How Microsoft Finance Improved Reliability With SQL Azure

As part of our Azure app modernisation inspiration series, it seems only right to focus on Microsoft itself and how it uses its services to improve its own operations. One such example is Microsoft’s Finance department. It found that its Payee Management Application that was used to onboard new suppliers and partners wasn’t reliable or flexible enough to meet customer demands. In fact, the whole experience was broken and in need of a significant overhaul. 

What Challenges Was Microsoft Finance Facing?

The Payee Management Application at Microsoft Finance with its 95,000 active supplier and partner accounts, was on-premises. As it was linked to such a vast organisation, the infrastructure was huge as well as old and bulky. There was database logging in place, but there was no ability to set up alerts. What this meant was that when the application failed due to bugs or infrastructure issues, no-one knew about it. And, unfortunately, due to its age and size, the application was frequently failing. The team at Microsoft Finance only found out there was a problem when a user filed an issue. 

The next issue was the complexity of solving the frequent problems once they had been found. Investigations could take two to three hours before a resolution was found, and by the time the problem was fixed, the application was often offline for up to 12 hours. And reliability wasn’t the only problem; updating the application required the system to be taken offline for considerable lengths of time too. Teams were working in silos, continually repeating manual work with little cross-team collaboration. The culmination was an extremely poor user experience.

Microsoft Finance’s Move to The Cloud

Moving the Payee Management application to the cloud opened up many new opportunities for Microsoft’s Finance team. The migration took around nine months, but improvements were noticed almost immediately, such as:

  • DevOps engineering practices – the team could use more modern processes enabling them to collaborate cross-team, resolve issues and implement changes much more quickly.
  • Instant failure reporting – instead of waiting for a user to report an issue, they were automatically reported and then either fixed immediately or queued accordingly with the engineering team.
  • Faster issue resolution – production issues no longer took over 12 hours to resolve and some could be fixed in just 15 minutes, with a maximum SLA of four hours. 
  • Online updates – it was no longer necessary to shut down the system to make application updates.
  • Improved reliability – after experiencing an extremely low reliability on-premises, the application availability increased to 95-99 per cent. 

Moving the application to Azure made a huge difference. The team no longer had to spend time fire-fighting and could focus on looking after their customers rather than infrastructure. 

The Benefits of SQL Azure?

SQL Azure is Microfot’s cloud database service. It is based on SQL Server database technology but built on Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud platform to provide a general-purpose relational database as a managed service. SQL Azure allows companies to store relational data in the cloud and, importantly, to easily scale the size of the databases based on business-demands. 

SQL Azure provides its customers with database management and engineering expertise along with large-scale distributed systems design. Since moving from the on-premise SQL Server database to SQL Azure, Microsoft’s Payee Management application has experienced vast improvements:

  • No down-time –  there is no need to shut the app down or reboot the server to solve issues or upgrade systems. With no interruptions due to accidental server restarts and patch installations, the team can make changes at the click of a button. 
  • Easy scalability – when user loads change, Azure SQL makes it easier to scale the application, again at the click of a button.
  • Opportunity to experiment – as well as the SQL Server the team can experiment with Cosmos DB, table storage, MySQL and more. New features are frequently added, and there is no need for manual updates. 
  • Improved insights – the team has access to the application’s data, SQL Azure tunes itself based on the incoming load and learns from the data it receives. 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg for the team. Future plans are to use AI and machine learning to analyse the application in greater depth. The data processing power of SQL Azure is far superior to anything possible on-premises. What this means for Microsoft Finance is that it can continue to increase the reliability and agility of its service and focus on customer needs. 

Could XAM Azure Consultants Help You to Improve Your Business?

If like Microsoft Finance, you’re encountering reliability issues with your old on-premises infrastructure, then moving to Microsoft Azure and taking advantage of cloud-based services can make a huge difference. 

SQL Azure enables businesses to be faster and more powerful. Instead of spending time focusing on technical infrastructure and fighting constant issues, you have the ability to focus on what your customers need. SQL Azure takes the concerns away and enables you to deliver a scalable service and to constantly strive to improve it. 

What’s more, the Azure SQL team are also constantly making improvements. Microsoft continuously monitor and analyse the behaviour of their services and their customers’ experiences. Frequent enhancements are made to feature sets, reliability and performance. What this means is that you’ll have the confidence to rely on your data when you need it and will know that your systems and applications will be online, up to date and secure without you having to invest your own engineering resources. 

To summarise, here are the challenges, the solution and the benefits that Microsoft Finance experienced:

  • Challenges – Microsoft Finance’s Payee Management Application was extremely unreliable due to the old monolithic on-premises infrastructure. The application constantly failed, updates were extremely time-consuming, and user experience was very poor. 
  • Solution – Microsoft Finance migrated its application to the cloud where it could take advantage of SQL Azure, Microsoft’s cloud database service. SQL Azure would allow the company to not only store relational data but to easily scale the size of its databases with the business. 
  • Benefits – by using SQL Azure, the Payee Management Application has very little downtime. Issues can be resolved and updates implemented quickly and effectively, teams can collaborate and experiment with new features, and the application can be scaled at the click of a button. 

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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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