Business Agility and Windows Azure Cloud Platform


IT contribution to Business agility using Cloud Technology

This white paper describes what is business agility, how it can be improved using IT Agility and role of Cloud computing on IT and business agility. “Agility typically refers to the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in productive and cost-effective ways and meet customer demands by adjusting to the changes in a business environment by taking advantage of available resources”. Here, the word “resources” carries significant importance as it indicates what can change the entire game in organizations operations.  Agility and competitiveness goes hand in hand and is key factor in success of any business. As an Organization, who does not believe in agility is supposed to be leaping towards the obsoleteness and will be out of business in no time. Consider below 6 attributes which majorly influence the business agility in typical case.agility

An Organization can acquire agility by institutionalizing above 6 pillars in every possible business function of it. And IT is considered as one of the most important strategic business function of modern industry. IT becoming agile adds higher percentage of agility to overall organization. In this paper we will try to understand how IT agility impacts business agility. We will discuss this in the context of Microsoft Windows Azure Cloud computing as a platform to make your IT more agile, cost effective, efficient and flexible.

IT agility and business agility

Agility attributes

Focus on Time to value:

There is an almost obsessive focus on getting new products/services/features to market as soon as possible.  This enables a shorter feedback cycle and, equally importantly, a quicker timeframe to earn a return on the investment made. One can influence the market and competitor with this attribute.

cloudIT Response using Windows Azure Cloud Platform

  • Provision IT resources (Processing power, storage, bandwidth, databases, O.S etc.)  in minutes. No procurement review/approval cycles, negotiations, shipping delays, escalations. Windows Azure provides resources as quickly as you can imagine. Hit the market with your innovative ideas/ products in least possible time.
  • Tools and frameworks support to rapid application development shortening time to market. Windows Azure platform provides all the tooling and frameworks for your team to help build applications quickly.
  • Respond to your customers/needs immediately with added capacity, Windows Azure powers you with scalability and elasticity to allocate resources on the fly automatically as much you need any time. You can double or multiply the data/application load capacity in automatically.
  • Achieve quicker, faster and secure integrations with customers, partners, and vendors. Windows azure platform provides secure way to connect on-premise applications for data exchange with best in class security standards.
  • Expand your business around the globe. IT will follow you everywhere in no time. Windows Azure has data centers around the world providing lowest latency by deploying applications near to customer locations.
  • Gather data intelligence and analytics for taking brave decisions quickly, enable your application with cloud based reporting, Big data options to provide business predictions
  • Collaborate with stakeholders, provide right information at right place for right people using SharePoint Online or with any Content management and collaboration software

Innovation:

Always look for better way of doing things using latest and better technologies. This is considered as the most significant attribute and can impact to larger extent on enterprise’s success.

cloudIT Response using Windows Azure Cloud Platform

  • Cloud technology is the future, early adopters will benefit from it, all the innovations impacting business and IT will happen on this platform, future proof your business with this technology before your competitor does.

Flexibility: Flexible processes and options

This is where a lot of businesses (particularly larger enterprises) find it very difficult to move quickly to exploit new opportunities.  The more each business process is intertwined (coupled) with others, the harder it is to implement change quickly.

cloudIT Response using Windows Azure Cloud Platform

  • One of the reasons Cloud technology exists today is to provide required flexibility to business which was difficult to achieve earlier. Windows Azure platform provides numerous features and resources and each resource is available for use on Pay per use model. No capital expenditure is needed. No commitment to use resources is needed. Businesses can leverage Cloud resources on clock hourly basis and release them any time when no required. This flexibility will bridge the gap in large and small businesses where large business use to rely on their IT capacity to beat the small business competitors.

Low Latency: Faster decision making

The quicker a decision can be acted upon, the sooner the business knows whether the decision was right and what else needs to be done to achieve the underlying goal.

cloudIT Response using Windows Azure Cloud Platform

  • Once you sign up for Cloud, you will not face any challenges in procurement of resources like we do in on-premise case. No need to worry about Operating system software’s, Database software licenses, Server hardware, Network hardware, storage devices, load balancing mechanisms, back up mechanisms, disaster recovery mechanisms, failover sites, antivirus software’s, hardware support contracts, trainings, SLAs, WAN optimizations, routers, switches, power UPS, cooling, storage space, Blade/Rack Servers and what not. Cloud eliminates the decision making and waiting time delays.

