Future-Proof Enterprise Social Network for Continental
Continental is the first enterprise company to migrate Connections to the AWS Cloud
Continental AG has developed forward-thinking technologies and services for sustainable and networked mobility of people and their goods. The technology company, founded in 1871, offers secure, efficient, intelligent, and affordable solutions for vehicles, machines, traffic, and transport. Today, Continental employs more than 190,000 people in 58 countries and markets.
Global networking through enterprise social network ConNext
The best ideas come about when people talk to each other. That’s why they need the right information at the right time. Together, they can work on solving complicated problems. To leverage this potential and promote cross-hierarchical and cross-departmental exchange, Continental introduced an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) 10 years ago. It is a service available to all Continental employees and companies.
Today, the ConNext ESN still serves important use cases such as ‟Communicate”, ‟Learn”, ‟Find information” and ‟Share information”. Any employee can transparently provide information through the ESN and see how topics go viral. Currently, 125,000 people use ConNext. More than 23,000 communities promote exchange and internal networking. The average is 63,000 unique users per month. Continental employees can also collaborate with their external partners via ConNext. Over the last ten years, Continental has also added its own applications to its ESN platform.
Strategic decision for AWS Cloud
ConNext is based on the Connections application from HCL Technology Solutions. In the past, Continental operated the application on-premises and hosted it in its own data center. In 2019, HCL decided to continue developing Connections only as a cloud-native application based on Kubernetes. Continental had to consider how to proceed with ESN.
One of Continental’s goals is to provide employees all over the globe with first-class IT solutions that are innovative, modern, and intuitive. At the same time, these need to be built on a strong technological foundation. The IT department was already relying on the AWS Cloud for other applications. After a comprehensive analysis of various possible operating scenarios in the required Kubernetes infrastructure, Continental made the strategic decision to run the ESN platform in its own Continental AWS Cloud. The intent was to achieve multiple goals: The primary focus was on ensuring the most flexible, scalable and future-proof operation for the ConNext platform. To ensure that the ConNext users would be able to benefit from new features in the future.
Migration to AWS Cloud
Continental looked to Skaylink for migration planning expertise. Continental has been working successfully with the experts from Skaylink since 1996. Skaylink also assisted Continental with the launch of Connections. Since then and to this day, the Skaylink experts have been responsible for the operation, support, and further development of Connections.
Martin Schmidt, Senior IT Architect at Skaylink, developed a detailed plan for the migration of ConNext to AWS Cloud. It included AWS architecture, migration, cost estimates and optimizations, as well as application support, including assisting Continental in developing and defining the new service setup. The focus was on the concept of planning to use standardized AWS services instead of individual solutions. For instance, AWS RDS is used as the database and the AWS OpenSearch service is used as a replacement for the included Elasticsearch service. The new Connections services will run on Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS). Amazon Elastic File System (EFS) is used as the file storage.
Other Continental departments were closely involved in the development of the new architecture concept to ensure secure operation in the Continental AWS Cloud. The project team, which is comprised of representatives from both Continental and Skaylink, meticulously undertook the migration together. This meant that the smooth migration of the application, including all data, was achieved as a ‟big bang” within two days. Version 6.5 of Connections was rolled out at the same time. ConNext users could now enjoy new features like ‟Orient me” to find information that is relevant to them faster in the ESN.
‟Continental was the first enterprise company to make the move to the cloud with Connections. We couldn’t use reference architectures as a guide, so we started from scratch during the planning phase. By migrating to the cloud, the operation of Connections has been made significantly easier for Continental. For a lot of infrastructure components, Continental can rely on AWS’s offering and doesn’t need to maintain its own staff.”
Senior IT Architect, Skaylink
Connecting the spheres of communication – Microsoft Office 365 and Connections
Since Continental introduced Microsoft Office 365, there has been a desire to connect the two communication and collaboration platforms more closely. Employees need to be provided with an uninterrupted user journey to best support their own requirements and action goals. They were supposed to be able to use the tool that best fits their communication/collaboration needs: Teams for working in project groups. ConNext for company-wide transparent exchange, where topics can go viral, and as a learning platform.
Version 7.0 of Connections lays the technical groundwork for integration of ConNext and Microsoft Office 365. As part of the ‟Modernized ESN” project, Continental planned to upgrade to the latest vendor version of HCL Connections. Skaylink was also able to demonstrate its strengths in this project.
‟We place value on the best solution for our customers. We don’t care about who the vendor is. Nevertheless, we have deep technical expertise in many areas. I myself am an HCL Ambassador, and other Skaylink colleagues are certified Microsoft consultants. Together we can use our expertise to benefit the customer.”
Circle Lead Large Enterprise Operations, Skaylink
This expertise allowed Skaylink to make targeted preparations for the integration of Connections and Microsoft Office 365. Integration between the ConNext platform and selected Microsoft Office 365 services was rolled out iteratively and accompanied by comprehensive communications. In contrast, the basis for this, the update or rollout of HCL Connections 7.0 took place within just one day. Now ConNext is linked to Outlook, Teams, Windows Explorer, and SharePoint. As an example, ConNext forums can be integrated into teams so that stakeholders can vote on their answers to questions in the forum in advance in small teams and publish them without media disruption. Or profiles of colleagues from Connections can be accessed in Outlook if an employee wants to get more information about an author or recipient of an email.
Communications campaign for end users
In addition to Microsoft Office 365 integration, Connections version 7.0 also provides new features such as community templates. Continental launched a communications campaign at the beginning of 2022 to allow users to make the best possible use of all the innovations. Accompanying the release of new functions, suitable training materials and videos were made available. Skaylink has involved its proven partners panagenda and Schmitz und Wiesner in the content creation process.
In addition, users around the world were able to participate in virtual ‟show and tell” sessions in which Continental and Skaylink experts presented the new functions and answered questions about them.
“We are proud that our operation of ConNext has worked smoothly over the past ten years. We prepared all updates on the basis of our expertise and implemented them together with Continental. We always had our finger on the pulse of developments to be able to offer employees the best possible user experience,” explains Andreas Weinbrecht. “We look forward to more exciting projects where we will continue our successful collaboration.”
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