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No Time For Downtime!

No Time For Downtime!

About Southern Sun

Southern Sun is a well-known hospitality group that operates various hotels and resorts across South Africa, the Seychelles, and the Middle East. The group also runs a number of restaurants and bars in these regions, as well as conference and banqueting facilities.

Established more than 50 years ago, Southern Sun has earned a reputation for excellence in the hospitality industry. Today, the group’s hotels and resorts are the preferred destination for many international travellers and holidaymakers.

The Job To Be Done

In April 2012, Southern Sun Hotels merged with Tsogo Sun Gaming to become Tsogo Sun Holdings. Due to regulatory changes around gaming and a corporate restructure process, in June 2019 Tsogo Sun Holdings unbundled Hotels and the two once again became separate companies.

This meant that the group’s IT systems, which had been consolidated due to the 2012 merge, had to be separated again. It wasn’t just an Active Directory migration back to the Southern Sun domain either – it also involved splitting Exchange Online and Microsoft 365 from shared tenants into individual ones.

Basically, the job that needed doing was to undo previous work and rebuild the capabilities they had while they were part of Tsogo Sun Holdings, all without impacting on their staff or guests.

The Challenge

The biggest challenge was that when Tsogo and Southern Sun merged back in 2012, they had the luxury of feet on the ground and were able to send people to all of the hotels at the time.

This time around there would be no feet on the ground. To save on costs, the job had to be done 100% remotely without disrupting the daily operations of 100 hotels.

To pull this off, Southern Sun needed the help of a competent, professional, efficient, and highly skilled partner who could do the job with remote tools.

And that is where Velocity Group came in.


The Background

Velocity Group had been supplying Southern Sun with IT hardware for many years. Velocity Group Account Executive Morné Jacobs and Southern Sun’s IT Operations & Service Manager Lizette Durig had a session to review the other offerings that Velocity Group could assist with.

Morné explained that Velocity Group’s core business is actually Microsoft-focused and not just hardware supply. This gives the company a deep understanding of Microsoft’s ecosystem and how the various solution offerings work together. He also emphasised that Velocity Group’s approach to any project relies heavily on listening closely to the client’s requirements and tailoring a solution that meets those exactly.

The Consultation Process

“When we consult with potential clients around a solution, we don’t just send in a sales team,” says Velocity Group CEO Jonathan Kropf. “We bring a team of experts to the table, who then work out the client’s requirements, determine what the real world needs are, where the customer thinks the biggest challenges will be, and then we build the solution out as a team. We hold two to three workshops to define the scope of work, and once we have done our homework properly, we present the resulting proposal to the client.”

As a result of that services review session, Lizette asked for a proposal on how Velocity Group would tackle the migration/split. Once all stakeholders had been consulted and the correct requirements were uncovered, a proposal was drawn up. Southern Sun then approved the project work.

The Proposed Solution

The proposed solution was to do the necessary migrations using remote tools and proprietary scripts that Velocity Group has developed over many similar projects. The key was that this was to be done without anyone travelling to any of Southern Sun’s hotels. Velocity Group would make heavy use of a pilot site to make sure things went smoothly.

Planning began towards the end of April 2022, and the migration was completed 5 months later in September.

Pilot, Pilot, Pilot (and test and adjust)

One of the central pillars of Velocity Group’s strategy was their use of a pilot site to test their remote processes before go-live. This would enable them to “Measure twice, cut once” – an essential step in getting any job right, but more so an incredibly complex one relying on remote work.

By remaining flexible and having the opportunity to adjust their approach before starting the migration at Southern Sun’s live sites, they were able to anticipate every conceivable issue to ensure that the live rollout would go smoothly.

Communication Is Key

In addition to being technically competent, Velocity Group’s engineers communicated extensively with Southern Sun’s people throughout the process, which really helped make the project go smoothly for all involved.

Lizette Durig notes that “Communication in any project is very important, especially for end users and staff. If they know that some issues might crop up, they are fine with it if it happens. Velocity Group was very good at keeping our people in the loop at all times.”

At the end of the project, Velocity Group had successfully migrated Southern Sun over to its own domain and migrated all the users over to the new Microsoft 365 tenant, with the changes affecting more than 4,000 endpoints.

And because it was so well planned and thoroughly tested beforehand, there was absolutely no downtime at any of Southern Sun’s 100 hotels.

Terry-Anne Graham, Head of IT SA & Offshore says, “We had two really great teams working on this project – ours and Velocity Group’s –  who communicated constantly and clearly and who really worked as a single entity to get this done. Things went so smoothly as a result, that for me it seemed like it all just happened. No drama, no problems, just smooth efficiency. That’s what I like to see!”

Further Collaboration

“We view these projects as not just jobs to be done,” adds Kropf. “We see them as an opportunity to prove ourselves to the client, which can lead to further work down the line. This is exactly what happened with Southern Sun; they were so happy with how this migration project turned out that we’ve since engaged with them on more projects.”

We just loved the way Velocity Group approached this project,” adds Durig. “It was difficult, but they were knowledgeable and committed, they really listened to what we needed, and in the end they tackled it in just the right way. They also tested extensively to be sure their processes would work on the live sites, and they worked so well with our own IT people that they seemed to be part of the team. We’re looking forward to working more with them in the future.”

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