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    Hillarys Blinds using Huawei servers for SAP HANA migration

Responding to change

Since its creation in 1971, Hillarys has grown to be the UK’s leading supplier of window coverings and carpets, with over 1,000 advisors nationwide processing more than 12,000 orders every week.

SAP’s enterprise software is central to the way it manages its business and the company is one of SAP’s leading users. Following a major review of its ICT strategy in 2014, Hillarys made the decision to migrate to SAP HANA, the next generation of SAP’s Business software Suite. Julian Bond, Head of ICT, explains:

“When SAP was originally implemented, Hillarys was a relatively straightforward business focused on manufacturing and fitting made to measure blinds. Now we are a multi-channel retailer with a vertically integrated supply chain that has expanded its product portfolio to include blinds, shutters, awnings, curtains and carpets.

“We know that S/4 HANA will be a key enabler of our digital transformation, allowing us to be more agile and responsive to the changing opportunities and threats of our commercial landscape.”

As SAP HANA needs an in-memory computing based platform to function, it also meant replacing the company’s hardware estate. Therefore, the potential impact on the business and the level of investment required meant that it was important for Hillarys to consider options other than what was being offered by its incumbent supplier. Julian Bond continues:

“It wasn’t a decision we took lightly. We didn’t have any specific technical requirements but we knew we had to find a hardware solution that would give us the best return on our investment. So our SAP partner, The Birchman Group, suggested we look at Huawei as an alternative, pointing out that it had already supplied SAP appliances for a number of customers in Western Europe.”

A compelling solution

Working closely with Birchman, Huawei soon impressed Julian Bond, quickly building strong credibility and overcoming any initial concerns he might have had about working with a vendor he knew little about.

“The initial attraction of Huawei was its competitive pricing and compelling return-on-investment, but as investigation and evaluation proceeded, it was the performance and technical innovation of the Huawei solution that really stood out and helped us to decide to go with them to support our ambition to become a digital business,” says Julian Bond.

Huawei’s solution is made up of six virtualised SAP hardware appliances in total; a combination of RH5885H V3 and RH8100 servers, both featuring the world’s fastest PCIe solid state disks. All of the devices can run components of SAP Business Suite 4 HANA, in a traditional three-tier landscape.

The Huawei SAP appliances are designed to accelerate mission critical applications, analyse large amounts of data in real time and help build data warehouses effectively. They also provide a robust and flexible infrastructure foundation to support future SAP developments.

Supporting the migration challenge

The first stage of the migration project was to get the new Huawei hardware installed and working. Following a high degree of collaboration between the partners involved, this was achieved without a hitch.

The amount of technical change required for a successful migration, however, was always going to be a great deal more challenging, particularly as it involved moving to SAP HANA from a much older version of the SAP software. Add to that the need to complete the project in relatively aggressive timescales, it was inevitable that issues would arise.

Although Huawei wasn’t specifically involved in solving these problems, it was actively engaged in facilitating their resolution and was also able to offer advice based on its own experience of similar deployments in Europe. Julian Bond explains:

“As a consequence of the challenges thrown up by the migration process, we needed extra server storage quickly. Working with our IT solutions partner Mobius, Huawei worked flawlessly to get what we needed, air-freighting stock in as necessary, cutting through lead times and completing the order process in a day. It also made people available to do the required configuration at very short notice.”

For Hillarys, the move to SAP HANA was seen as a strategic one and so the company wasn’t depending on any realisable benefits. But with the completion of the migration project at the end of February 2016, it soon became clear that it was going to experience some very radical improvements in performance.

“Users were literally coming to me the day after ‘go live’ and saying what have you done over the weekend. It’s fantastic,” recounts Julian Bond.

Exceeding expectations

The SAP HANA system is very ‘query’ intensive but the reliable and powerful performance of the Huawei SAP HANA appliances has enabled Hillarys to achieve a number of process improvements very quickly. For example, the length of incoming customer calls has been reduced by a third, as agents are able to process queries much more quickly, improving customer experience and improving efficiency.

And in the area of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), a report that used to take one hour and 20 minutes can now be run off in less than a minute.

But for Hillarys, the real difference made by using a Huawei solution lies in the level of support, access to technical expertise and overall customer care it has received from day one. This has reinforced its decision to trust a company that it had heard very little about before. As a leading-edge user of SAP this is also particularly significant for other medium-sized SAP users that chose to make the move.

The power of partnership

A key factor in the success of the migration project was the strong partnership built between Huawei, The Birchman Group and Mobius Business Technologies. Richard Taylor, Birchman Partner comments:

“Although officially vendor-agnostic we are also a customer ourselves of Huawei so are familiar with the company. We were impressed with the way Huawei pulled out all the stops to support us and Hillarys in overcoming the challenges such a complex migration brings. It has a strong team who were always there for us when we needed them.”

As one of the first significant SAP HANA migration projects there is no doubt that Hillarys was taking a risk in moving away from its incumbent IT partner. However, it’s one that, through the strong teamwork across all the parties involved, has really paid off.

“We all worked well as a team, communicating effectively with each other every step of the way. This level of cooperation made sure lessons learned were shared and everyone went the extra mile when needed,” adds Matthew Tunbridge, Mobius Account Manager.

The credibility that Huawei has built up with Hillarys has put its relationship very much on a partnership footing. It means that its now strongly in contention to secure future opportunities. Julian Bond concludes:

“Huawei has gone above and beyond to support and interact with me as a customer in a way I have not experienced with other vendors. It really is one of Asia’s best-kept secrets.”

About Hillarys

Hillarys was established in Nottingham in 1971 manufacturing, selling and fitting a small range of made-to-measure blinds. Today, as market leader, the Hillarys Group of companies continues to manufacture and sell a range of made-to- measure window coverings which now includes blinds, curtains, shutters and awnings in the UK and Republic of Ireland. Hillarys employs over 1,200 people at three sites, two in Nottingham and one in Washington, Tyne & Wear and has a network of over 1000 self-employed Advisors who provide an in-home service, selling and installing core and specialist products. It is well known in the SAP community and prides itself on being an innovative user particularly in the mobile space.

About The Birchman Group

Founded in 1994, The Birchman Group is an international business providing consulting and IT services. It is both a SAP reseller and a SAP services partner. Birchman has over 600 SAP consultants. Its focus is providing support to companies deploying the new SAP technology including HANA, SuccessFactors, Cloud for Customer as well as continuing to sell and support core SAP.

About Mobius Business Technologies

Mobius Business Technologies provides information technology solutions, including business systems consultancy, software development and training. We have a proven track record in delivering real benefits to businesses, enhancing existing in-house skills and in boosting productivity.