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How MongoDB is driving growth in ANZ

MongoDB, which counts the likes of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank as clients, has been driving skills development and investing in local manpower in Australia and New Zealand

Open-source database company MongoDB has been driving skills development and investing in local manpower in a bid to grow its business in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ).

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Anoop Dhankhar, regional vice-president at MongoDB, said the company has been growing its business at around 20% in ANZ, with high customer retention levels.

It has more than 1,200 local customers and a staff strength of over 150 people in ANZ, which is 50% more than this time last year, Dhankhar said.

Plans are afoot to continue recruiting in 2023, and – unlike some companies – its local operation is more than a sales organisation: it has a big team of developers and software engineers and runs graduate and cadet programmes to build technical skills.

MongoDB appeals to organisations looking for rapid development times and a database system that is secure, reliable and is available in the cloud.

While that includes startups such as My Muscle Chef and Humanitix, other customers include established companies such as Ticketek and financial services businesses such as Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and Macquarie.

The latter is “going all in on MongoDB”, according to Dhankhar, who notes that the database supports many of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority standards for operational risk management.

How MongoDB is used

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank started using MongoDB around 2014 when it needed a database to support a project that used the MeteorJS development framework to help it deliver modern cloud-native solutions more quickly, said Ash Austin, platforms practice lead at the bank.

A community edition wasn’t appropriate for a production system, so it used Compose’s hosted MongoDB. This provided a great start, he said, and was used to deliver several applications.

In 2020, a transformation plan to optimise and simplify applications – including an API (application programming interface) strategy based on MongoDB and Node.js – meant it was time to go bigger, said Austin, so the bank decided to make MongoDB its preferred database for new developments and switched to Atlas, MongoDB’s multi-cloud database service.

One example of its use is for recording customer entitlements. For example, an individual might be a signatory to an account held by a local sports club in addition to their personal account. A document structure is a better way of dealing with this than a series of bits indicating access rights, observed Austin, especially with Consumer Data Right (CDR) being exercised more frequently.

Bendigo is still using other databases where they are suitable, but MongoDB and Atlas are great for banking applications, he said, especially where several different datasets are involved. An example of this is an application that reviews the progress of customers’ applications, as it involves different data sets built up over time.

Benefits of the migration to Atlas included a better than 50% reduction in total cost of ownership, faster provisioning (thanks to automation and Terraform integration, this is now done in minutes rather than hours or even days), a 20-30% uplift in performance, and database compression resulting in a more than 50% reduction in total storage requirements. These factors are “highly important in the current climate”, Austin said.

Looking ahead, he said financial year 2023 is “the year of the API” at the bank and exposing the right APIs will be fundamental to accelerating the bank’s digitisation and offering more simplified products. When it comes to CDR, everything must be API-enabled, and MongoDB “is best of breed” for a range of purposes including operational data stores and prototyping.

Atlas’s support for multicloud clusters across Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS) is significant, and Austin is keen to take advantage of the system’s ability to replicate across clouds when an appropriate use case comes up.

MongoDB “is a really flexible product”, he said, adding: “It’s not MongoDB’s modus operandi to lock customers into a proprietary system – instead they prefer to ensure the quality of their solutions deliver everything customers expect.” He also noted that MongoDB “has set the standard for others to follow”.

Besides financial services, Dhankhar said MongoDB has a “reasonable footprint” in government.

The company is undergoing IRAP (Information Security Registered Assessors Programme) assessment, which should lead to a bigger addressable market in the government sector from mid-2023.

IRAP certification, which covers some 700 controls is “a ticket to the dance”, Dhankhar said. At present, government customers only use MongoDB on-premise, and certification could make a “huge” difference to the company in Australia. “Government is the biggest sector in the country,” said Dhankhar, accounting for around 50% of Queensland’s IT, for example.

Comprehensive features

Importantly for some customers, MongoDB clusters can be spun up as required, supporting agility and the ability to expand into new geographies, while data can be constrained to its local cluster to meet data sovereignty requirements.

