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The financial services industry is often cited as an example of a sector that – for regulatory compliance and data protection reasons – has been slow to adopt cloud computing.
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But for every rule there is an exception, and in this case it is Ebury. The London-based firm specialises in the provision of financial services to small and medium-sized enterprises and third-sector organisations, and its operations are underpinned by cloud-based apps and technologies at almost every turn.
Speaking to Computer Weekly, Ebury chief technology officer Toby Young says the company and its operations are run almost exclusively in the cloud, with the exception of a single on-premise server, which is squirrelled away in a datacentre that backs up its in-office connection to the Society for Worldwide InterBank Financial Telecommunications (Swift) payments network.
“We’re very aggressive in terms of adding value as fast as possible to our customers, and we would experience friction with them if we weren’t able to quickly make the decisions we need to or we would fail fast in terms of trying things out if we were slowed down by having to provision additional servers and on-premise hardware,” he says.
It is this kind of attitude to business agility that has shaped the firm’s cloud-first approach to IT, which has markedly accelerated since Young joined the firm a year ago.
“When I joined, we had most of our kit running in Rackspace, but there was no cloud approach at all regarding the desktop or other applications that don’t necessarily sit in the datacentre,” he says.
But it has been all change since then, with Ebury opting to leave Rackspace behind in favour of Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) vast tranche of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings, while making a concerted effort to use more software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools throughout its business.
This has seen it adopt a swath of business-focused cloud apps, such as Saleforce’s customer relationship management tools, NewVoiceMedia’s telephony kit and other finance-related offerings, which its 160-strong sales team can now access through a web browser on their Chromebooks.
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The latter hardware was introduced as part of an “aggressive” PC replacement campaign in the organisation, which has resulted in fewer IT support requests and helped the firm’s sales team become more upwardly mobile.
“We will move our sales around regularly, so if all they need to do their job is accessible in the browser, it makes it extremely cheap for those moves to take place,” says Young.
“We don’t have to climb under any desks and unplug anything, move phones or PCs around because we’ve focused on ensuring everything our users need, both externally and internally, are serviced through the browser.”
Countering the cloud security threat
While security concerns are often cited as a reason not to move to the cloud, Young says this setup has actually helped to simplify its data protection procedures and made it easier to keep track of where the organisation’s business information is, thanks in part to Google’s productivity tools.
“We’ve achieved huge productivity gains by not using Microsoft Word and Office. While they’re catching up with allowing users to share documents, that ability to collaborate didn’t really exist a year ago,” says Young.
“Google certainly helped us do that to a huge extent. It also means we have tight control over the information that is shared and it means it doesn’t exist on people’s hard disks any more, which is important from a security perspective.”
As previously stated, Ebury has adopted a number of SaaS applications to support the work of its sales team, and the data these generate can now be fed into Birst’s cloud-based business intelligence (BI) platform to create self-service reports for its senior executive team.
Toby Young, Ebury
It also provides the Ebury team with greater data analytics capabilities, which allow it to get a more thorough view of what is going on within its customer base and business as a whole.
“There wasn’t really anything at Ebury like this a year ago, in terms of having a single place to pull all that data together. Being able to bring in all the data we have and track its progress from being an initial lead through to revenue [generation] is hugely important for our continuous improvement,” says Young.
“We’re using it to build out our capabilities in generating leads, nurturing them and retaining customers to make sure we’re addressing them to the best of their needs.”
Various other BI tools were evaluated by the company before signing the contract with Birst in November 2014, but the software’s data modelling capabilities ensured the other runners and riders were quickly discounted, says Young.
“We can do some fun stuff, such as operational and design work. It’s more than just bringing in the data and displaying it, we’re also able to do some proper modelling of it. And, against Salesforce, we can do some real cohort analysis,” he continues. “You can’t really do things like that if you just look at a flat dataset.”
Making better use of customer information was one of the drivers behind the firm’s decision to make the move over to AWS, says Young, as it meant his team would be able to make almost immediate use of the cloud giant’s range of data warehousing and management tools.
Passing on the cloud advantage
Cloud technologies have made a big difference to the way Ebury operates, and – as a result – the company is keen to help its own customers feel the benefit too, adds Young.
“We’re acting as a partner to our customers by providing them with an instance of our systems. Its our SaaS, but delivered to them in their own separate instance,” he says.
One of the key benefits of this arrangement is that it makes it easier for Ebury to do business overseas, which is important as one of the company’s major aims is to help make it easier for its own customers to expand internationally.
“It helps us because if we move into other jurisdictions that may have different data or security requirements from other regulators we can – at the flick of a switch – spin up new instances where their data is kept completely separate and secure,” Young says.
“That’s really important for us and is the backbone of where Ebury is looking to grow, as we expand in Europe and follow our supply chain into places such as China and India.”