Rentokil opens up core IT systems to business

The IT department at Rentokil Initial has delivered coding interfaces to its back-end ERP system to enable the business to create new applications

The IT department at Rentokil Initial has delivered coding interfaces to its back-end ERP system to enable the business to create new applications on their own.

Back-end IT systems like ERP software tend to be managed tightly by IT as they are business critical and hold core operational data.

The IT department created a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) to extend its ERP system without having to expend time and effort developing new ERP functionality.

Antony Meadows, director of enterprise delivery at Rentokil Initial, said: "The business is starting to have capabilities to create IT."

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The catalogue of APIs is available to departments other than IT, enabling them to create their own applications that communicate directly with the core ERP system, without IT having to get involved.

ServiceTrack, a mobile application for field staff, which provides mobile access to the core ERP, is one of the first apps developed using these APIs. The app provides mapping and alerts, and enables technicians to see which jobs are next. It is also possible to book new jobs directly from the device. Users can email an issue, which is uploaded onto AWS. The app is being deployed on £100 mobile devices to technicians in Asia, a considerable saving compared to the £1000 ruggedised devices deployed in the UK.

Meadows said the app was developed outside of IT, using API management tool Mulesoft to manage the APIs, exposing functionality to the developers within the business. "With the API layer opened up, the business does not need to go to IT."

While ServiceTrack is internally-focused to improve efficiency Meadows said Rentokil was also working on a system to link to customer systems such as the  facility management IT systems they use. According to Meadows, the system will remove thousands of hours of admin, reducing the need for  customers to rekey information into their own systems.

For Meadows, opening up the mission-critical enterprise IT APIs has helped IT move closer to the business. He said: "We are moving from a pure provider of IT to helping the business create value."

The business is also piloting internet of things applications such adding sensors in soap dispensers, to check not only if they need refilling, but also to provide data such as compliance in food hygiene. Developed by the business, the HygineConnect soap dispenser application uses the APIs published by IT to talk to the core ERP, to collect the data and signal a workflow that leads to the soap dispenser being refilled.

Rentokil started its journey to open up IT with the rollout of Google Docs and Gmail to 35,000 staff in 2010. At the time it became one of the biggest enterprises to move to Google. Meadows said: "Google changed the mindset of the business," As an example he said Google enabled business uses to create their own mobile apps using the Google Sheet spreadhseet app and simple scripting.

Meadows and the IT team at Rentokil worked with the business on defining the role of the IT department and how it operated with the developers within business departments. He said: "A lightweight mobile app that does not talk to the back-end does not require IT."

For those apps and applications that do need to talk to the back-end system, Meadows' team created a set of data integration APIs and a lightweight govenance famework to manage access and reduce duplication of effort, when people within the business inadvertantly develop an application or web service that already exists.

Commenting on the move to provide direct API access to the ERP system, Meadows said: "No one asks IT to write Excel macros." His ambition is that the business will be able to access the data locked in the ERP system in a controlled way and IT provides the framework using APIs and lightweight governance to enable it to achieve this. Over time he expected more and more of the ERP functions would be created by the business

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