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4-page Partner Case Study - Posted 9/17/2012
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Xpertdoc Technologies

Document Generation Company Deploys New Hosted Offering in the Cloud

Xpertdoc Technologies sought to augment its on-premises document output solution with a hosted offering but wanted to avoid building and managing a scalable and resilient hosting infrastructure on its own. The company chose to build on Windows Azure, which it used to deliver its new subscription-based service with only 160 hours of development effort. Prologis, an early adopter of Xpertdoc’s hosted service, used the service to automate the assembly of thousands of industrial real estate leases per year in just a few weeks, with minimal up-front costs and no IT involvement. By using Windows Azure, Xpertdoc is able to offer customers increased value and choice, along with superior reliability and immediate, cost-effective, global scalability.

Situation
Xpertdoc Technologies, a Microsoft Partner Network member with Gold competencies, provides document output automation solutions that transform Microsoft Word into an industrial-strength customer communication platform. The company was one of the very first Microsoft partners to support Office Open XML (commonly referred to as OpenXML) for the production of Microsoft Word documents. Open XML is an XML-based file format that, among its many advantages, facilitates programmatic access to Microsoft Office documents.

The Xpertdoc Solution, as the company bills its offering, consists of two main components: a Microsoft Word add-in for authoring document templates and a centralized, web-based portal for managing and running them. The portal reads the template and generates a web-based form for selecting the options and entering any data needed to generate a final Microsoft Word document—for example, a schedule of benefits for a health insurance policy, a sales contract, or client correspondence. The Xpertdoc Solution also integrates with other enterprise systems, such as a customer relationship management application.

Unlike competing products that can require specialized training, take months to deploy, and run upwards of CAD$500,000 (US$511,000) in annual licensing fees, the Xpertdoc Solution is designed for rapid, cost-effective adoption—an area where the company is always looking to further differentiate itself. To that end, in 2011, Xpertdoc reexamined its traditional, on-premises deployment model, where each customer ran a copy of the Xpertdoc portal within its own IT infrastructure.

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* With Windows Azure, we get all the high-availability features of a world-class hosting infrastructure without any of the complexity. *

Francis Dion
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Xpertdoc Technologies

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For Xpertdoc, an on-premises approach posed several challenges—the largest being a barrier to adoption. Although the on-premises Xpertdoc Solution is deployed much faster than the competition, it still took weeks to help a customer procure and provision servers. The customer then had to manage, support, and scale its on-premises Xpertdoc Solution as its usage grew. The need for local hardware also made it more difficult to get potential customers to test the Xpertdoc Solution and limited the company’s ability to experiment with promotions and pricing.

With cloud-based solutions rapidly growing in popularity, Xpertdoc knew that it needed one of its own. However, the company did not want to incur the time, expense, and distractions associated with building and managing its own hosting infrastructure. “More and more customers were asking for a hosted solution,” says Francis Dion, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Xpertdoc Technologies. “We had to meet their needs but didn’t want to be in the business of building and running a scalable and resilient hosting infrastructure. Even if we used a traditional hosting provider, we still would have had to contend with issues such as system administration, scalability, redundancy, disaster recovery, and geographic latency—not to mention convincing potential customers that we had the necessary competencies in all those areas.”

Solution
Xpertdoc examined cloud platforms from Amazon and Microsoft before choosing to build its hosted solution on Windows Azure. Windows Azure serves as the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment, and provides on-demand compute, storage, networking, and content delivery capabilities through Microsoft data centers. “We’re a Microsoft .NET shop, and no other cloud platform supports .NET development better than Windows Azure,” says Dion. “Some of our peers were using Amazon, but we felt that it was more expensive and more similar to a traditional hosting provider than Windows Azure.”

In July 2011, Xpertdoc began using the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional development system to modify its code to run on Windows Azure, relying on Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010 for aspects of application lifecycle management. By September 2011, with one developer working part-time on the project, Xpertdoc was live on Windows Azure and immediately turned its attention to new product features that could help boost sales, such as offering customers a way to sign up for a free trial.

