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South African ATG goes all-in with Google Cloud and reaps the benefits

Johannesburg, 17 Mar 2021
Marko Salic, CEO at ATG.
Marko Salic, CEO at ATG.

Data is one of the most strategic assets a business has. Each customer sale, supplier transaction and product review provides the enterprise with information to learn from. Until recently, companies have focused on how to store and manage this data. Today, however, advances in technology allow coherent, strategic insights to be extracted from this deep and detailed data. For businesses, this means the discovery of patterns which enables them to make predictions about the future.

The Argility Technology Group (ATG) is a fast-growing, South African enterprise software company that is capitalising on this opportunity. It has built an impressive portfolio of six standalone tech businesses, all with different specialities in this emerging field. Through the use of data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning, ATG is gaining a reputation as a disruptor in the retail and supply chain sectors. Its intelligent software solutions help its customers predict buyer behaviours, digitise processes and improve efficiencies, ultimately providing an edge over their competitors.

ATG’s history traces back over 30 years to retail software, and this deep sector expertise helps to account for its notable customer list, including Shoprite, Furnmart and Woolworths. Equally impressive is the sheer number of ATG’s long-standing, blue-chip customers ranging from Absa/Barclays to Anglo American and Bidvest.

The ambitious company is focused on continuing to grow by exploring new industry sectors and expanding further into Africa and beyond.

Breathing new life into old approaches to IT

As ATG’s business expanded, its two existing data centres started to struggle with the increased demands. Marko Salic, CEO at ATG, explains: “In addition to supporting more companies, the very nature of our data and compute-intense software solutions meant that a different approach to infrastructure was needed. We needed on-demand scalability that could keep up with our fast-expanding storage and computing needs.”

In running two local data centres, the ATG team dealt daily with issues such as insufficient capacity, failing hardware and inadequate power and cooling. The team travelled between the two data centres in Cape Town and Johannesburg, manually fixing problems on-site. They had to be available 24/7 and, with the added pressures of load shedding and cables being stolen, it was becoming unsustainable.

Japie Saunders, ICT Manager at ATG, elaborates: “There were a million complex intricacies involved in managing the two data centres – temperature monitoring, redundant power supply, generators, access control, service contracts, multiple vendors, backups and endless line items that needed to be checked and allocated.”

It was at this point that the ATG team felt they had crossed the cost to benefit ratio of running their own data centres.

Surprisingly painless migration to Google Cloud

ATG opted to stop running its own data centres and instead move its entire infrastructure to the public cloud. Google seemed a natural fit as it offers some of the best AI and machine learning tools for developers and data scientists.

After evaluating all the leading platforms on pricing, performance, scalability and security, the decision to move to Google Cloud was validated. Working with one of Google’s Premier Cloud Partners, Siatik, ATG set about migrating its hundreds of applications and data. Within 18 months, 90% of its estate was transitioned with no interruption to ATG’s customers. ATG expects to have completed the migration by the end of 2021.

Reaping the benefits: Less costs, more uptime and more innovation

The impact on ATG has been huge. Moving to Google Cloud has halved the cost of running IT, while greatly simplifying administration and management. The relief from Saunders is unmistakable: “I no longer have to worry about the backups, Google Cloud handles it,” he enthuses. “And as a team, we’re adding much more value to the business. We’re focused on customer support and developing new features instead of doing maintenance in the data centres. We can now do our work effectively from home and have been able to do so throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For ATG, Google Cloud has been much more than just a cost reduction exercise or a way to improve uptimes. Google Cloud has been pivotal to enabling true organic organisational innovation at the group level.

For instance, ATG’s latest solution, PredictRetail, empowers retailers to anticipate shifts in customer behaviours and sales trends by using machine learning, data science and predictive modelling. The application was built on Google Cloud and uses a variety of its services like BigQuery, Cloud AI, machine learning engine and data flow. And as a native Google application, it can scale to any size of data sets or processing workload.

ATG has developed complementary solutions – PredictCustomer and PredictInventory – which are also cloud-native and all three comprise the PredictIT suite. They will soon be available in the Google Cloud Marketplace, speaking to the ecosystem of value that Google Cloud has created by allowing ATG to take their exciting solutions to a broader market.

Holistically, the shift to Google Cloud has helped the company respond to COVID-19 and simultaneously create new efficiencies. Salic elaborates: “The adoption of Google Workspace was key in transitioning employees to a 'work from anywhere' approach. The enhanced flexibility has been good for productivity and morale and we think a hybrid working model is the future. Knowing that we’re not going to fully return to the office any time soon, we’ve accelerated some of our internal projects like moving our ERP and payroll systems to the cloud. These systems run better now, take less time to use and free up our employees to do higher value tasks.”

The shared goal to innovate for Africa

After a successful 18 months, ATG is committed to exploring further possibilities with Google Cloud. “Cloud is the future and Google Cloud is our preferred platform,” says Salic. “We’ll keep upgrading our apps by integrating more cloud-native services like Google’s vision API, voice API, Kubernetes and so on. All our SaaS products will be hosted on Google and, where customers have the option to modernise their solution architecture, we’re recommending they embrace Google’s Cloud products. It makes scalability easy, minimises their risks and removes the significant outlays on hardware. We will always use Google Cloud unless there is a very good reason not to or there is a customer constraint.”

The easy collaboration with the partner Siatik, as well as Digicloud Africa, Google’s enablement partner in Africa, is highly valued by ATG. “We all share the imagination to see Africa’s unmet needs as opportunities, and to use these challenges to spur innovation. At ATG, we are proud to have a portfolio of African businesses which are developing solutions for the African market, and that are collaborating with African partners,” says Salic as he wraps up. “It would be the icing on the cake if Google opened an African data centre – that would drive more adoption of GCP which would be good for everyone.”