drives innovation in the cloud

By Toby Bowers, Cloud & Enterprise Business Group Lead, Microsoft Australia

Earlier today, we announced the launch of the Microsoft Azure Geo in Australia. This is a landmark moment for Microsoft in Australia, but we’re even more excited about the difference that the new Geo will make to our customers as they transform their businesses in a cloud age.
We caught up with Ajay Bhatia, CIO,, to discuss how technology empowers it to constantly innovate, address new trends, such as the growth of mobile as a sales channel, and ensures staff are always hungry to deliver world-class products for its international customer base.

Q: Given the IT revolution impacting businesses of all shapes and sizes, how important is technology to

A: Technology is our business. Our dedicated technology team is one third of the company’s headcount. Our various classifieds sites are all run on the Microsoft’s .NET Framework. The other part of our business is our Autogate offering, a software-as-a-service platform allowing auto dealers to upload inventory and manage and optimise leads to get the best sale result. As such, we’re not only an online classifieds business, but a software supplier too.

As Australia’s largest online automotive, motorcycle, marine, agricultural and industry classifieds business in Australia we need to be ahead of the curve with our product and technology.’s key goal is to deliver accountable value to its customers and thereby maintain its leadership position, and technology plays a critical role in enabling us to achieve this vision.

Q: With technology a core element of your business, how do you ensure you’re continuously driving innovation to stay ahead of the pack?

A: We see two types of innovation – incremental innovation, which is part of our DNA and driven by the business – technology being a key part – and disruptive innovation, where we’re challenged to respond to new trends in the marketplace. We’re not scared of change. In fact, it’s good for our customers so we embrace it.

To ensure we’re constantly driving innovation within the business, we run quarterly hackathons where the business comes together to work on lots of new ideas that can help take our business forward, such as shippable products and prototyping. Innovation is a way of thinking and does not stop at our Hackathon’s or other innovation days. We make an explicit effort to hire the best and most innovative talent and then ensure we create an environment where innovation thrives. We also use agile methodology to get our projects done, where if we discover a more innovative and suitable approach for our customers we’ll change and do the new thing.

Disruptive trends in the marketplace also drive innovation, like free online video advertising such as, the growth of mobile as a sales channel, and the proliferation of new mobile devices. We’re not scared of these new trends because we believe in our abilities to respond to them and do what we need to do to shape the market and help our customers take advantage of the new services. Disruption isn’t just about technology, it’s also about changes in business models and we’re constantly evaluating whether new business model(s) make sense in the rapidly evolving age.

We make an explicit effort to hire the best and most innovative talent and then ensure we create an environment where innovation thrives

– Ajay Bhatia, CIO

Q: What role does cloud play in ensuring a seamless customer experience at

A: At Carsales we often say “Images sell Cars”. Our image infrastructure, which is a core part of our customers’ business models as it’s how they sell, is underpinned by Microsoft Azure – today we serve over 12 billion images per month. The scalability of the platform works beautifully for us and allows us to pay for what we use. In the morning we only need to run five servers because we know traffic is going to be low, while at peak times we’re using up to 90 servers to address demand. Without cloud I’d be paying for 90 servers 24/7, and I’d also have to wait for the hardware to be ready, which isn’t a good use of our time or resource.

It also allows us to be nimble and rapidly respond to change in the marketplace. For example, we recently made a change where dealers can upload unlimited images to We made that decision on a Monday morning, and had scaled up the system to implement it by Monday evening. Platforms like Microsoft Azure are very enticing for technology businesses like ours.

Q: You’ve been one of the private preview customers for Microsoft Azure in Australia. What impact are the local services going to have on your business when live, and what’s your future cloud plans?

A: The local Azure Geo in Australia is going to reduce latency, which means our customers will be able to upload information and start selling their cars quicker. Another crucial feature of Microsoft Azure for us is its international resources for disaster recovery. We can’t afford our systems to be down for any period of time, so in the unlikely instance of an outage or emergency upgrades we can move our data to one of Microsoft’s 19 Azure Geos across the globe to ensure the site is live again in a matter of minutes, mitigating any impact for our dealers.

…we recently made a change where dealers can upload unlimited images to We made that decision on a Monday morning, and had scaled up the system to implement it by Monday evening. Platforms like Microsoft Azure are very enticing for technology businesses like ours

– Ajay Bhatia, CIO

Q: It’s great to see the continuous innovation at, but technology is only one part of this. How do you drive this innovative culture and ensure staff are hungry to deliver upon it?

A: My inspiration is the book Delivering Happiness – a story about how Tony Hseih, the CEO of, turned round the fortunes of the company. He believes you can keep people motivated and happy and make lots of profits at the same time; they’re not mutually exclusive. I really believe in that philosophy and work to implement it at so that we’re always moving forward.

We run a book club for the leadership team across product and technology, where we discuss the most important things we picked out from the book and go away and try and implement those things among our teams. A particular area of success for this is tribal leadership, which is all about cultures and their different levels. Our book club has been so successful that now it is no longer only limited to the leadership team and the number of members is ever increasing. This is creating a culture where we are constantly picking up new ideas and ensuring what we build in Australia is no less than world class.

We also push behaviours in the team, the first of which is innovate don’t stagnate which we live through hackathons, innovation days and blue ocean thinking. Empowerment around culture, where we ask staff to work toward the end goal rather than individual tasks, breeds innovation, along with hiring the best talent. When it comes to competition, it’s less likely to be a local player and more likely to be a global powerhouse that will disrupt our vertical. This type of thinking ensures we’re driven to deliver and build a world class product that keeps us at the front of the market.

Each member of the 150 strong product and technology team based in Australian based has to spend a set amount of time once a quarter in customer service, attending and listening to calls. They then feedback on the problems our customers are facing and work to resolve them. This leads to full circle customer service and lets us live our value of love our customers. We also ask staff to be the change they want to be, and to infect others with a desire to excel. If we live these values then consistently delivering innovation shouldn’t be a problem.

With Carsales now having assets in Brazil, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailaind our challenge will be to breed this culture internationally. I don’t want Australia to be the only centre of excellence. Excellence is found everywhere and this is what makes it exciting at Carsales for years to come.

Q: Finally, Ajay, what’s your story and how did you end up where you are today?

A: I studied a bachelor’s of engineering in telecommunications (followed by a Masters of Management), ending up studying part-time and working full-time. This means that when I graduated, I did so with a lot of experience and knowing that I wanted to focus on software development, which was my passion. This set me up really well for the rest of my career.

My first job after this was in consulting/ training for five years, where I really enjoyed the one online project I did, which was great preparation for my next job at Fairfax Digital as technology manager for This role evolved from technology to product – I even became a sales person for a while, then managed a business – and finally I moved to in a pure online role and something exactly what I wanted to do, and it’s since evolved to become a senior leadership role which is great.


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