This article is part 1 of a series of articles that will focus on the Business Value of Microsoft Azure. Microsoft Azure provides a variety of cloud based technologies that can enable organizations in a variety of ways. Rather than focusing on the technical aspects of Microsoft Azure (there’s plenty of that content out there) this series will focus on business situations and how Microsoft Azure services can benefit.
Within business there often defining moments that catapult an organization to the next level of profitability and growth. These can come from through careful planning and an effective strategy, but can also come about unexpectedly. Take, for example, an distribution organization that fulfills orders for a variety of manufacturers. The organization has a variety of processes by which orders are transmitted these manufacturers, but most rely on fairly one-off, manual methods as the volume of orders is typically pretty low for each company.
One fateful day a large manufacturer contacts this distributor and offers them some business. This business, however, requires the distributor to accept order information through EDI and handle a jump in typical monthly order volume from 1,500 to 15,000 orders.
As the distributor evaluated this opportunity they needed to consider the impact on employees to fulfill the orders, the warehouse space to house the products and the technology implications. The distributor had a fairly well run warehouse management system (WMS) and processes which allowed them to bring in relatively unskilled, temporary labor, to quickly meet whatever human resource demands emerged. Fortunately the facility they were in was owned by the distributor and had a significant amount of unused square footage. This left only the technology challenge to address.
The distributor did not want to invest significantly in IT staff, servers and other infrastructure that might not be needed in the near future. They were risk averse and didn’t want to bet the future of the company on this one new client. At this same time, it was a significant opportunity that couldn’t be passed up.
BizTalk Services provides a robust and extensible solution for trading partner management and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) processing. The distributor quickly implemented an interface that mapped standard EDI data to an internal XML format that could feed into their on-premise WMS. This integration was achieved using another Microsoft Azure service, the Azure Service Bus, which is a generic, cloud-based messaging system for connecting just about anything-applications, services, and devices-wherever they are.
By using cloud based technologies the distributor was able to take advantage of a market opportunity without a significant investment in new on-premise hardware and software. The cost of the Azure services is based on usage and so if the business were to dry up the wouldn’t have an entire, worthless, EDI infrastructure lying around.