No other company has attempted a migration to the cloud of the size and scale currently being undertaken by the human resources giant Randstad.

The HR and flexible working services business operates in 39 countries. It has more than 38,000 employees and 4,800 offices. In 2015, Randstad embarked on a massive undertaking to centralize its global IT infrastructure.

Two years later, the company began migrating its IT applications to the public cloud. The business case was simple – it would significantly increase efficiencies, reduce risk, provide substantial long-term cost savings and provide state-of-the-art security and compliance.

The mass migration also allowed Randstad to forge ahead with its global digital strategy.

But it meant a radical transformation of a business model that had served the company well for more than 55 years.

From local IT infrastructure to global cloud

Since inception, Randstad’s IT has been organized through local systems in each operating company. These systems were supported by local teams in 29 IT departments spread across the world. The project had to tackle over 1,600 legacy applications in more than 50 data centers and networks in 39 countries.

The challenge was to replace this ‘local for local’ model with a global shared service center and migrate applications, systems and networks to the cloud.

“The migrations of the applications of these operating companies are performed live. In effect, we are taking 39 small and medium-sized businesses to the public cloud. All together, these companies make up the Randstad Group and produce in excess of $20bn in annual revenue,” explains Bernardo Payet, General Manager of Randstad Global IT Solutions.

Bernardo Payet, General Manager of Randstad Global IT Solutions

“It’s a bold move, and the first time a company of this magnitude has fully migrated to the public cloud at this pace. We are essentially performing three migrations in parallel: moving applications to the public cloud, transforming networks to SDN over Meraki, and implementing VoIP on a multi-tenant cloud platform. This is then handed over into an offshore delivery support model,” adds Payet.

Fast-moving and focused

Of course, the migration hasn’t been without its challenges.

Originally, there were an estimated 700 applications to migrate over a period of around 18 months. But that figure doubled once work began, lengthening the timescale to two-and-a-half years. In addition, the original idea was a lift and shift straight into the cloud, but many of the legacy applications needed a complete rebuild and redesign.

Perhaps even more challenging was the fact that the migrations were live. During the entire process the company has continued to operate, effectively having to change the wheels on the bus while still driving it.

“It was a challenging environment, there were other priorities running in tandem such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and other competing initiatives, so getting resource prioritisation and availability from operating companies has been challenging,” says Payet.

However, the company still managed to migrate over 600 applications in less than a year, one of the most ambitious and fastest public cloud migrations to date for a global firm, and one that sets a new benchmark for digital transformation at this scale.

Learning on the job

Adopting a surgical approach was key to the success of the project. 650 people in 23 countries were deployed, and while this represents a huge amount of resources, it allowed the company to get things done effectively and quickly.

The project was originally conceived as a waterfall model, but it quickly became clear that, with something of this magnitude and with so many unknowns, the approach had to be much more agile.

Lessons learnt in one country could quickly be applied to the roll-out in another. It was critical to involve the business, to listen to what their needs were in terms of supporting the roll-out and implementation in their country, building and learning every step of the way with a continuous improvement of the process.

It is the fact that Randstad decided to move so many applications to the public cloud – as opposed to the private cloud – that really stands out, according to Payet.

“We decided to migrate everything at once into the public cloud, at a pace four or five times faster than other companies of our size have attempted. Other companies would traditionally put all of the production systems in private cloud and only test environments into public,” he explains.

In order to achieve this rapid transformation, Randstad partnered with Tata Consultancy Services to design and deploy the public cloud marketplace for IT infrastructure services.

“We found in TCS the perfect combination of contextual understanding, technology foresight and the willingness to invest in a relationship to make this initiative succeed. It quickly became clear that TCS’ expertise and track record of delivering large scale, multi-market Digital and IT projects made it the best possible partner for us,” he says.

Leveraging the latest technologies

Security and compliance were key drivers of the decision to move to the cloud. By moving into a common global architecture and deploying state-of-the-art security standards, Randstad Group could better protect its infrastructure. It would reduce the amount of entry points to the systems, as well as introduce intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS), two of the latest trends in emerging technology.

This radical change to the business model was part of a wider digital transformation, positioning the company as the most agile integrator of HR services. Its new digital strategy facilitates and improves not only the accuracy and efficiency of placements but the experience and the results for both customers and candidates.

“These investments will give us the agility to develop and deploy new applications faster, and leverage new technologies like AI and machine learning, which are now available to us on these cloud platforms,” states Payet.

“We are very proud of the achievements to date in support of our digital transformation. These are not only significant firsts for Randstad, but also new benchmarks in the industry.”