Steeledale is one of the largest suppliers of reinforcing steel products for construction environments in South Africa, with roughly a quarter of the total market share. In addition to small branches scattered across the country, Steeledale operates two factories and three distribution centers, which help it export finished items as far afield as Ghana, Angola, Mozambique, Australia, and South America.
The company began in 1969 as a division of Aveng Manufacturing; in 2017, it became part of the Kutana Steel Group. The Steeledale IT environment was designed and run by other business units, so Chris Harito, Chief Financial Officer at Steeledale, saw this latest transition as an opportunity to move to the right architecture.
“It was important to have an IT environment that enabled our many branches to connect with each other directly, instead of going through our main branch into the Aveng managed VPN,” says Harito. “If that main branch had a power failure or other problem, it affected our whole company.”
Communication presented other challenges. “We have some fairly small, remote branches and found it tough to keep everyone connected. Our telecommunications service was unreliable, and often the video portion of our online meetings didn’t work. Personal relationships start to break down if all you have is a voice connection,” remarks Harito. “And our shareholders wanted to be able to see everyone when needed, without physically traveling among locations. Meeting in person often involved a car trip of 10 to 12 hours. We needed a more robust video solution.”
The lack of a unified IT platform across its 15-branch network meant that Steeledale had no global address book to look up email addresses and no centralized place to access calendar or presence information, making it difficult to contact IT staff, for example. “When a server went down or systems weren’t exchanging information properly, we had to locate the hardware running the affected solutions, determine who had the expertise to fix the issue, and figure out how to contact them,” says Harito. “If I hadn’t already saved that person in my contacts list, or they were new to the company or an outside vendor, it could take a couple hours to reach the right specialist.” Disparate IT systems also hindered visibility into other systems too, such as the supply chain, sales, and accounting.
Moving to the cloud
To establish its new environment, Steeledale started from scratch. IT staff members knew they wanted to move to the cloud for robust performance and more flexibility, including support for remote work. Steel is a commodity, which puts Steeledale in a competitive industry, so the company continually looks for ways to attract and retain talent. Kevin Patmore, IT Manager at Steeledale, says, “Because of the frequent power failures at certain branches, we felt the cloud would help keep our mobile sales force connected better and support most any employee’s ability to work remotely. But our previous system was rigid. We had to battle to get additional access for someone, going through essentially a whole change management scenario. We wanted something more adaptable for IT staff and employees to improve the workplace.”
Steeledale already used some Microsoft products, like Office 2013, and it had begun migrating to Office 365 for email. The company selected IT partner Netology, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, to lead a migration to Microsoft 365, the cloud-based set of business productivity and collaboration tools.
In December 2017, Steeledale finished deploying Exchange Online and Outlook for email and moved the rest of its applications to virtual machines. The company applies information rights management and rights management services to add online and offline data protection features for email messages and attachments, such as controlling who can access, forward, print, or copy sensitive data. The solution team also rolled out Microsoft Word, Excel, SharePoint Online, Power BI, Skype for Business, and Windows 10.
The migration went smoothly, in part because the team conducted it during a holiday break. Patmore also credits plenty of planning sessions with Netology before deployment. “From an employee perspective, it wasn’t a big shift,” says Harito. “As much as our IT backbone changed, employees still sign in every day, but now they use Microsoft 365 instead of the old network. Branches can rely on fiber optic and wireless connections to Microsoft datacenters, so local power outages don’t affect us like they did before.”