The database even makes provision for the “right to be forgotten” that is part of Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and similar legislation, Dhankhar said. This provides a degree of future proofing in other jurisdictions, such as Australia, in case it gets introduced. “All we’ve got to do is switch it on,” he added.

MongoDB’s multicloud replication feature is unique, Dhankhar said. It allows a system running on AWS to replicate to Google Cloud or Azure to allow continued operation in the event of a catastrophe.

Another attractive feature is that everything is included in the MongoDB developer platform – there are no optional extras. “We look at it from an agility perspective,” he explained, so features such as encryption and the “right to be forgotten” support can simply be turned on with no need to redevelop the application.

Selling points for MongoDB include its suitability for high volume, highly resilient transaction monitoring applications; for consumer-oriented businesses, especially those seeking international growth as Atlas is available in 97 regions around the world; and for applications that must be highly reliable, such as banking and other assets of national resilience.

More generally, MongoDB is ideal for microservices architectures – for example, when a large retailer implements inventory, price check, address check and other microservices. “That’s our bread and butter [at] MongoDB,” said Dhankhar.

Platform for growth

Max Ferguson, co-founder and CEO of PDF collaboration specialist Lumin, wrote the first version of his company’s software in 2014 when working on a construction site where paper documents kept getting lost and the online system did not allow annotations. He built Lumin PDF on MongoDB “as the developer experience was fantastic”, partly because of its flexible data model.

Lumin PDF uses MongoDB to store every change made in a PDF document and then sync it with other users of that document.

The product scaled to one million users in a year, and in 2019 Lumin switched to Atlas because “MongoDB took a lot of the maintenance effort off our hands”, said Ferguson.

Today, the New Zealand company has 75 million users around the world and has employees in several countries including the Philippines and Ukraine.

The MongoDB developer experience is an important factor at Lumin. Ferguson chose the product because he liked it, and eight years later there are plenty of developers who know MongoDB and how to use it, so “it’s very easy for us to get them up and running quickly”.

Scalability is another consideration, with “MongoD able to scale with us” from less than one million to 75 million, said Ferguson.

The company “took on too much responsibility” in terms of managing the software, he added, saying it was “a huge roadblock”, but moving to Atlas took away that load, allowing Lumin to concentrate on the application itself.

The availability of Atlas in multiple countries is relevant to companies such as Lumin that want to grow internationally. Not only do customers benefit from better performance but keeping data locally, or at least in an acceptable region, is important to some customers, especially larger ones, he said.

Furthermore, Atlas provides 99.995% uptime, and takes steps to reduce the risk of data loss.

Plans for Lumin include providing an improved document search facility (something it will be working on with MongoDB), and – in the slightly longer term – scaling to one billion customer documents per year, which he expects MongoDB to handle.

Lumin is preparing to launch an e-signing product provisionally called Lumin Send and Sign and hopes it will “commoditise the signing market.”

According to Ferguson, existing products – such as those from DocuSign and Adobe – are expensive and difficult to use, and customers are spending too much on multiple products that aren’t as well designed as they expected.

Lumin Send and Sign, currently in beta after just over a year in development, is “100% built on MongoDB” and will work with a range of other products including Salesforce and Google Workspace.

Skills development

Ferguson and Austin both speak highly of MongoDB University, the company’s online training and certification programme which was recently enhanced.

Ferguson said the programme fits in with developers’ preference for learning new things without having to invest too much time at once. It also suits the company’s practice of training newly hired graduates in-house, in part by having them build by themselves a series of small applications of increasing complexity.

Austin said “it’s a hot market” for developers, and it’s easier to keep staff when they are working with good technology, especially when on-demand training such as MongoDB University is available.

Furthermore, MongoDB is “always willing to turn up” for in-house events such as hackathons. Together, these things help developers feel empowered, involved and enthusiastic, he added.

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