If you’re not worried about avoiding a financially devastating cyberattack, reducing the total cost of your transportation company’s technology footprint or attracting and retaining qualified IT talent, this story might not be for you.
But before you stop reading, consider that each of these concerns was very much at play in the decision by NFI, North America’s sixth-largest dedicated contract carrier, to move its TMS and fleet management software – along with more than 2.5 terabytes of related data – to Trimble and Microsoft Azure’s cloud platform.
If this sounds like a major undertaking, it was – with 81 servers and more than 1,000 system users, the dedicated business’s IT infrastructure had been built over a decade. Moving on from this foundation, therefore, required months of study, a significant financial investment and painstaking attention to detail by the project teams. Yet the journey was based on NFI’s future-forward philosophy combined with a realistic view of the challenges facing businesses that are deeply reliant on digital technology.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain IT talent,” explains Scott Nelson, vice president of IT client services for NFI. “One of the first things I observed after our move was that the amount of knowledgeable resources available to manage and support our environment increased significantly. My prior concerns of having a small handful of NFI resources who were in a position to administer and maintain our environment is no longer something that keeps me up at night. Now we have the full Trimble bench of resources that can assist as needed.”
Solution: A Clear View Forward
NFI adopted a cloud-first strategy several years ago and had already moved its port drayage business to a hosted solution before beginning to explore the benefits of the Trimble and its Microsoft Azure infrastructure in early 2021. The company’s dedicated business – which supports approximately 4,600 tractors, 12,500 trailers and 4,000 drivers – utilizes Trimble’s TMW.Suite transportation management and TMT Fleet Maintenance solutions.
Nelson is quick to acknowledge that NFI’s size and resources might make it a less obvious candidate for the cloud. “I speak to my peers at smaller trucking companies and they have 10 or 15 people in their IT departments,” he says. “They are potentially more exposed if those crucial resources leave their organizations. I would absolutely recommend they take a look at (the cloud).”
Despite its scale, NFI, like any transportation business, is an increasingly attractive target for cyberattacks. It’s “pretty clear,” Nelson says, that hackers view the logistics industry as vulnerable. Indeed, UK-based information security firm NCC Group recently reported attacks on supply chain businesses jumped 51% during the second half of 2021.
“While we’re working on a lot of security initiatives, it was extremely appealing to know that we can rely on (Trimble and Microsoft) resources who are solely focused and educated to make sure our data is protected and our environment is protected,” Nelson says. “They have a disaster recovery solution that, should something ever get compromised, enables us to do a cutover very quickly.”
Results: Impressive ROI
Cost benefits were important as well. Although the migration represented a net new expense – never a pleasant prospect for those in the C-suite – Nelson and his team conducted an intensive cost analysis that ultimately showed the company could save 15 to 20% over a three-year period by moving to the platform. This exercise compared all budgeted costs, including server count, licenses, upgrade compliance costs, scheduled refreshes of hardware, disaster recovery expenses and personnel. “In factoring all of these items, there was a notable reduction that really made it a no-brainer,” Nelson says.
Path to Success
While NFI’s strategy is cloud-first whenever practicable, one factor overrides all others: the transition from on-prem servers must be accomplished with minimal impact on operations. In other words, no surprises. Together, the NFI, Trimble and Microsoft teams invested the necessary time and brain power to map out every step in the process, anticipate potential complications and establish daily, weekly and monthly milestones to ensure a trouble-free migration.
The teams utilized a “lift-and-shift” approach involving a several-month discovery phase during which every element of the NFI environment was documented then replicated within the Microsoft Azure environment. “Our goal was to make sure everything worked exactly the same way,” he says. “When we did the migration, the build was nearly identical with only small changes that needed to be made.”
The biggest challenge – and where Microsoft’s unique expertise was most apparent – came in migrating NFI’s database. The team landed on a solution that entailed copying a backup one week prior to the migration then synching transactional logs between that time and the go-live. “What that meant for us as a business was that rather than an eight- to 10-hour outage to copy and move the data, moving the data took one to two hours,” he explains.
Looking back, Nelson has virtually nothing but positive feedback on the project.
“This felt different,” he says. “With the prior upgrades I have done, I’ve positioned my teams for anywhere from one to three months to deal with the fallout. Going into this one, I positioned them the same way – I wanted to make sure that when something didn’t work as expected, I had all hands on deck and ready to go.”
In retrospect, however, those hands weren’t necessary. “The second we had any disruption that could jeopardize when we could migrate, the Trimble team just swarmed – they were all over it. They showed they really wanted this to be successful.”