Rentokil Initial, one of the largest business services companies in the world with its £2.5bn yearly revenues, is taking its first steps into the cloud market, but they are steps that will leave a big footprint.
The firm is four years into a massive turnabout in its technology practices, an upheaval that started when its CIO Bryan Kinsella realised that actually the company had no real IT infrastructure to speak of.
Home grown business systems had spread across the company as it has acquired firms in the previous years, and lacked the necessary power for an enterprise technology infrastructure. These systems clearly needed to be replaced.
It is the flexibility, low hardware costs, and outsourced administration of a cloud infrastructure that is enabling the company to do this. Tt is moving from offering its staff cloud-based email through to running its entire HR operation as-a-service.
Fergal Harkin, Group HR, Operations Director at Rentokil said that each move the firm makes in the direction of the cloud brings the firm better systems and processes that are shared across the business.
"We may have under-invested in our infrastructure in the past, until our CEO initiated a change programme." he admitted. "Then we really started looking for answers to the problems in our business processes."
Rentokil was already using Google Apps across the business, something that Harkin said was a way of becoming more comfortable with the cloud.
The company has now chosen to use Workday for its global human resources (HR) system. which supports 66,000 employees working in its 1000 branches in 58 countries.
Rentokil Initial uses other cloud solutions including Google Apps for email, intranet, and collaboration, Ariba, for procurement, and Cornerstone OnDemand for online learning and training.
Harkin explained Google is being used by the 20,000 Rentokil employees that need access to email.
"It gives you a degree of confidence, as an email client its as good as anything else," he said. "Google has really blazed the trail [for the cloud]".
The move to a cloud based system for HR functions has had immediate positives. "Payroll was a big element in our operating expenditure," he said, "And we had ineffective controls over it."
Workday was not the only supplier in the frame, and Rentokil was not specifically seeking a cloud solution. But, Harkin said that through the use of software-as-a-service, the firm was able to standardise its application set.
"We weren't dogmatic," he said, "we were looking at a large range of suppliers, and we were looking at what market was right for us, and if the supplier was right."
Commenting on Workday specifically, he said, "Other suppliers would lock down the design process."
Workday took what Harkin called a cautious approach, with a small footprint in the UK before rolling out to the wider, connected, Rentokil Initial workforce of 20,000 workers.
Soon it will be the core of the company human resources functionality, replacing the legacy HR system that serves 2000 workers.
"We are taking a huge leap from where we are," Harkin says, explaining that the firm struggled to produce reports about workers and work issues.
"We don't have to run reports now, you just look at the dashboard and the information is there."
When considering the size of the company's workforce, which is much more than the 20,000 people that use Gmail, it's clear this is a big move.
Previously HR different in every Rentokil office, and with very little central control or information, it now has one system that supports the whole company.
"In real time we have information about vacancies, our employees, and where people are working, and we can benchmark against in," says Harkin.
"This is really important information to have on your manager's dashboard. It lets us manage our people, and our organisational data, and with a really high degree of flexibility."
Although the Workday HR system has a look and feel similar to a social networking application.
"Its not as intuitive as social networking," says Harkin, "but I am comfortable that managers will take to it well."
Reactions to the decision to move to cloud services were not universally positive. Some parts of the company were more worried about this than others, according to Harkin.
"Germany was very concerned about where the data is, but we had a consultation with Workday and are very happy about where it is, that it is under control and that it is compliant. Workday's database is in Europe, and that is all very reassuring," he said.
"We've broken through that barrier of worrying about whether our data is on someone elses hardware. Our data is out there in the cloud."