As Akamai grew, the volume of work soared. How could the company update its finance and HR solutions ‘in-flight,’ and deliver continuous service?
Akamai engaged IBM Services to transform its Oracle environment, creating an integrated, standardized platform for operations in 30 countries, managing over 6,000 staff worldwide.
Acceleratesfinancial reporting and month-end close
Boostsemployee productivity by significantly reducing manual data analysis
Enablespersonnel to complete many HR tasks on a self-service basis
Business challenge story
Achieving rapid growth
Akamai has grown from an MIT academic spin-off to a pivotal component of the internet. Akamai now operates a truly global internet content delivery platform: some 216,000 servers running 1,500 networks across more than 120 countries. Clients include leading e-commerce sites, manufacturing and engineering companies, the U.S. military, and international banks.
Many years ago, Akamai selected Oracle E-Business Suite as one of its core business management platforms. At the time, the systems were configured principally for the company’s flagship product, sold exclusively to U.S. corporations.
Kate Prouty, Senior Director of Corporate Systems, explains, “Akamai has evolved enormously, in terms of how we approach our business, the international reach, the product range and even how we organize and structure ourselves internally.
“When you’re growing in a volatile space like the internet, oftentimes you don’t spend your first dollar on internal business process projects. We had kicked the can down the road several times racking up loads of technical debt. In 2012, we realized that to align our business systems with our new reality required a fundamental rethink.”
The most pressing task was to modernize and update Akamai’s financial systems, which were critical for management and shareholder reporting, and for managing employee compensation. The existing solution relied on a Chart of Accounts that had been designed to support the business in 1998, and did not offer the kind of detail needed for hugely expanded product sets, operational units and geographies.
“The way we sold to our customers, what we sold to the customers, and where we sold to our customers did not align at all to the transactional information that was ultimately coming in to our system,” continues Kate Prouty. “This mismatch made it really difficult to make data-driven business decisions.
“To compensate for using outdated back-end systems, we were hiring staff to perform critical business analysis manually. The Akamai team spent considerable time locating, exporting and analyzing data using spreadsheets. In the long run, increasing staff numbers to handle manual processing was not a sustainable future.
“The situation was less than ideal, because we had really smart people tied up with gathering data rather than analyzing it. In addition, the manual ways of working were time-consuming and exposed us to a high risk of error.
“Potentially inaccurate data processing resulted in extended times to close the books. We experienced delays in delivering information to the CFO, CEO, head of sales and head of product to show what our customers were buying, what was working, and what was profitable.
“We knew that to meet our goal of doubling our revenues in five years, we would need to eliminate the costs and long timescales of manual working.”
Embarking on a real business transformation
Akamai started on the journey to transform its business systems and quickly realized that engaging an experienced partner was essential to success. As a company offering always-on, reliable internet delivery services, Akamai wanted to change its systems ‘in-flight,’ with very limited operational impact.
Kate Prouty continues, “We debated whether we would simply go for a technical upgrade or re-architect the whole system. Once we knew that only a complete redesign would give us what we wanted, we knew we needed people who had done this before.”
Kate Prouty explains the long-term strategy behind the choices: “We wanted to make sure we built a system that not only met the needs of the business now, but also supported our vision for the next ten years. We understood that we needed a partner that would challenge us on how we did things, and advise us on best practices and on better ways to operate.”
“At the time, Akamai was very much a do-it-yourself company. One of the biggest hills to climb was explaining why it was important to engage with external advisors, and that we would achieve a positive ROI.
“With a lot of support from our Chief Information Officer, Kumud Kalia, we invested time in building a business case, and formed a relationship with IBM Services. The Chief Financial Officer, Jim Benson, became the project’s executive sponsor with executive support from our Chief HR Officer, Jim Gemmell, and our EVP of Platform Engineering, Robert Blumofe.”
Kate Prouty continues, “We selected IBM Services, because the team demonstrated an impressive track record of many successful Oracle implementations in companies of very similar geographic scale and size. In addition, we felt that IBM would be able to bring fresh new thinking to Akamai.”
Akamai chose to migrate to the latest Oracle applications, including the Oracle Financials suite that incorporates general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, purchasing and procurement.
Project Pillar, as it became known, spanned a global implementation of 15 months, with a single go-live for 31 countries – including appropriate legal localizations for France, India, Israel, Japan and Poland. The IBM Services team looked at every aspect of Akamai’s corporate operations, recommending ways to maximize the benefits of the Oracle solutions.
