@TechEd: Cash Converters Goes Global with Windows Azure

Q&A with James Miles, Software Development Manager, Cash Converters


Q: Can you please give me a brief overview of Cash Converters and the Microsoft solutions you have deployed in your IT platform?
A: Cash Converter’s is the world’s leading second hand retail chain, based out of Perth, Western Australia. In addition to our pawn broking services, we offer cash advances and personal loans in selected markets to provide our customers with short-term financial solutions.

Since launching in Perth in 1984, we’ve grown significantly and are continuously looking at ways to expand the business. We currently have a network of over 700 stores – corporate and franchise – in 21 countries across the globe, including Australia, the UK, France, Spain, Canada and the United States, and we’re looking to grow this number on a local and global scale. Just last year we opened up our first store in Dubai.

We recognised that in order to achieve the network flexibility and scalability required to manage a growing number of stores we needed a comprehensive cloud platform, which is why we’ve recently gone live with Microsoft Windows Azure within our point of sale systems. We were already using Microsoft Office 365 from a productivity perspective, so Windows Azure was the logical next step.

As we look to expand on a global scale, Windows Azure satisfies all our business needs. For example, the 24/7 system availability means transactions can be rapidly processed regardless of where they are happening in the world, while storing data in one central location means we can quickly open new stores and deploy e-commerce websites.

Q: How far along is Cash Converters in its Windows Azure deployment?
A: We’re currently rolling the solution out to our stores in phases, and have over 100 connected to date. Around 40 per cent of those deployments have taken place in Australia, with the remainder occurring in the UK.

The total number of stores now using Windows Azure includes all our corporate stores in Australia and the UK. At the same time, our IT team is working with our franchisees to upgrade their hardware systems where necessary so that we can continue the large-scale deployment and empower our stores to realise the benefits available. An advantage of rolling out the technology in phases is that we’re able to fine tune and test the solutions on a select user base, thus minimising the impact any issues could have on the entire company.

As you can imagine it’s a busy period for our IT team, and we’re hoping to complete the rollout to over 400 stores within 12-18 months – a dramatic improvement on the seven years it would have taken to complete the deployment previously.

Q: What were the business drivers for moving to Windows Azure?
A: There were a number of drivers behind our move into the cloud, but perhaps the most important was being able to deliver consistent IT capabilities to a number of different continents and countries. When you have as many stores as we do it’s not good business practice to purchase, deploy, configure, and install software on a server in each individual retail outlet. Nor is it practical to be building or managing data centres in each country you operate. What you’d end up with is a series of complex, fragmented and costly IT systems.

The other driver was security and data back-up. When managing your own data centre you need to worry about issues like disaster recovery and encryption. Windows Azure automatically delivers this capability to Cash Converters, freeing up time for us to focus on other areas of the business.

Ultimately, we needed a more flexible and cost-effective way to run our IT platform, and with Windows Azure we’ve achieved this.

Q: Cash Converters’ IT objective is aimed at delivering flexibility on an international scale – how does Windows Azure enable that?
A: Windows Azure has given us a standard operating environment and a stable state to run our systems in a highly automated environment, which is a vital capability as we expand internationally and add more stores to the system. It means we don’t have to configure each store individually, or visit each store when an IT upgrade is available.

Instead, we’ve got a central and consistent platform which we can easily and rapidly add new stores to once we’ve satisfied the specific jurisdictional requirements. What we were after was flexibility and that’s exactly what we’ve achieved with Azure. So for an international business, it’s pretty hard to beat I think.

Q: What ROI has Windows Azure delivered beyond flexibility and scalability?
A: With Cash Converter’s roll out of Windows Azure we were purely aiming to deliver a flexible, scalable, and simple cloud platform that would meet our business needs. We never made a cost savings business case to the board because we were confident that once we’d got our cloud deployment right it would automatically deliver these.

What I will say is following our initial investment in the platform we’re already seeing serious savings in the short time we’ve been live.

Q: What are your future plans with Windows Azure and Microsoft?
A: Cash Converters is currently working to host all its business systems on Windows Azure, and we’re currently rewriting our personal finance systems and e-business platform based on the IT strategy used for our initial deployment to achieve this.

Being able to host our business and point of sale systems in one central location will allow Cash Converters to optimise its business processes, ensure information can be accessed rapidly and efficiently regardless of the location, and deliver a consistent experience to all our stores. Having this ability will increase business productivity and efficiency further than we’ve already achieved to date, all while delivering cost savings across the business.

Windows Azure has already significantly increased our IT and business capabilities in the short time we’ve been using it, and we’re excited to roll it out across the rest of the business to see what additional gains we can make. At the end of the day we needed a cloud solution delivering simplicity, scalability, and flexibility.

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