Economic efficiency: Cost effective processes and resource leverage

A lazy, bureaucratic organization will protect its turf at the cost of progress and innovation.  Lean operations that minimize waste have the added incentive of promoting new and innovative ways of doing things, and being able to implement them quickly.

cloudIT Response using Windows Azure Cloud Platform

  • No upfront capital investment in any hardware, software’s, licenses allows you to try more business ideas with the market and fine tune your idea in response. This not only saves capital expenditure but also provides economic value in terms of Pay as you use model.
  • Reduce overall Total cost of ownership by eliminating CapEx and controlling OpeEx smartly.
  • If you don’t want 5 servers out of 7 in the night time, just remove them instantly and save money
  • With the help of Windows Azure platform support, Man to server maintenance ratio will increase allowing IT admin to manage, monitor more Cloud deployed Servers saving time which otherwise can be spend on innovative ideas which can benefit customers and prove to be differentiator in the market
  • If you are sure that you need certain resources for at least 6 months, you can opt commitment based plan and gain discounts up to 20%

Rapid Adaptation

This component really refers to the mindset of continual monitoring of, and adaptation to, changing market conditions.  It is the ultimate feedback mechanism that ensures the product/service offering is continually refined to best meet the needs/constraints of customers, suppliers and partners.

cloudIT Response using Windows Azure Cloud Platform

  • With an advent of cloud computing technology, you save lot of time in procurement, IT resource management, training, managing peak loads, licensing policies, support contracts etc. This allows you to focus more on your customer needs and studying market trends. This study will empower you to add more value in your business and correcting, fine tuning ideas, processes and methodologies regularly.
  • Once you are sign up for Windows Azure platform, all the inventions happening in the platform will follow your way which will help you further optimizing resources, adding more features to your applications and get feedback on it from customers to fine tune your offerings.

what can cloud do

Business Requirements and solutions

example

Company Profile for the Case study:

Dream medico equipment’s is public limited company having 2000 employees with annual revenue of $600 million. Company primarily manufactures innovative medical devices for customers around the globe which are majorly hospitals, pathologies spanning public, private and military sectors. Company has captured good market in America, Europe and Asia and is also planning to develop low cost medical devices/Products for personal use at home. Company has got many market competitors selling products at aggressive rates and providing good quality support services. As of now, IT department which manages all the application ecosystem on-premises including core JD Edwards ERP product. Through its lifespan company tries to solve above mentioned problems to be more agile and competitive. Let us see how IT agility will help company in achieving certain goals.

Revenue Growth

Problem statement: Dream medico equipment’s has been reviewing its revenue growth since last two quarters and it was found that it is satisfactory. However, company management thinks that if they focus more on possible growth areas they can increase revenues further.

Company higher management decides to be little aggressive in introducing new products in the market which was supposed to be launched one quarter later under personal use product category.

Company wants to prelaunch few innovative products with attractive price portfolio and sees how market responds to it. Company wants to book good amount of business during pre-launch offer and collect feedback about the sample products and Product specifications in accordance with prices quoted. Also customer, partners and vendors may provide feedback in terms of few new features they want to see in the products or entirely few new product ideas may take birth.

Dream medico equipment’s CEO calls for a meeting with other executives to decide on feasibility to conduct prelaunch event in months’ time and seek if one month is sufficient for the preparation. CEO explains significance of this prelaunch offer for forthcoming projects in terms of below benefits -

Business Benefits

  • Booking a business in advance
  • Market capture ahead of competitors
  • Brand establishment
  • Seek customer feedback on products and go back to Product design team and incorporate wherever applicable
  • Reduce risk of mass producing products if certain products are not well received
  • Look for big orders by health care institutions and care homes

Sales Head explain about the possible sales channels for Product promotion and accepting prelaunch orders. He wants to open up multiple sales channels to promote the product.

Business head explains which products to be launched with which features. Since this event will be driven and owned by business. Business head has determined some budget for it, when he discloses the budget and the date for the event which is just one month away. Other executives are not happy with available time, required preparations and budget which is they feel is very constrained.

Business head reiterates the significance of this event and also explains why there is definite budget available, he explains – “Since this event can empower our revenue growth, event has significance in time which cannot be postponed. Since this is just a onetime event and not an ongoing activity there cannot be more budget available for this. Also if products are not received well by customer, all these expenses will become waste and also it may impact on company brand in the market, so management doesn’t want to spend very big numbers for this event.”

Business Risks

  • Available time – The entire event may fail if preparations are not completed well in time. This included efforts by teams like marketing, sales, IT and Products team.
  • User experience – New product site may have performance issues because of unpredictable number of customers, partners, and analysts can visit from around the world. As site will be visited, videos will be downloaded, product documents will be downloaded, adverts will be played, orders will be accepted, and payment transactions will be done.

As usual, IT head was under pressure to provide the required support for this business initiative. After further discussions with business, marketing and sales team, it was decided to build below systems for specific purposes.

  • Web Sales Channel – Major sales channel will be a new web site where all pre-launch products will be listed along with prices, estimated arrival time, features and specifications, videos, adverts. Customers can visit the site, review products and put comments /feedback against it. If they like a product they can place an order. This site should be separate from existing company product web site. However, there should be feature in existing and new site to allow users move back and forth.
  • Second sales channel will be a tablet application for sales team who will be in the field in various hospitals and health care institutes. Sales team will be demoing products and showing videos, adverts on the tablet along with accepting orders through tablet application.
  • Business team needs a light weight reporting tool for understanding business realization of this event. This reporting application will not be needed after this event unless another product launch in future.
  • Company wants to add new products into their existing distributor’s portal so that they can place orders for new products. Business estimates that there will be large traffic attracted by this portal because of distributors accessing it concurrently. IT needs to take care of appropriate performance needs during peak time.

