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Peter Weis, CIO of shipping company Matson, at re:Invent 2016, Las Vegas. (Dan Richman/GeekWire photos)
Peter Weis, CIO of shipping company Matson, at re:Invent 2016, Las Vegas. (Dan Richman/GeekWire photos)

Moving to Amazon Web Services is proving pricey for Matson, a Honolulu-based shipping company that last month announced it has abandoned its four data centers in favor of going all-in with AWS. But the expense isn’t coming from renting AWS’s computing and storage resources. Rather, it’s from the salaries Matson is having to pay for IT staffers and developers who know how to best take advantage of what AWS offers.

“We were surprised at the compensation required” to bring in knowledgeable employees, said Peter Weis, Matson’s CIO, during a roundtable discussion at re:Invent last week in Las Vegas. “But we’ve adjusted.”

Also sharing their AWS experience at re:Invent were Raji Arasu, senior VP of platform and services for financial-software maker Intuit, and Dominic Shine, CIO for media and real estate firm News Corp.

Though the one-hour session was conducted at an AWS event, with AWS worldwide sales VP Mike Clayville looking on, the three execs spoke candidly, answering questions from a group of 150 journalists from around the world who had gathered to cover the company’s annual user conference. The execs provided some insights that could help other organizations pondering their cloud strategy.

Dominic Shine, CIO of media and real estate firm News Corp.
Dominic Shine, CIO of media and real estate firm News Corp.

Finding trained people, especially those willing to work at a company that’s admittedly “not high tech or biotech but sails ships around the world,” has been tough, even though Matson has its IT center in Oakland, near tech-intensive San Francisco, Weis said. Finding the best people “was and still is my biggest area of focus.” But an advantage in moving to AWS, he said, is that “when you get known as an innovator and a builder, using this kind of tools, you’re playing in the A leagues, and you attract A-grade people.”

Conversely, said News Corp.’s Shine, “You won’t get A-grade developers if you’re offering the opportunity to develop on traditional infrastructure. They won’t want to work there.”

News Corp., the Rupert Murdoch-owned company that publishes The Wall Street Journal and owns romance publisher Harlequin Enterprises and realty website, has closed 25 data centers in its move into the cloud.

“We set a goal to move 75 percent of all our computing power into the public cloud within three years and to save $90 million,” Shine said. “Three years on, we’ve saved over $100 million in avoided capital and are about 65 percent in the cloud. It’s really transformed how we work. We can rely on AWS to give us a reliable platform that keeps developing, and our tech teams can focus on developing products for customers.”

Intuit senior VP Raji Arasu
Intuit senior VP Raji Arasu

Intuit’s Arasu sounded a similar theme. “Sixty percent of our users are working on things like data proliferation, lack of standards, security hardening and breaking down a monolithic core into services. AWS is addressing those needs, and that’s appealing to us, because the thousands of AWS engineers become an extension to our team.”

She said moving to the cloud with some products, including Turbo Tax and Payroll, was “very appealing” because those products “have very much a seasonal peak, which means there are times of the year when there’s tons of traffic being driven to them.” The ease of expanding and contracting computing power and storage in the cloud is therefore a key benefit, she said.

Moving to the cloud isn’t a decision to be made by a company’s CIO, Matson’s Weis said. “It’s a CEO strategy, and the board needs to fully understand it. IT is not a spectator sport. Everybody has a position to play, including the CEO. There’s been a fundamental cultural shift in the company, and the result is that people don’t avoid IT people. It’s created a lot of teamwork and good morale.”

Matson’s move to the cloud “has created a boldness, where the velocity of ideas funneling into the senior team has increased, because they know the IT platform can handle it,” he said.

Dealing with increased latency from interacting apps located in the cloud, as opposed to internal data centers, has been “a very different art and science that needs to be developed within an organization,” noted Intuit’s Arasu. “We continue to work on that.”

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