Known for its revitalizing skin care line, Rodan + Fields serves customers on a worldwide scale. It does this through a 100% digital platform—both through its network of more than 300,000 consultants as well as through direct-to-consumer sales. After more than 10 years of expansion, the retailer sought to modernize its IT infrastructure.

The project—which consisted of moving its SAP ECC and SAP Hybris solutions from a hosted environment to Google Cloud—allowed the company to scale on demand, continue to grow even during a pandemic, and to do so with stability.

ASUG sat down with Steven Dee, chief information and technology officer at Rodan + Fields, to understand the scope of the project, the business case that led to its execution, and the ROI the company has seen since go-live.

ASUG: What was the Rodan + Fields landscape and IT infrastructure prior to migrating its SAP workloads to Google Cloud, and which workloads were moved over?

Dee: We decided to implement SAP ECC in a hosted environment in 2016, but we’ve still maintained a mixture of some on-premises systems. In November of 2019, we moved our SAP ECC platform to Google Cloud. In regard to SAP Hybris, we had originally implemented it on Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2018 but decided to move that to Google Cloud in July of 2019.

Given we are in four countries (U.S., Canada, Australia, and Japan), we currently have a couple of countries that are still using our legacy ERP. They should, however, be off that legacy system by the end of the first quarter 2021, and we should be fully hosted in the cloud.

Part of our 2021 road map is to move to SAP S/4HANA. We had planned on making the move in 2020, but ultimately prioritized upgrading our SAP Hybris platform and moving that to Google Cloud first. We’re also replacing our entire legacy data system and felt it was important to get that finalized and moved over to Google Cloud before implementing SAP S/4HANA and leveraging the power of SAP HANA.

ASUG: Can you talk more about moving your landscape from a hosted environment to Google Cloud? What was involved and what was your timeline to get everything completed?

Dee: The plan was to have everything moved over to the Google Cloud by the first quarter of 2020. But we actually managed to accelerate everything based on the team that was on the ground and with the help of a great partner at NTT Data. It was a fairly significant lift, but the risk was reduced because we were already in hosted environments. And we had been doing a lot of work with understanding what we would need to move to Google Cloud.

The move has made a difference in terms of what is required of us when it comes to managing the system. In the hosted environment, we needed to be really hands-on and understand the ins and outs of scaling. There wasn’t the ability to have a lot of automation. What we were getting from Google Cloud is that automation and the ability to really quickly scale up. If we see strain in any of the SAP Hybris systems, we automatically start to scale up. It’s super easy. It’s those types of capabilities, along with moving our entire data infrastructure to Google BigQuery, that gives us an amount of synergy and reduces the level of managing that we need to do. It’s made our lives easier to be able to focus on truly building the right capabilities for our consultants and our servers.

ASUG: What were the key factors included in the business case to move the SAP workloads to Google Cloud?

Dee: Scalability was first and foremost. As we began to have promotional sales events, we quickly realized that we needed to learn about how the business needed to shift and change. We needed the flexibility to be able to scale up and scale down very quickly without having to have a lot of planning that went into it. So that was the first thing.

The second thing was stability. We had had some bumps in the road with problems that we created ourselves by just trying to manage the infrastructure. We wanted to go to a platform that had stability and then gave us the tools that we needed to be able to automate that scalability and that stability.

ASUG: Let’s talk about your commerce solution, SAP Hybris. What was the scope of the project with moving it to Google Cloud?

Dee: All the Rodan + Fields’ sales come through digital means—whether that’s through consultants or direct-to-consumer. The business runs 24/7 and as a result, the effects of downtime or system failure can be catastrophic. Our commerce infrastructure needed to deliver uptime resilience against local failures, as well as support rapid, automated recovery in the event of a larger-scale failure.

To meet both these requirements, we ultimately decided that we’d partner with Google Cloud to design and implement an architecture leveraging container-based application management and geo-redundant storage with Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). We chose this option because of the auto-scaling of the GKE clusters. Direct selling is an emotional and volatile business, and we’re able to match the demand when we have it and scale back when we don’t. If we have new innovations or promotions, we can scale for that moment and meet the demand of the excitement.

