Retail chain Cash Converters has ignored the data sovereignty concerns of other finance providers about the public cloud, shifting its entire point of sale, consumer finance and CRM system to Microsoft Azure.
The organisation had planned to upgrade the platform, which was hosted on HP database servers inside individual stores, with a new physical deployment. The upgrade was expected to take up to ten years and at a cost of $1.5 million for the servers alone.
“After making the decision to invest in a cloud platform 12 months ago, we’ve now completed that rollout,” Cash Converters software development manager James Miles said.
The initial deployment was for Cash Converters’ 120 corporate stores, with franchised stores to follow. The organisation has 700 stores located across 21 different countries, with the deployment to eventually cover 400.
Miles said the operating expense for the production environment of the existing 120 stores now on the as-a-service platform was $150,000 a year.
“And we can add more stores to this platform and not have to spend more money,” Miles said.
Miles said the deployment should act as a blueprint for other retail chains looking to upgrade to the cloud.
“What you don’t see behind the flashy counter of most retail outlets is their server room.
“Over time unless you’re willing to exert more energy, your physical hardware deteriorates and it becomes more disordered.”
The organisation was previously unable to easily update its server operating environment. It also had to deal with the energy required for constant backups to protect data held in stores that could occasionally succumb to fire or other disasters.
And then there was physical security. “Someone could just walk into a store pickup a database server and walk out with it,” Miles said.
In the past, Cash Converters also faced insider threats, with franchisees jailed for amending customer data on the database.
“Now they can view it but they can’t edit the data, they can’t edit the book of record, whereas in the old model they could,” Miles said.
Finance in the cloud
Cash Converters is now embarking on a project to rewrite its personal finance system for unsecured loans, Miles told iTnews.
It recently launched an online loans system in the UK that is also hosted with Microsoft Azure.
Miles played down the concerns of banks about hosting sensitive customer data in a public cloud, and said it was generally a product of IT executives being risk averse.
“I think bank’s IT teams don’t want to do it. I’m sure the people running the bank want to do this stuff,” he said.
“When you’re looking after customer data this is a concern whether you’re running in the cloud or not. The techniques we would use to solve or rectify these concerns outside the cloud are the same techniques we’d use to rectify them inside the cloud.”
Miles said the person he spent the most time convincing to proceed with the project was the CIO.
“He was the guy I really had to sell this to," Miles said.
“I just don’t think our IT team would have even been capable of delivering this on the scale that it operates on.”
On the other hand, he said the business, for the first time, understood what was on offer.
“When you start talking about data centres and being able to flexibly deploy services to different countries, this is actually how businesses talk and this is how the c-level people of the business want to talk about it.
“There’s no competitive advantage in how well Cash Converters can run database servers.”
Charis Palmer travelled to Microsoft TechEd as a guest of Microsoft.