“With our hosted offering on Windows Azure, we can remain focused on new features because we don’t have to worry about servers—and have won several new customers who didn’t want to deal with the delays, up-front expenses, and support of an on-premises solution,” says Dion.

One Customer’s Story
Prologis, a leading global provider of industrial real estate with US$45 billion in managed assets and more than 1,000 employees, is one example of such a customer. The company manages an operating portfolio of approximately 3,100 industrial facilities in 22 countries, leasing more than 584 million square feet of space to manufacturers, retailers, transportation companies, third-party logistics providers, and other enterprises with large-scale distribution needs.

In North America alone, the company’s market officers generate thousands of leases each year, of which about 80 percent required the attention of one of three in-house attorneys. Prologis had built an in-house solution for lease assembly by market officers several years ago, but it had been fragile and hard to maintain, and was eventually abandoned. Within a few years, attorneys were back to copying text from a library of templates they maintained for contract content, such as a schedule of insurance requirements.

One major issue was turnaround times. “Nothing kills a potential deal like time, which is why we need to get a lease in front of the customer as soon as possible,” says Jason Murphy, First Vice President and Corporate Counsel at Prologis. “Our goal was a three-day turnaround, whereas market officers would often hand us a term sheet and need a lease immediately. Having to spend 30 minutes to two hours on the majority of all new leases also slowed down larger, more complicated deals that could move the needle on revenue. We were doing the same thing over and over again, expending hundreds of hours per year of non-value-added effort.”

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* Customers now have more options, and we have new ways to approach the market, without either party having to worry about servers—it’s a win-win for everyone. *

Francis Dion
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Xpertdoc Technologies

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Murphy had been ready to purchase a specialized contract assembly solution in 2008. However, when the real estate market collapsed that year, a projected US$100,000 in annual licensing fees forced him to postpone the project. When he revisited it in 2011, he envisioned a solution where market officers could answer a few basic questions to have all but the most complex leases immediately assembled for them. He also needed a solution that could be deployed without the involvement of his IT team, which was busy dealing with a recent merger.

Conversations with Forrester Research led Murphy to Xpertdoc, which, among the several options he examined, promised to be the most cost-effective and easiest to implement and use. Xpertdoc suggested that Prologis participate in a proof of concept and, one week after being provided with an annotated sample lease, had a solution ready for Prologis to test. “Feedback from market officers was very positive,” says Murphy. “They found the Xpertdoc Solution to be very easy to use, and the proof of concept confirmed that we could have a fully turnkey solution.”

“Prologis said that if they had needed to install a server, they would have walked away,” adds Dion. “They wanted an always-on, always-current solution that would work with any desktop, which is exactly what we gave them with Xpertdoc on Windows Azure.”

When Prologis needed a custom database to store property information, Xpertdoc used SQL Database—a highly available and scalable cloud database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies—and delivered it in two days. “This was an interim step on the way to full integration with the company’s Yardi property management system, but still a great example of how Windows Azure made us more agile in meeting customer needs,” continues Dion.

Prologis also hired Xpertdoc to develop its lease templates as part of the turnkey approach. In December 2011, two weeks after the lease requirements were solidified, Prologis’s new solution was ready to use. “Some customers have us develop all templates, some have us build the first few for them, and some develop all of them themselves,” explains Dion. “It isn’t difficult; one customer created 450 Xpertdoc templates on their own in only three weeks with a couple of internal business resources.”

Benefits
By building on Windows Azure, Xpertdoc quickly and cost-effectively delivered what more and more of its customers are asking for: an easily adopted, low-maintenance document output solution with strong scalability and reliable availability. “Customers now have more options, and we have new ways to approach the market, without either party having to worry about servers—it’s a win-win for everyone,” says Dion. “Some customers are even opting for a hybrid approach, with Xpertdoc running on-premises for day-to-day use and on Windows Azure for disaster recovery.”

Increased Customer Value and Choice
The new hosted, subscription-based offering from Xpertdoc gave Prologis exactly what it wanted: rapid implementation, minimal up-front costs, and no IT involvement for an Xpertdoc Solution that saves the company’s attorneys hundreds of hours of effort per year. “Market officers now can generate legally approved leases on their own for all but the most complicated deals, in a fraction of the time it used to take an attorney to perform the same task,” says Murphy. “This will help us close deals faster and, in cases where a client wants to move in immediately, to also accelerate revenues.”

