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Case study: Dutch firm Fugro moves to the cloud

Geodata company Fugro is moving its IT infrastructure to the cloud in a project led by CIO Gerko Baarslag

The bulk of the IT infrastructure at geodata company Fugro will be in the cloud within two years, according to Gerko Baarslag, CIO at the Dutch-founded company, and the aim is to replace about 75% of the company’s IT infrastructure around the globe.

When Baarslag took over as CIO at the beginning of 2015, cloud computing was hardly used at all at Fugro. “I was hired to deliver world-class IT to the company, and to enable Fugro to get more added value out of IT.”

With those goals in mind, he introduced a cloud-first strategy. “In order to get innovative IT solutions, we are first going to look at the possibilities cloud offers instead of putting too much time, effort and money into operating datacentres.”

Fugro is the world’s largest integrator of geotechnical, survey, subsea and geosciences services, with sales worth €2.6bn a year, 13,500 employees, and a presence in more than 70 countries.

“I have to make sure we can work anywhere, any time, and that is hard when your datacentres and applications are spread around and not optimally connected. We would have to invest a lot in our datacentres and applications to make them future-proof, so the cloud with its flexibility and capabilities is a better choice for us.”

Baarslag reckons the most important thing he has accomplished at Fugro is to get full support for cloud computing from the board of directors. “I have also created a policy for when we are to use the cloud and when we should not. You have to take into account that cloud entails new risks.”

A formal risk assessment process has been put in place. Before anything is moved to the cloud, a standard template must be filled in. “How do you assess the risks? Who owns the data? What degree of seniority has the cloud vendor? The risk assessment is then audited by me and the chief security officer.”

Baarslag expects the risk assessments to show that it is often more risky to handle IT in-house than to move it to the cloud. “There are many ideas out there about cloud not being safe, and most of them are not true. Big cloud computing vendors like Amazon, Google and Microsoft invest enormous sums in security.”

But he added that risks exist, and CIOs have to be aware of them. “For example, cloud computing makes you very dependent on a good internet connection. That is often fine in Europe, but the internet connection is not always reliable in remote parts of the world or, for example, Africa.”

Fugro is therefore going for a hybrid solution, according to Baarslag. “We have vessels, and on them we will continue to have local datacentres – in the middle of the Indian Ocean you cannot get good enough bandwidth. Since we work all over the globe, we cannot go for 100% cloud.”

He added that data latency and data privacy laws are also contributing factors.

Read more about IT in the Netherlands

Fugro has not yet decided which cloud suppliers to use. “But it will be two or three of the leading cloud providers. There is no single cloud provider that can provide everything we need in all regions, and there is also a big risk in being dependent on only one provider.”

Baarslag did not find it particularly hard to convince management to go for a cloud-first strategy. “I told them how cloud enables us to work any time, anywhere; how it enables us to easily upscale and downscale our capacity; how it makes it possible for us to implement state-of-the-art IT really quickly with software as a service; and that it enables us to move from capital expenditure to operational expenditure.

“I then showed the board how the strategic benefits could be balanced with the risks involved.”

Buy-in

The next step will be to get the IT department motivated. “I will make people enthusiastic about the shift, and I will translate the makeover into which skillsets, ways of working and attitudes we will need to be successful.”

Baarslag has worked extensively with cloud computing in different companies over the last five years. He says the most important thing he has learned during this time is that a move to cloud computing is more about change management than IT.

“To begin with, you have to make it concrete what the change is all about. And then you have to change the IT department in a profound way, so that it becomes more of a business partner than a traditional IT department. And that takes time – in my previous workplace it took two to three years.”

Fugro’s global IT community consists of about 200 people, mainly focused on infrastructure management, and Baarslag does not expect everybody to embrace the shift to cloud. “I have to be honest with the employees: your job might disappear, but new roles will be created. You might find these new roles more interesting than your old job, and if you do not, you have some time to look for another career.”

In a previous cloud transition that Baarslag managed, around 60% of staff in the IT department were affected. “Either they got a new role with new competencies, or they left the company. The CIO has to be the transition manager and change agent – that is the role of the new CIO. I do not consider myself an IT specialist, but an IT transition specialist – I have a degree in sociology,” he says.

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Smart move and inevitable for all of us. As we once shifted out of huge, big, small, smaller floppies to unimaginably massive hard drives, we're all going to move to the cloud. Incrementally first, but I suspect there will soon be a stampede to keep up with companies like Fugro. 
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