CIO of New Zealand’s Department of Conversation (DOC), Mike Edginton, and Accenture Managing Director, Nick Mulcahy (former CEO of Zag which was acquired by Accenture in 2020), discuss their learnings around leveraging AWS cloud-native services to drive greater value from SAP investments. With a focus on reliable in-field data collection, matching and layering datasets, and applying Machine Learning, DOC is building a digital twin of the natural environment to assist with critical conservation efforts. Their journey is one we can all learn from.

DOC is the government agency charged with conserving New Zealand’s natural and historic heritage. Its purpose is ‘Papatūānuku Thrives’ and all work is guided by the outcomes of Te ora o Papatūānuku (Healthy nature), Te hunga Atawhai (People who care) and Te ora o te Hapori (Thriving communities).

A quick history – DOC and AWS

“DOC runs everything on AWS, we shifted all our enterprise data and workloads there in 2016/17 following our selection of AWS,” says Edginton. Prior to that, DOC was operating its own physical infrastructure. “The main driver was that our on-prem data centre in Wellington was 100% end of life, we had sweated that asset as far as we could. Being stuck on-premise and replacing servers was not my idea of fun.”

“Regarding the move, I have good memories – it was well staged, well designed, just a few hiccups, but as there always are. We decided to do a lift and shift and think about refining after.”

What to expect with a cloud migration

“Our customers don’t care where they take the services from, just as long as they work. I think every CIO would tell you the only emails they get are complaints from customers about lack of service,” says Edginton.

“You hear stories of internal resistance and people being attached to their data centres. The fact is that going to a cloud environment is inevitable, but it’s about the Change Management that you put in place for those who will be affected.”

“I guaranteed training – ongoing training and development in cloud services – and assurance that jobs would not be lost. The training we provided pretty much shifted everyone’s perceptions.

The other internal concern was around latency and the delivery of a cloud service back into NZ [with the data and workloads running in an AWS data centre in Sydney]. When we implemented Amazon Workspace for all staff, this changed everyone’s minds and put people at ease – including those working with heavy data processing like geospatial.

“The geospatial team was happy, the production support team was happy, and our support vendors were all happy as well.”

Mulcahy adds, “In more recent years we’ve seen a shift in the customer base away from the concerns Mike’s mentioned. Absolutely the conversations we were having in 2015/2016 were around latency but now it’s a case of ‘which cloud will we move to’ and ‘how will that work for us from a security perspective’.

“Security is definitely still a concern people need to be answered but we’ve only had one customer in the last 2 years raise the latency discussion.”

“Interesting, this company had the same concern as Mike’s team around heavy geospatial workloads. Like DOC, they’re in a remote part of New Zealand and were worried about the ability to get the actual network in there. But since then, that company has gone live on S/4HANA in the cloud, so we’ve definitely seen a shift away from those early nervous days.”

Combing cloud-native services with SAP

DOC use SAP for Enterprise Resource Planning in two major areas: Finance (for the entire department) and Asset Management including work scheduling (for visitor asset maintenance and biodiversity work). For mobile in-field data collection (mobile SAP asset management), DOC uses Zag’s product BlueWorx.

Edginton explains, “We’ve expanded the use of Asset Management in SAP to include natural assets; ecosystems, species, waterways, national parks and natural reserve areas; all managed in a workspace inside our SAP ERP system, in Plant Maintenance specifically, and treated like traditional assets.

In addition to the SAP data, there is a lot of information DOC gathers that doesn’t sit in SAP. “For example, the condition and trends of forests and grasslands all over NZ is a massive data set that’s not held in SAP, but the work-related data and the financial data is, and so we use analytics, AI and ML tools in AWS to better understand the data and also to match it with the cost related data.”

“With SAP and AWS together, there’s the ability to tell a far richer story with those datasets.”

“To give an example on the species side, we need to measure the presence, absence, density of predators in our forest, and we are doing that through several techniques. One of those is trapping, camera traps – recording that, and the sound files gathered about the species that are present.

There is something like 150 terabytes of sound bites that need to be processed and analysed. We have been using the standard AI and ML tools in AWS to decode those files and build tools that enable the machine to learn and further identify the different species on those files.

The ability to do that night on night, literally terabytes and terabytes of data, will give us a much richer understanding of what’s out there. And with cross-correlation, we can understand more about the densities and distributions of those species.”

“On the human side, we’re able to track and use data from telcos about where people are going and combining that with what we know from the bookings and services on our network. We’re able to understand how far visitors are moving into the places that we manage and what the densities of use are. We also have visitor counters on the trails which are linked back into SAP, and we’re able to use that data more widely as well.”

“I call it a digital twin of the natural environment which is built through spatial layering and analysis of the data; understand where people are, understand where predators are, understand the condition of every one of those ecosystems that we manage.”

Selecting the platform for innovation

Mulcahy says, “What we often recommend to SAP customers is; if you’re innovating just on the SAP application, you’re not using data from a third party, and the SAP tool will allow you to innovate it, then use the SAP tool. SAP does have its own version of ML, AI etc. but it tends to be more limited to ‘system of record’ use cases as opposed to something like what DOC is doing. So, if the tools are there, and that’s where the data is already, then we’d recommend doing it on that platform. But 90% of our customers are just like DOC, they rely on datasets outside of SAP.

“The real innovation and insights come when you bring SAP in and alongside other datasets. At that point you’re moving data anyway so you might as well make use of the cloud-native tools and services as they tend to be more feature-rich and user friendly.”

“In short, there is some innovation purely on SAP, but we tend to find, if you’re already on AWS or another hyperscaler, taking advantage of those additional services just makes sense.”

Managing a SAP on cloud environment

Migrating SAP to AWS is just the first step in the journey. You must then manage and optimise that environment.

“Mike was after a service where he could simply consume what he wanted to consume and ensure that it worked for his customers. We migrated DOC from their on-premise licensing to a partner managed cloud model and, at the same time, took over the care and support of their infrastructure and so forth. Essentially, DOC pays us a monthly fee to manage their SAP environment and make sure it’s there ready and available for their customers. It doesn’t look like an on-premise arrangement at all from Mike’s perspective, it’s a pay as you use model, which is great for them,” says Mulcahy.

“If you’re an existing on-premise customer, the opportunity exists to migrate to more of a SaaS model. You’ve got both options there available to you, it just depends on the key drivers for your organisation.”

“Moving to the as-a-Service model has really enabled the flexibility that I was looking for in Service Delivery,” comments Edginton. “As the customer, it has simplified things remarkably for me. My SAP team can focus on the value-add rather than system maintenance, patching, and things like that.

Our SAP team is relatively small, they understand the application, but they also understand the business intimately, so now they’re able to work with the business far more to drive value, rather than the daily grind of keeping things patched, up to date, and fixed.”

“Over on the Zag team side, they’re bloody good at innovating and supporting SAP in the cloud. They have the scalability that I don’t have in my team and that’s the difference.”

“Not only are we getting a better service, but we’re also able to provision new improvements and solutions to the business faster.”

Tips for running SAP on AWS

We’ll leave you with Edginton and Mulcahy’s top five tips for running SAP in the cloud based on the trails blazed on DOC’s journey:

  • Focus on Change Management, bring your team on the journey
  • Just get started, you can refine and perfect later
  • Choose the right partner, ensure they have specialist expertise in SAP on AWS
  • Leverage AWS and cloud-native tools to better manage SAP
  • Make use of greater roadmap flexibility when SAP is in the cloud – get innovating!

If you need help getting started, you know where to find us.