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A Common Purpose

Rossington says Dunne realised as the pace of acquisitions picked up around five years ago that Toll would need to maintain some commonality at the IT level to drive the business at the business level. The realisation has led to a couple of strict conditions coming into play at the earliest stages of every potential acquisition. For a start, Dunne is involved with every merger from the beginning. The company also relies on a rigorous methodology to justify any proposed acquisition, with a hefty IT component that examines any likely synergies or added value to be gained from the acquired company's IT systems, and the level of integration that would be required.

"On the internal perspective, one of the tasks that we're doing, and have been doing for a while, is integrating our internal systems, Rossington says. "We need to present the face of Toll being the one Toll vision, so a customer potentially won't have to deal with many different back-end systems, or many different people or processes."

During his time with Toll one of the major challenges has been rollout of a global freight management system to the many diverse different business units, whether acquired or "organically grown". Another has been integrating the many disparate systems inherited by virtue of acquisition. That means integrating those from a functional and data perspective to achieve a single view of the customer and transactions across the business. Standardisation of business practices internally has also been a big challenge. A third challenge has been extending that to the outside world, via a strategy for B2B services to trading partners and customers.

Customers everywhere are becoming more demanding of information. Toll customers want to be able to generate quotes, translate those quotes into orders to move freight, place that order onto Toll systems, and then have Toll generate consignment notes and deliver the freight. At any one point in time the customer wants to know where the freight is, when it will arrive and costings for various legs of a route and so on. Hence Toll's next evolution will be to an ability to interface directly with trading partners' or customers' systems to supply that information, as part of its pledge of delivering innovative supply chain solutions.

Architecting a Solution

Rossington says architecture is critical to achieving all of Toll's IT goals. The company, a Sun shop, has now standardised its platforms of choice. It runs a Sun E10K, and has standardised on Java for the applications framework it is working on for developing software. It runs Microsoft at the desktop and Sunos Unix or Solaris Unix, with webMethods now sitting on top as the integration platform. It uses mainly Progress and Oracle as databases, although there are instances of plenty of other platforms including Microsoft SQL Server within the group.

However, standardising on an architecture is not the same as mandating that architecture throughout the group, which will take many years. And with so many merger and acquisition companies running diverse systems, supporting them remains a challenge, Rossington says. "Support is a challenge, and I suppose you once again get back to that statement that we are trying to standardise as much as possible because we need to build our support. Support and maintenance in any organisation needs to offer a service level agreement and a quality of service, and having 50 different platforms won't let you do that very easily.

"We've got a fairly extensive operations centre out at Mt Waverley [Victoria] with a fairly wide-ranging skill set. I don't think life is going to get any easier for them for a little while. Architecture will be one key, and making the best choice with what we know at the time, because being an acquisition company we're not sure what could happen next," he says.

Toll relies heavily on process analysis to ensure it gets things right. Rossington says that in his experience too many IT shops ignore the work of analysing processes before designing solutions. "It's something people have ignored a lot. They've looked at IT solutions in a very technical manner. We try and take the opinion that the technology is getting easier. Where the biggest challenges lie, and what people need to work on, is business process in the whole solutions design space.

"The way we look at it is to say technology is there to support business, and business is there to support business process. Before we do anything we've got to go out there and have a look and say: 'What are we actually trying to achieve here? How does the business currently work, how is it going to change, how can we make things better?' The very last thing that happens is we start designing a technical solution," says Rossington. "When you're looking at the B2B space or the integration space, that [effort] becomes complicated by a factor of 10, because you're starting to talk about not only business processes dealing with other business processes, it's systems dealing with systems as well."

And with Toll's acquisition bent showing no sign of abating, Rossington is determined to ensure the work continues to deliver value to the business, suppliers and customers in the years to come.

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