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Consumer rights champion Which? begins digital journey

Consumer rights organisation has always had a subscription business, but is now transforming into a digital one through cloud computing

Customer expectations have prompted consumer rights service Which? to embark on a journey to transform its traditional subscription business into a digital one.

The organisation has begun a programme to replace its core legacy system, which provides subscription management and customer relationship management (CRM), with multiple cloud services.

The company is overhauling its complete IT estate as it reshapes, and is using Salesforce.com for CRM and Zuora for subscription software.

Which? is the envy of many businesses because it can attract people to its services, but it needs to convert these people to regular customers and retain its privileged position as a trusted source.

Denis Haman, CTO at Which?, said 70% of UK adults visit at least one Which? website in an average year, but the organisation is not taking this for granted. “At some point, 35 million people end up on our portfolio of websites in a year, so it’s a big business,” he said. “So either we disrupt ourselves or someone else will come in and do it.”

Haman said Which? has an advantage over other services, such as price comparison sites, because of its “fierce independence and rigorous product and service reviews”.

“But people will increasingly want to consume our services on their terms,” he added, because consumption preferences are changing across sectors.

A YouGov survey of 2,000 Brits, sponsored by Zuora, found that, for example, almost a quarter were likely to subscribe to a car as a service this year, paying a monthly fee to use a car parked nearby, rather than buying one.

The research also found that the most popular subscription-based service in the UK was insurance, with TV and utilities not far behind.

Although Which? has always offered a subscription model with its monthly magazine, this does not go far enough, said Haman – the company needs to offer customers more through a wider variety of digital channels. “If we are going to attract new audiences, then you cannot carry on with the same offering,” he said.

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It has to start by replacing its legacy IT estate, he said. “The kinds of experience we want to put together need foundational technologies to be in place to be able to iterate quickly and evolve,” he added.

The company has instigated a three-year programme to replace its fragmented and monolithic IT systems.

It is at the start of this journey and is likely to end up with hybrid cloud infrastructure, said Haman.

It is already using Amazon Web Services, which he said has made a huge difference. “Anything that we think beneficial to us to be in the cloud will be moved to the cloud,” he added.

Which? hopes to go live with Zuora’s subscription management software in early 2019. It has already gone live with some parts of Salesforce.com, with other roll-outs planned for January. “It is a programme of work that will take up to three years,” said Haman.

“We have a large estate and we are also restructuring teams with new ways of working.”

The firm’s IT teams are becoming more agile and in line with the latest technologies, said Haman. “If you are moving from on-premise technology to a hybrid cloud, you need a new set of skills,” he added.

Which? is currently recruiting heavily and once all vacancies are filled, it will have about 70 IT staff out of a total workforce of 850 across three UK sites.

Without cloud services like Zuora’s, Which? would have to do more work in-house, said Haman. “We would do home-brew solutions which, over the years, becomes more unwieldy.”

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