Windows Azure & 360 Lifecycle case study

As a software provider for the financial industry, 360 Lifecycle needed to make its solutions more accessible to its clients. Windows Azure and cloud computing made this possible.

The Situation

360 Lifecycle is a leading UK Independent Software Vendor (ISV) for the financial services industry, producing end-to-end client, team and product management solutions. Its software is used by financial and mortgage advisers across the UK to manage customer relationships, track opportunities and provide comprehensive, reliable advice. A related product is used by financial service companies to handle teams of advisers and ensure compliance with UK law.

The software was originally designed by the technical team working at parent group, Lifetime Financial Management Ltd, to support its own businesses, which advise over 40,000 customers spread throughout the UK. However, in January 2009, 360 Lifecycle opened up the application to other financial service providers.

To begin with, the company focussed its efforts on medium-sized and large organisations, which had the servers and infrastructure required to run the software on-premises. However, the financial services industry extends not just to a few large organisations, but to many thousands of small businesses, which may have as few as one to ten employees. By restricting its audience, 360 Lifecycle felt that it was failing to address as much as 75% of its target market.

Major Issues

Three issues stood in the way. First, the cost of setting up the necessary servers and network infrastructure was a considerable investment for smaller firms. Secondly, the costs for 360 Lifecycle in provisioning and supporting its software made servicing the smallest firms financially non-viable. Finally, while 360 Lifecycle could arrange hosting for smaller firms, many felt uncomfortable about making their data accessible to a company that was, effectively, part of a competitor.

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360 Lifecycle looked at various options, including a number of application hosting platforms, but these never really addressed the core issues. For example, a simple application update might take an hour or so per server, meaning support costs for each client and additional workload for 360 Lifecycle. While it was technically possible to scale the services to provision new businesses, the numbers didn't always add up. In the words of the company's IT Director, David Steele,"the business wouldn't scale because we really couldn't add more customers. We'd reached the limit, to some extent, of what we could do overnight."It was time to find a new way forward.

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