Major challenges in front of IT manager are –

1. Development of –

  • New web site for web sales channel in short period of time
  • Tablet application for sales team
  • Reporting website

2. Manage high traffic demands on all of above sites

3. Provision hardware, network and software resources in available time and available budget

4. Delays in procurement of resources(hardware, software)

5. Keeping total cost of ownership low, avoid upfront investment as resources are not needed for ever

6. Look for some innovative way of achieving all these challenges to serve such requests in future

During this analysis, IT head and Manager decides to take a next step and concludes to select Microsoft Windows Azure Cloud Platform as a future platform not investing any more in on-premise data center.

Cost Reduction

The first challenge of budget limitation is addressed by choosing Windows Azure platform.

  • No upfront cost investment in software’s, hardware, licenses, failover sites, storage disks, bandwidth, Racks/blades, load balancers etc.
  • Company need to pay as per your usage only
  • Cost can be controlled at hourly unit basis
  • Stop paying for resources released back to platform
  • Company can also save from other costs involved in on-premise deployments like electricity power, cooling, Space
  • Human resource time saving which is usually required to monitor, manage and maintain the servers
  • Better human-to-server maintenance-ratio for managing cloud deployed servers saving administrators savings
  • Time saving in Procurement, decision making, reviews and approvals
  • Time saving in maintaining Server O.S and database licenses, service packs/patches, license expiries, hardware compatibility, CALS etc.

Manage Business in Peak Period

Major challenge in managing business in this period was lack of information on potential load or unpredictable nature of traffic spike. Team needed really dynamic scalable solution to auto adjust the server resources per actual traffic need.

Azure Platform inherently supports scalability and elasticity in cost effective manner. Team implemented auto scaling solution to increase number of servers as load increased and decrease number of servers during low traffic time. All this process can be done automatically without manual intervention.

Company could reduce lead time completely by providing adequate number of resources required for the event resulting in best user experience and successful sales trial.

Response to Risk

With the help of Windows Azure technology, IT department could deal with Business and IT risks in below way-

  • Using Windows Azure platform support, tools and frameworks, websites were developed in rapid way. Company opted for cloud enabled ‘NopCommerce’ open source framework to quickly develop the new web site. This framework has features already available required for this website.
  • Since ‘NopCommerce’ framework like other numerous products is pre-integrated into the Azure platform. This allowed development team to quickly develop the websites and test it by deploying it in Azure staging environment.
  • For storing video, audio, images, product specifications document, team used Windows Azure Blob storage services. This is very cost effective and efficient option.
  • For managing another risk of user experience under such a high load condition was managed by -
    • Better video and audio streaming Video/audio content is stored in ‘Block blob’
    • Since Site was supposed to be used across the globe, team used Azure Content distribution Network (CDN) for distributing and caching content among various Azure nodes for best performance.
    • Using Azure ‘Auto scaling’ feature, sites could be dynamically scaled out to required number of servers to server the traffic

Thus, IT agility could help manage business risk effectively.

Low Cost Reporting Solution

Development of reporting site was done with least amount time by developing few reports using SQL Server Reporting services feature. Team needed web server to deploy the reports on-premises, which was time consuming process to get. Team used SQL Azure Reporting services for report deployment which is charged per number of reports, which also eliminated the need of buying SQL Server license. After the event, reports will be removed from the SQL Azure Reporting service server stopping getting charged further.

Sales team Mobility

For Tablet application development, Windows Azure Mobile Services proved to be accelerator where team just designed a database and platform automatically creates required template web services and sample client mobile application specific to platform such as windows Phone, IPad/IPhone etc. Team could save considerable time in development and testing phase, Team did not experience any environment differences (Production/Staging) and effort wastage cause of it. Team could gain required scalability in no time when needed.

Sales - Distributor Connect

Anticipating high load on Sales-Distributor portal, entire portal was moved to Azure platform. Team used IaaS feature of platform by provisioning Windows Server 2008 R2 Virtual machine and another virtual machine with SQL Server 2008 R2. Since this portal was built for scalability, team could scale this portal on multiple web servers in load balanced manner which is implicitly available in Azure platform. Team need not bought O.S or SQL Server licenses for this migration which is already considered by the platform in per hour pricing.

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Friends ! I hope this helps :)
Laxmikant Patil

 

 

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3 Responses to “Business Agility and Windows Azure Cloud Platform”

  1. Noor Patel Says:

    it was very much helpful :)

  2. Tanya Says:

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    thoughts on this issue. Really.. many thanks for starting this up.
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