In challenging times, innovative companies don’t panic, they pivot.
So when the coronavirus traveled the globe, disrupting everything from grocery shopping to tax preparation, resilient companies around the world responded with ingenious solutions that ensured the safety of their employees, met the needs of their customers and kept their IT operations humming.
For some, it meant quickly enabling employees to work from home instead of at the office, while others rushed to re-engineer their supply chains, so their customers could continue to buy the products they needed to stay safe and healthy. Their solutions were custom but the step that allowed them to react so rapidly was common: They had migrated their operations to Microsoft Azure.
Even before COVID-19, companies were hungry to enable secure remote work, achieve operational efficiency, address IT budget constraints and accelerate innovation, and migrating to the cloud was the critical first step to unlocking those accomplishments.
“Azure has always helped our diverse customers adapt to new ways of doing business,” says Jeremy Winter, director, Azure management and migration.
“While some are moving beyond crisis mode and others look to the cloud to stay resilient, we’re seeing an acceleration in business’ cloud migrations. We’ve spent a lot of time with customers who are both considering and executing migrations and understand the challenges they are facing. We also recognize that our customers are counting on us more than ever to recover and ultimately transform.”
Here’s how a handful of those Microsoft customers discovered during the health crisis that the cloud didn’t just have a silver lining – it was the silver lining.
Dublin, Ireland-based Actavo is a multi-disciplinary, global engineering services business that designs, builds and maintains the vital infrastructure we rely on every day.
Among their many services, they design, construct and maintain networks for the telecommunications and utilities industries; design, construct and install modular buildings; provide scaffold and rope access solutions along with the installation of insulation and removal of asbestos in the industrial sector; and provide hundreds of in-home technicians to companies who provide residential services like gas boiler repair, satellite installation or broadband internet installation to a half-million homes every year.
With so many essential industries relying on their round-the-clock support, even before the pandemic Actavo sought to increase operational efficiency and improve agility by migrating to Azure.
“Moving to the cloud gave us the versatility to be able to scale up and scale down in any country where we needed to operate, but it also gave us the robustness from a disaster recovery perspective,” says Willie Ryan, global Environmental Health and Safety and IT director.
A novel coronavirus may not have been the disaster that Actavo had in mind, but when it arrived, the decision to migrate to the cloud proved even more valuable. With the new, versatile infrastructure in place, Actavo was able to quickly pivot to remote work for its employees, ensuring that they could continue to support their clients around the world.
“We’ve got a very solid platform, and that was quite evident as we came through COVID and the pandemic, in terms of, we moved from an on-prem operation to everybody working from home, seamlessly, quickly, easily, without any major headaches,” Ryan says.
“Within the space of a week we were able to tick a box that said, ‘If lockdown comes, we’re ready to go.’ The lockdown announcement came at five o’clock on a Friday afternoon. We actually had everybody that needed to be working at home, working at home on Monday morning.”
Additiv partners with the world’s leading financial institutions to help them digitalize their wealth management activities. Their ability to advocate for change and innovation in an industry that is highly regulated is dependent on building trust with their clients by adhering to the highest standards of security and compliance.
So when the company moved its enterprise software offering for its clients to the cloud, they worked with Microsoft to ensure a seamless transition that would strictly adhere to regulations across multiple locations – a prerequisite for a global company that is headquartered in Switzerland and has offices and clients on three continents.
Now, Additiv can offer its clients innovative, flexible software-as-a-service solutions that can scale easily and that adapt to their specific needs, no matter where they’re located. “Digital collaboration means breaking down these virtual borders, and Azure allowed us to integrate better so that our clients can provide a holistic solution to their customers out of the cloud,” says Silvan Schriber, head of corporate development.
“The benefits of Azure for Additiv are 100 percent trust that the solutions adhere in each location to regulations,” he adds. “So it helps us in centrally managing our solutions and placing them in each country of our clients, with virtually the click of a button.”
That consistency and efficiency will be critical as Additiv’s financial services customers increasingly embrace digital strategies and omni-channel distribution to reimagine their businesses post-pandemic.
“The pace of change pre-pandemic was rapid, but there’s no reason to think these trends won’t accelerate post-pandemic,” the company writes in a report published earlier this year. “… the companies that are faring best are those that are either digitally native or have invested the most in digital.”
Long before this past spring, people were changing the way they shop for groceries, and Albertsons Companies – one of the largest food and drug retailers in the United States with some 2,200 stores operating under banners including Albertsons, Safeway and Vons – was evolving along with them.
“I believe that every customer – from millennials to baby boomers – is transforming how they shop,” says Ramiya Iyer, senior vice president of Data, Digital & Merchandising at Albertsons Companies. “The retail industry is undergoing its own transformational journey to meet customers where they are and be relevant to them. It’s imperative that we do that to succeed and grow as a business.”
To stay competitive and give customers the modern, convenient shopping experience they had come to expect, Albertsons migrated from an aging on-premises server farm to Microsoft Azure.
The move allowed them to take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive services, and empowered an environment where developers can innovate and efficiently test new ideas, propelling Albertsons to introduce apps that make shopping faster and more convenient.
“With Azure, we can bring new ideas to market faster and deliver releases on shorter time cycles,” says Param Deivreddy, vice president, IT architecture. “We think Azure also encourages exploration and innovation, because you don’t have to spend a huge amount on infrastructure to quickly test a new idea.”
The company’s easy-to-use apps offer the kinds of personalized and streamlined experiences digitally savvy shoppers demand, allowing them to create shopping lists, easily find the products they want, skip long check-out lines, even save time at the fuel pump by claiming rewards, activating the pump and paying for gas with a tap of the phone.
“Grocery shopping shouldn’t be a chore,” says Iyer. “We want to provide our customers with a totally frictionless experience that lets them enjoy the food they’re putting on the table with a minimum of fuss and stress.”
Few things in life are certain, but as the adage goes, taxes are one of them. Even during a health crisis, Americans are responsible for filing their annual return, and millions of them lean on Kansas City, Missouri-based H&R Block to navigate the process.
To streamline its operations and improve its ability to ramp up during tax season, H&R Block migrated its computing workload to Microsoft Azure, a move that would, “help the company better process millions of tax returns annually while allowing the firm to build financial software products with greater speed, quality and security,” writes CIO’s Clinton Boulton in a recent interview on cloud migration with H&R Block CIO Alan Lowden.
“It’s what we need to do to enable our strategic vision of putting customers at the center,” Lowden tells CIO. “We have to give them a convenient experience of serving them any way they want to be served.”
So this past tax season, H&R Block was able to spring into action to support their customers while protecting the safety of their employees and the communities they serve. To keep their workforce safe during their busiest season – which was even longer this year to give taxpayers more time to file – they shifted to a work-from-home model that allowed 80,000 tax professionals to serve customers virtually.
That quick pivot wouldn’t have been possible if the company hadn’t migrated to Azure. Because they didn’t need to buy new hardware, or set up or configure additional infrastructure, they were able to make the critical change to remote workstations in less than two weeks. The company’s tax pros were able to provide the expertise their customers needed, and the even more critical refunds they were counting on.
When the demands of tax season return to normal, H&R Block will continue to inspire confidence in their customers through a seamless experience – wherever they like, however they like.
“Now we can present tax tips and offerings to our clients that are most relevant to them,” says Aditya Thadani, vice president of architecture and information management at H&R Block. “Migrating our platforms to Azure has really allowed us to serve our clients better.”
Top photo by Halfpoint Images/Getty Images.