For example, we ran a promotion last year where we offered 20% to everyone if they made a purchase on Memorial Day. We’d never done anything like this before and weren’t sure if customers would engage. The day we launched the sale, we immediately saw volumes spike, and we also began to see some cracks in the infrastructure that in previous years would probably have crashed the site. But the team was able to ramp up all the various clusters and was one of the first times we really felt like we were in the driver’s seat when it came to scalability to meet demand. We didn’t miss a single sale. The site performed wonderfully, and we exceeded all expectations by breaking single-day sales records. We built a plan to automate most of it and were able to do the same for Cyber Monday.

ASUG: Let’s discuss the ERP phase of the project. Can you walk us through a high-level overview and decision-making with virtual machines (VM) snapshots?

Dee: We had a legacy ERP that was a mixture of homegrown capabilities and packaged software, and it didn’t meet our needs anymore. As the company grew, it grew so fast that it required all hands on deck. We really wanted to make sure that we were able to close the books in a very transparent way. We wanted to make sure that we could achieve a 100% availability with our ERP.

We knew that we needed a platform that would allow our ERP to run 24/7 and maintain business continuity worldwide. We needed our SAP ECC system to be capable of restoring to a prior state, to mitigate the potential impact of user error or malicious activity. And just like our commerce solution, we needed our ERP system to support rapid recovery in the event of a larger-scale failure.

To address all these requirements, we designed and implemented a backup and disaster recovery architecture leveraging VM snapshots, SAP database replication, and geo-redundant storage. The snapshots—which are taken periodically and stored in Google Cloud Storage—provide recoverable backups of SAP ECC VM system state (system state, configuration data) and data disks. If needed, the ECC VMs can be rapidly returned to a prior, known-good state by restoring from a selected snapshot.

In regard to meeting the disaster recovery requirements, we have implemented an automated multi-tier architecture, providing protection for the key elements of our ERP application stack:

SAP ECC VM system state, which is protected by the same VM snapshots that support backup. Since the snapshots reside on multi-region Cloud Storage, they can be recovered in the secondary region if the primary region becomes inaccessible.

ASUG: Did you hit any roadblocks when you were completing the project? If so, how did you address them?

Dee: The biggest roadblock that we had was with moving data from our legacy systems into the environment for Google Cloud. Google Cloud made it very smooth and easy, but our capability to extract the data and get it into a usable format was just very rudimentary. It was a challenge to run these two environments in parallel and to test everything and make sure that people had confidence in the numbers. But we eventually got there.

ASUG: How did you approach change management and training?

Dee: We identified people who were in the business and made it their full-time job to build and conduct the training. We have a disparate workforce and almost all of them work from home, and so it was paramount to find the right way to train everyone.

We had to help them understand the technology and what was being gained, what would change, and what wouldn’t change. It had to be a strong partnership between the product management team, the vendors, and our partners at SAP. The team was very vested in the success of this solution because we had a larger overall program. It wasn’t just the technical limitation; it was viewed as something that was going to be needed for the business and needed for those end users. And so, they took up an amount of accountability that I rarely see, especially when you’re just moving something to the cloud or you're doing something that's more an upgrade and tech-focused. You don’t really get that participation, but we have to give a lot of credit to our business partners being part of the success.

ASUG: As you look ahead, what’s next in Rodan + Fields’ cloud strategy?

Dee: As I mentioned earlier, SAP S/4HANA is next on the road map. As far as specifically related to the cloud strategy, the next step is to complete the move of our data from our legacy systems into BigQuery for real-time data streaming. We started to create data access APIs to catalog and index our site and our products, and we’ve seen an SEO lift with that. We will continue on that path, opening it up to additional partners in the consultant tool space to be able for them to leverage our data.

ASUG: What advice would you give other organizations looking to move their SAP workloads to Google Cloud?

Dee: Don’t think about it as a technology project. If it’s just a technology project, you’re not going to get the cultural change. You might bring people to the well, but they might not drink. So, the first big lesson is to shift that mindset from trying to educate people on the benefits of moving to the cloud, to rather the benefits of the scalability and the benefits of the flexibility. Start to work that into business cases that aren’t just technology business cases, but marketing business cases, field management business cases, financial analytics type of business cases, and so on. The second thing is to have executive partners buy in to the project so they understand the benefits and can convey them to others.

Both are very essential to completing a successful project.

ASUG members can register for the Consumer Products Think Tank on Jan. 29 at 12 p.m. ET/11 a.m. CT or the SAP HANA Think Tank: Disaster Recovery on Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. ET/12 p.m. CT to learn from peers navigating the same challenges and opportunities in this space.