a day, which is a big improvement,” says Howe. “People are finding it far more useful to use OneDrive, especially when they are in other remote territories, because it gives them far better speeds, rather than trying to connect to a datacentre in Heathrow for shared files, for example.”

The move to cloud has also coincided with a change in attitude within the IT department, which is now focused on proactively addressing the needs of the business rather than reacting to them, says Howe.

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At present, the only part of the organisation’s IT estate that is not being earmarked for migration to the AWS cloud is its development environment – but that is not set in stone. Nor is there a set deadline for the company to conclude its cloud move.

“It’s something that is in progress and we are trying to get it done as quickly as we can, but because of the scale of the work, we are not constraining it to any deadline,” says Howe.

With the move to AWS continuing apace, and its migration to Office 365 now largely complete, next on the company’s technology agenda will be an overhaul of its telephony systems, with Howe floating the idea of moving to unified communications.

“At the moment, each office has its own separate telephony system, so the plan there would be to get that into a cloud solution and bring that closer to Office 365 by linking it all together and to achieve unified communications,” he says.

The fact that Guinness World Records’ earlier forays into cloud have gone so well has given it even more confidence that the direction it is heading in – both from a business and technology perspective – is the right one, he says.

“The [Office 365] project has allowed us to take a big step forward in becoming more flexible and responsive to the business, rather than reactive and allowing us to get out in front, which is key, especially as we continue to expand and diversify as a business and continue to add new services,” says Howe.

“Every year there is something new we’re expanding into, so it is a key first step, and if it hadn’t gone smoothly, it would have made everything far more challenging.”

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