Featured BizSpark Startup on Azure – Avancert

Interview with Sean Davidson, CEO of Avancert.

Web site: http://www.avancert.com/

Tell us who you are and your role in the company:

Chief Executive Officer, but being in a startup company my responsibilities range from meeting customers right though to cutting code or making the coffee.

What is your company’s mission?  

To make computer based assessment, testing and examination easy and affordable for organizations of all sizes.

In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does: 

We provide an end to end, cloud based solution for authoring, delivery and management of assessment, testing and examinations. 

Tell us about your Azure based solution.

Avancert.com is a ‘Software as a Service’ platform that provides everything organizations need for examination, assessment, video interview and testing. All features are provided via a web browser based interface and range from question bank and candidate management right through to sitting management and accepting online payment. We also offer additional forms of assessment based around video recording using the web camera built into most people’s PC’s these days.

Traditionally, smaller organizations have lacked the financial resources and knowledge to bring together a number of different shrink wrapped packages to deliver computer based testing and assessment. Being an ‘end to end’ solution that doesn’t require expensive in-house infrastructure or complex integration skills, Avancert.com makes computer based assessment accessible and affordable to organizations of all sizes. Not only that, but it helps organizations reduce instances of cheating (assessments are completely randomized and different each time taken) improve assessment quality via built in question performance reporting.

Our target customers include government regulators, professional bodies and education and training organizations responsible for licensing, testing or examining. Examples of applications include driver’s license testing, examination of aircraft maintenance engineers and testing of electrical workers.

Avancert.com is a “white label” type solution allowing organizations to brand it as their own and we already have some high profile Asia Pacific customers using it in this way.

How is Azure implemented in your solution?

The Avancert.com platform is built entirely on the Azure platform using Microsoft Visual Studio Toolset and C#/.Net application development.

How did you get excited about Azure? * We needed high reliability as it would be a real problem if we had an outage half way through the delivery of an exam for example. At the same time, being a ‘bootstrapped’ startup company it didn’t make sense to invest in a lot of equipment required to achieve this and have it sitting idle. We’ve seen a lot of start-up companies make this mistake and it always ends up with equipment being totally under-utilized or problems scaling up quickly if the business is successful. Azure provides a great way to match your expenses to your revenue, and with free facilities provided as part of the BizSpark program it really is a ‘no brainer’ to make the decision to use Azure instead of building your own infrastructure.

What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?

The business of assessment and testing can by quite cyclic, and the ability to spin up extra application instances to cope with peak demands without paying for capacity to sit idle during quieter periods is a real boon. Also, we’d already built and tested the commercial prototype in asp.net with scalability in mind, so migrating to Azure only took a couple of hours. What really surprised us however was that despite conceptually being a more complicated ‘cloud’ type platform – once we moved over the automated deployment process was actually simpler and easier than the traditional co-located IIS hosting provider equivalent.

What specific value are you getting from BizSpark beyond the technology?

There is some recognition in the market of the branding that often helps in the sales process.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment since founding your company?

My co-founders and I have all come from a business consulting and applications development background where a lot of time is spent contractually agreeing with different parties what will be delivered and how. As development progressed and we started getting functionality out there we realized that a lot of this traditional analysis time can be wasted – sometimes it’s just easier to quickly build something very basic, get it online and see what works.  It’s much easier to get people to try things and give feedback than it is to ask them to understand documentation or comment on things they haven’t seen or tried before. Azure and cloud based development makes this more ‘agile’ style development process a lot easier.

What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?

Building a cloud based application is often not as complicated as it seems. If you follow good applications development practices with respect to scaling and security then most likely it means you’ll end up focusing on the application rather than dealing with the infrastructure side of things. Whilst there might be some concern over lack of control by some technical staff – this is usually more than made up for by enthusiasm from those on the Finance side of things with respect to improved cash-flow and better matching of revenue to expenses.  This is great for high growth or variable volumes type scenarios also.

What is the one thing that you would like readers to take away about your Azure app?

Avancert.com makes assessment, examination and testing easy and affordable for organizations of any size meaning poor quality paper based exams, cheating, and rote learned answers become a thing of the past.

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