In particular, IBM worked on creating the new and more detailed Chart of Accounts that would enable Akamai to match its transactional data to the way the company now operates. IBM and Akamai created a joint Executive Steering Committee, involving senior executives and project sponsors, to help standardize processes and systems at all levels of the organization.
Kate Prouty picks up the story, “The IBM team came with a very high level of credibility based on their experience of many Oracle implementations, and they really did push us, backed up by support from our governance and steering committee. The IBM folk were exceptionally knowledgeable and had enormous experience of this type of project.
“While there were certainly some challenges, debates and some fiery conversations along the way, IBM Services guided us through a vision of how something should work, and how we could benefit from Oracle solutions.”
To manage the global workforce, Akamai additionally implemented Oracle Human Resources, including employee self-service, analytics, and Oracle Fusion Compensation.
Kate Prouty comments, “The Oracle self-service applications will remove layers of paperwork, by enabling a portal where employees can manage their personal information. Additionally, managers will be able to process work-force transactions, including pay raises and transfers to other departments, without engaging HR business partners at every turn. Self-service gives employees greater control and ownership of their personal data, and eliminates a great deal of paperwork for the HR teams, while managers are able to execute key tasks without waiting for HR department response. In a growing company, HR efficiency forms an essential part of streamlining management and employee satisfaction.”
With further assistance from IBM Services, Akamai is also rolling out Oracle Taleo talent management solutions.
“Recruitment and talent acquisition is critical for a growing company," says Kate Prouty. "The Taleo solutions will be tightly integrated with Oracle E-Business Suite and our Hyperion solution, giving us an enterprise-wide view of recruitment, and our budgeting and planning for talent. IBM Services has stepped up and provided a unique approach in partnering with Akamai to help us meet the needs of our booming business.”
Laying foundations for future excellence
So what’s changed, now that the Oracle solutions are in place? How will Akamai benefit, and what improvements will its customers see?
“Our goal is to continue to grow, and the digital transformation that has the biggest impact was modifying our Chart of Accounts, to collect transactional and financial data to enable automated business reporting,” adds Kate Prouty. “We improved processes around accounts payable, accounts receivable, invoicing process, and much more.
“The essential change is capturing more significant and relevant information. This greater detail has created the foundation that will enable spreadsheet-based reporting and analysis processes to be replaced by automated reporting. The reports include the key metrics and dimensions – such as revenues, customers, locations, products and more – that will enable deeper insight into exactly how the business is running. As Akamai continues to grow, this enriched data capability will provide the basis for future improvements to critical processes such as invoicing, time tracking, fixed asset tracking, software capitalization, and talent management.
“We are much more efficient; we are able to close the books and analyze the data to help the CFO and the CEO prepare earnings calls, based on a planned process. In turn, we are able to serve our customers more effectively, with detailed information on service usage and fees charged, and handle their enquiries more efficiently with information always available.”
Looking back at the project, Kate Prouty identifies her key concerns and how IBM Services was able to help Akamai succeed: “Many people told us that working with external consultants is a nightmare leading to ‘change request hell’ that costs 20 percent more than budgeted. With IBM Services, we had the exact opposite experience: we built a great relationship, and IBM did outstanding creative work to keep within budget – always willing to go above and beyond.
“The project was jointly managed and an enormous success. IBM was truly committed to getting things done and generating the best possible result for Akamai.”
The partnership with IBM extended globally, matching Akamai’s own presence, with services supplied from India, Japan, and Poland. Based on mutual transparency, honesty and commitment, Akamai and IBM built a long-term relationship.
Senior executives at Akamai were fully enrolled, which was very much seen as a business program rather than an IT project, with a shared governance structure that included vice presidents of finance and HR.
Kate Prouty concludes, “We established the global nature of the project, and IBM was able to put in place the necessary structure with dedicated resources. IBM insisted that we do the right thing from the very beginning of the project, which helped Akamai build out a framework for success to ensure that the Oracle solutions will support the next phase in our growth.”
Akamai provides content delivery services, helping to make the internet fast, reliable and secure. First incorporated in 1998, the company’s 2015 revenue reached USD 2.2 billion. With operations in more than 120 countries, Akamai employs over 6,000 people, from the corporate office in Cambridge, MA, to shared services in Poland and India.
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