Potting mix and horticultural supplier finds firmer ground with security upgrade

All businesses fear cyber-attacks. Australian Growing Solutions (AGS) – a potting mix specialist and horticultural supply company – had the misfortune to experience a serious ransomware attack, leading them to implement an urgent upgrade to their security systems.

Objective: A new strategy and system to manage cyber risk

A major security breach in the form of a crypto locker threat in February 2019 meant that AGS lost a lot of valuable data, including back up files. As all electronic files and data (except emails which were in the cloud and their ERP which resided on a Linux platform) were encrypted, the security breach affected most of AGS’ information systems, including critical business applications such as payroll.

The company’s part time IT contractor didn’t have the necessary skills to address the problem once it had happened. The event also revealed major vulnerabilities in AGS ICT systems.

“Our fundamental failure was that all backups were online,” said Andrew Chessum, CFO, AGS. “There were no offline, cold storage backups.”

“We’d been having some doubts about the capability of our existing IT contractor. Of course we understand that you can’t fully mitigate against cyber breach, however this event  was the catalyst that made us realise we needed to make a change.”

– Andrew Chessum, CFO, AGS

Upgrade to a complete cloud security bundle and infrastructure

AGS undertook a robust selection and evaluation process, meeting with four potential IT partners at least twice. Retrac stood out for the complete cloud solution they offered.

“We were very impressed with their presentations around the solution and how they explained this in layman’s terms which was easy to understand,” said Andrew Chessum, CFO, AGS.

The most important factor in making the decision was to address security and cyber risk and do this in a way that was manageable in terms of cost for a small business.

An upfront challenge was that the current AGS systems weren’t maintained to Retrac’s standards. This therefore entailed a significant new set up and investment, including upgrading the network, desktops and mobile devices.

The benefit was a new ICT environment that was as secure as it could be from a technology perspective and which was functioning at a high-level right from the get-go. Retrac rolled out an overhaul including Office 365, OneDrive, Sharepoint, new backup systems and a complete cloud security bundle.

“The implementation took about 8 weeks which was a little longer than envisaged, but it was a big project with a lot of hardware to replace and, given our negative experience earlier in the year, there was no point rushing. It was more important to ensure that security was correctly implemented, and the end user experience was seamless. It’s early days but staff are already loving the new system.”

– Andrew Chessum, CFO, AGS

Immediate security improvements deliver peace of mind

The project is still relatively new, but AGS are seeing remarkable improvements in security and other areas of the business already including:

Visibility and certainty around security: “Peace of mind that systems are secure has been the main impact,” said Andrew Chessum. “Everything is in the cloud, with multiple levels of backup and redundancy to protect our company’s data and information.”

Confidence in IT partner: Retrac can see network outages and let AGS know if there is an issue, often before they even realised. This level of proactive monitoring is a great relief.

Support with training: “There is a lot of new functionality in the cloud solution,” noted Andrew Chessum. “Our team needs to explore and learn more about what is available and Retrac are helping us do that.”

Staff can get on with their job: While it’s too early to track specific productivity outputs, the staff love the new system and have been freed up to focus on their work, not worrying about security or backup issues.

The graphs below show clearly what a big difference the change has made already. It’s evident that after Retrac implemented their security bundle, AGS’ security score rose significantly:





“I know Retrac is across what is happening, I know we are more protected and secure than we were before which is great.”

– Andrew Chessum, CFO, AGS

A shift to a forward planning mentality

The project has given AGS the confidence to shift to a forward planning approach around technology.

“We are catching up with Retrac regularly and thinking more strategically about IT and where we are going,” said Andrew Chessum. “We’re asking things like what we can do proactively to further improve productivity and efficiency of the end user?”

Words of Advice

Andrew Chessum recommends the thorough selection process they conducted when seeking to identify an appropriate ICT partner for the cloud and cloud security. “You need to engage with a range of consultants to gather as much information as possible about best practice solutions and how you can mitigate your risk,” he said.

“It’s important to select a third party that aligns well with your business and your business needs. Don’t just look at cost and solution, assess also how they align with your business, strategy and people.”

– Andrew Chessum, CFO, AGS


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