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Persimmon Homes: Cloud firms need to put the customer first

Are basics like clear lines of dialogue being sidelined in favour of showcasing technology?

A hand adjusting a dial labelled "Customer Service" and a corresponding gauge with the needle pointing to "Max".

Moving to the cloud is often seen now as something fundamental to survival, but for all the benefits it can bring, there's still a chance things will go wrong. You're forced to place your trust in a hosting company, and there's a risk they won't always get it right. When embracing the cloud, the inefficiencies of on-premise technologies you're trying to get away from may simply be replaced with high website latencies and server outages.

Choosing the right web host is fundamental to mitigating risk. Yet this can be daunting, especially when you're bombarded with sales pitches from companies claiming to have wide ranging solutions that will fit seamlessly alongside your own operations.

The importance of building a close relationship with your client has been drowned out in the noise, according to Lance Evans, digital solutions manager at Persimmon Homes. But this is something his company now considers key to its digital strategy.

Putting out the fires

Persimmon is one of the UK's largest construction firms, building 15,000 new homes every year and employing over 4,000 people across 29 regional offices. However, until late 2016, the company struggled to deliver a reliable web experience due to frequent server disruptions under its previous hosting provider.

Persimmon operates using three separate agencies that work together to handle its IT backend, which includes technical development, delivered by UK-based design firm Delete. In order for the systems to operate effectively, a clear dialogue must exist between Delete and the hosting company, something that had broken down under Persimmon's previous provider.

Within his first six months at the company, Evans witnessed at least three major server failures and a handful of smaller outages, on PersimmonHomes.com, the company's primary website and its main customer facing portal. These issues meant Persimmon would have its website knocked offline for hours at a time.

"We were lacking that service level interaction," says Evans. "Whenever we were having issues the answer was always 'we'll have to speak to the hoster'. Even the smallest of problems were becoming big escalations to try and get them resolved in time. It got to the point where Delete as an agency was constantly trying to put out fires on their behalf."

Good old-fashioned relationships

The frequent outages forced Persimmon to review its contracts in early 2017. After consultations with Delete, it landed on Hyve, a UK-based provider that prides itself on what it calls "good old-fashioned relationships" with its customers - a business practice that involves a high level of personal involvement from human management teams.

"The only reason we're successful is because of that technical layer and the management side of things that we do," explains Hyve director Jake Madders. "There's so many open source platforms and web based platforms to spin up VMs without even talking to a person. We find there's still a niche for the good old fashioned person to person relationship, and that's why we're so successful in this climate."

It's helped Hyve flourish in a market dominated by giants like Amazon and Rackspace on the one hand and, as Evans highlights, a myriad number of other companies that are able to "provide the tin but aren't interested in providing anything else".

Hyve has hosted Persimmon's main website since the start of 2017, as well as two smaller sites associated with affiliate brands. "After six to eight months, we'd have expected three or four outages under the previous provider, but we've not had a single major issue at all." Although Hyve offers technology that competes with larger brands, its the ability to maintain a close relationship that has been the company's strongest asset.

"The thing that really stood out with Hyve was that they didn't come in and just ask what servers we want or what resource did we want," explains Evans, "They were very interested in identifying what services would run on the servers, and what expertise they had available should there be any issues with those services."

Niche cloud hosting

Part of Hyve's service is to actively monitor a customer's activity, and predict when resources should be reallocated in anticipation of peaks and troughs in traffic. "From our customers' perception, they get a better user experience on the basis that the Hyve guys are more proactive and don't pass issues over the fence," says Evans.

A great deal of that success relies on Hyve operating at a smaller scale than its market leading competition, explains Madders: "We've got a very small client base of 300 or so, but it's cherry picked customers that need our niche service. So we obviously do everything we can to look after them."

Madders says the small customer base means Hyve is able to become familiar with every aspect of a client's operations, from seasonal demands to the complexities of a content management system. "The team will personally get to know the client and development company. It's always the same people dealing with those particular customers, the same group of four or five engineers."

"It's a confidence thing," says Evans. "It's the confidence that if we're doing a marketing campaign, we don't need to be up at midnight shifting resources around, or when we flip the switch to send out the email, we don't have to reschedule meetings that afternoon to deal with potential fallout.

"It's that reassurance that business as usual is going to be business as usual. If we want to send out 500,000 emails there isn't going to be any ramifications on that. We now have the flexibility to adjust our resource."

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