ISV Exceedra uses cloud to speed deployment & cut costs


Exceedra, based in Marlow, is a leading provider of IT solutions that help consumer packaged goods companies and retailers manage their commercial operations and supply chains. In response to customer requests for cloud-based solutions, the company redesigned its core software for the Windows Azure platform. This strategic move is helping Exceedra customers, while significantly expanding the solution provider’s ability to speed up its sales cycle and reach new global markets and customer segments.

Business Needs

Exceedra  is an independent software vendor specialising in sales planning and supply-chain management solutions for consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers and retailers. The company’s two flagship products - Procast and ActNow -help companies with tasks such as planning and tracking the success of product promotions, monitoring retail inventory levels, and sales forecasting. Its customers include well-known corporate names such as Heineken, EMI Music, Twinings Tea, Revlon, and Pirelli.

Exceedra historically used a traditional IT model of installing on-premises software to run the data capture and analytics processes. But as cloud technologies emerged and evolved in the past few years, customers began requesting cloud-based solutions to address the challenges of locally deployed software packages.

Richard Nicholas, Director and Co-Founder of Exceedra, says the on-premises solutions were increasingly expensive and difficult to deploy and maintain. “Customers had to invest in and maintain expensive server equipment and software,” he says. “The on-premises deployment model also created problems for us. It was a challenge selling our solutions to a wider geographical audience. And there were prospects who we simply could not reach, particularly smaller companies that need a product like ours but cannot afford the same kinds of large, sophisticated software packages used by major corporations.”

Solution

Exceedra, which is a member of the Microsoft BizSpark One  programme, made a strategic shift in its business model and technology offerings by redesigning its two core products to function as either cloud-based and on-premises software. Specifically, Exceedra redesigned Procast and ActNow to work on Windows Azure  and Microsoft SQL Azure  cloud technologies, as well as related database, reporting, and data storage services.

“We have a fast-growing base of customers who see how cloud computing can deliver great benefits in terms of cost, scalability, and operational efficiencies,” says Nicholas. “A year or two ago, there weren’t any customers asking for cloud solutions. Today, about 15 percent of our prospects want solutions that run in the cloud. We anticipate that within 18 months, 40 percent of prospects will demand cloud-based solutions. The future in our market is clearly in cloud computing. We felt it was an important strategic move to migrate our customers and our development efforts to the Windows Azure platform.”

The cloud versions of Procast and ActNow are offered to customers on a subscription basis and provide a scalable, flexible alternative to on-premises deployments. The applications use small software agents called “collectors,” which automatically sign on to a retailer’s supplier portal to extract data. Data storage and processing are performed on the Windows Azure platform. The solution includes web-based dashboards for viewing data, extracting business insights, and performing predictive analytics and planning.

As part of the design process, Exceedra created a proof of concept at a Microsoft Technology Center (MTC)  facility near London. “Working with the Microsoft team at the MTC, we were able to architect, build, and test a complete solution on Windows Azure,” says Nicholas. “It was an invaluable step in the process of becoming a cloud-based solution provider.”

Benefits

By moving its core solution offerings to the Windows Azure platform, Exceedra can meet growing customer demand for cloud computing while dramatically improving its leading position in the market for CPG and retail analytics tools. Exceedra customers gain scalability and flexibility at a lower, more predictable cost for analytics tasks. At the same time, Exceedra can reach new markets with a lower price structure, and can increase its sales cycles with fast, flexible solutions.

Provides greater scalability, lower cost

By taking advantage of the cloud, Exceedra can manage large volumes of data more easily. “Using ActNow on the Windows Azure platform has allowed us to offer much greater scalability to handle the volume of data as well as spikes during promotional periods. With the Windows Azure platform, you simply add more capacity when it is needed,” says Nicholas. “And because of its subscription model, the platform gives customers a predictable cost and eliminates the expense of large, complex IT infrastructures.”

Opens new markets

One Exceedra customer, Plum Baby , is a baby food company that in just a few years has grown from a startup to a company with more than £25 million (U.S.$41 million) in revenues. “A few years ago, our solution was out of reach for a company like that, because the initial outlay would have been too high,” says Nicholas. “Today, operating on the Windows Azure platform can cut initial customer outlay by a good 50 percent, which opens up large, new, customer markets. And, with the cloud, we can easily port our software to data centres around the world, helping us push into new global markets.”

Speeds sales cycles

In addition, the Windows Azure platform eliminates the need for Exceedra to configure and maintain complex IT systems, allowing it instead to focus on its core competencies and speeding up its sales cycle. “When we have a new potential customer, we can quickly create a prototype, demonstrate it, and get it running,” says Nicholas. “Our sales cycle is much faster, and we can get new innovations to market quickly. The Windows Azure platform gives us a significant competitive advantage in a rapidly growing market space.”

Microsoft Cloud Services

Microsoft offers a complete set of cloud-based solutions to meet business needs, including solutions for advertising, communications (email, meetings), collaboration (document storage, sharing, workflow), business applications (customer resource management, business productivity), data storage and management, and infrastructure services.  In addition, customers can take advantage of an entire ecosystem of solution providers and Microsoft partners. For more information, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/cloud.

Microsoft BizSpark

For more information, please visit www.microsoft.com/bizspark .

Windows Azure Platform

The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:

Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centres.

Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 technologies.

Windows Azure AppFabric. With Windows Azure AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.

  • AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.

  • AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST web services.

Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket. Developers and information workers can use the new service DataMarket to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.

To learn more, visit: www.microsoft.com/windowsazure

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