Helping Aspen build IT infrastructure to support its growing business
Triple4 (in one of its earlier incarnations) first began working with Aspen when the company was busy standardising five e-mail systems onto Microsoft Exchange, based on Active Directory.
JSE-listed Aspen Pharmacare supplies branded and generic pharmaceuticals to markets in approximately 100 countries, and consumer and nutritional products in selected territories. It is one of the world’s top suppliers of generic medicines, with 18 manufacturing facilities at 13 sites. Four of the sites are located in South Africa, four in Australia, and one each in Kenya, Tanzania, Brazil, Mexico and Germany.
Aspen has grown strongly through acquisitions over the past few years, and in response, the group has developed an IT model that echoes the federated business model. The business units run applications specific to their needs or based on their history.
“At an infrastructure level, however, it’s very important that IT provides a group-wide platform that enables effective communication between units, and integration of the subset of common applications and services,” says Pat Williams, Group IT Infrastructure Manager at Aspen. “That solid platform has to support both our manufacturing and commercial operations worldwide.”
This approach means that while enterprise applications might not be standardised across the board – business units run on both SAP and Baan at present, for example – global standards are much more important at the operating platform and network layers. The IT infrastructure is what enables Aspen to operate as a cohesive entity, especially given its strong growth pattern.
For Aspen, therefore, IT infrastructure has emerged as a strategic competence and a key enabler of growth.
One of the challenges of creating a common operating platform layer within this kind of federated business and IT model is creating something that is application-agnostic, while enabling the disparate parts of the Aspen world to collaborate and communicate. To do this means having the right building blocks in place: “Triple4 plays an important role in helping us to get those basics right,” Williams says. “With them in place, it’s much easier to integrate new acquisitions into the Aspen ecosystem.”
Aspen began virtualising its infrastructure some years ago, and so has invested in building VMware skills in-house. However, Williams sees Triple4’s VMware expertise as a key advantage because, as he puts it, IT issues can be debated on their own merits – there is no need to debate virtualisation itself each time. “It also means that the Triple4 team acts as a great sounding board for our virtualisation team,” he adds. Aspen also purchases its VMware product through Triple4, as it is an accredited VMware partner.
Williams and his team have come to see Triple4 as an extension of the Aspen team. “We obviously can’t have all the possible skills in-house just in case they might be needed, so that’s why trusted partners like Triple4 are so important – and become part of what we do,” he notes. As an example, Triple4 is taking full responsibility for some elements of a major project, migrating Aspen’s Australian acquisition – both vital enablers of the group-wide communication and collaboration platform that creates the Aspen totality.
“In fact, a senior Triple4 resource will be going to Australia for two weeks soon to assist in the final transition, act as a trouble-shooter, and generally provide an objective view of what is going on,” Williams says. “This is a great commitment, and it shows that this is a healthy, growing relationship. Triple4 is absolutely aligned with our strategic imperatives regarding our IT infrastructure, and they will do whatever it takes to help us achieve them.”
“In the late stages of the migration, we began to experience significant performance issues in the Exchange environment. We were working with a tier-one infrastructure provider, but they were also caught off-guard, and it was clear we needed help – and fast. The Triple4 guys responded with the right level of urgency and solved the problem within 48 hours. We were blown away,” Williams recalls. “Since then, we have come to rely on Triple4’s sheer competence, its responsiveness and the objectivity they bring.”
Pat Williams, Former Group IT Infrastructure Manager