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* Building on Windows Azure has worked out very well for us and, by extension, for our customers as well. *

Francis Dion
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Xpertdoc Technologies

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Just as important, Prologis transitioned its lease assembly workload to market officers in a way that ensures leases remain error free. “A simple error in lease assembly, such as forgetting to include a schedule of insurance requirements, could potentially cost millions of dollars,” says Murphy. “Today, assuming a market officer selects the correct options and types in the right information, those types of mistakes just aren’t possible anymore.”

Rapid Development and Deployment
By building on Windows Azure, Xpertdoc delivered its new hosted offering with minimal developer effort. “We migrated our on-premises Xpertdoc Solution to Windows Azure with only 160 hours of developer effort,” says Dion. “Developers didn’t need any new tools or skills, and were able to come up to speed easily. Today, we support both on-premises and hosted deployments with one code base—the only difference being a compile switch and 50 lines of code.”

Immediate, Cost-Effective, Global Scalability
Just as Prologis benefited from low up-front costs, Xpertdoc delivered its hosted Xpertdoc Solution without incurring up-front infrastructure costs of its own. In addition, both companies now benefit from instant, pay-as-you-go scalability. “Windows Azure gives us a fully automated, self-service hosting and management environment, enabling us to scale up or down in minutes,” says Dion. “We started with one extra small compute instance for development, went live with two medium instances, and now run on six medium instances. It’s great to be able to pay for any new capacity we might need when we need it, out of the revenues generated by it, instead of having to guess at what capacity we may need in six months and make a significant investment ahead of time.”

Because Windows Azure is available in data centers around the world, Xpertdoc can deploy its applications close to customers as it grows its business in other parts of the world. For example, if Prologis wants to expand its use of Xpertdoc beyond North America, Xpertdoc can deploy to data centers in Europe or Asia to minimize any latency and performance issues.

Superior Reliability
Xpertdoc is also delivering superior availability with Windows Azure, which has a 99.95 percent uptime service level agreement (SLA). Workloads are automatically moved within the cloud to support automatic operating system and service updates, with built-in network load balancing and failover to provide resiliency in case of a hardware failure. Similarly, SQL Database provides a 99.9 percent uptime SLA, with every database having built-in high availability, failover, and redundancy. “With Windows Azure, we get all the high-availability features of a world-class hosting infrastructure without any of the complexity,” says Dion.

Improved Business Agility and Sales
The addition of a hosted service to its portfolio enables Xpertdoc to offer customers greater choice and convenience, which leads to new sales opportunities. And by building on Windows Azure, Xpertdoc can deliver its new service with minimal distraction to the business and to clients. “It’s great not to worry about backups, scalability, and so on, and to be able to extend those same benefits to our customers,” says Varsha Bhat, President at Xpertdoc Technologies. “As a business developer, I sleep better knowing that Microsoft is managing our hosting infrastructure and that we can remain focused on new features.”

Dion estimates that one-third to one-half of all deals today are for the company’s new cloud-based offering. “We recently closed a large deal with a major insurance company in three weeks, whereas it would have taken several months to complete an on-premises proof of concept,” he says. “What’s more, when we tell customers we’re running on Windows Azure, it alleviates any potential concerns about the quality of our hosting infrastructure. Building on Windows Azure has worked out very well for us and, by extension, for our customers as well.”

Murphy concurs with Dion’s perspective on how the company is meeting customer needs. “We’re very happy with our Xpertdoc Solution,” he says. “It handles complex document structures very well, and Xpertdoc has been nimble and responsive in every way. I’d recommend the Xpertdoc Solution highly and encourage anyone who asks to try it for themselves.”

Windows Azure
Windows Azure provides developers the functionality to build applications that span from consumer to enterprise scenarios. The key components of Windows Azure are:
  • Windows Azure. Windows Azure is a development, service hosting, and service management environment. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, bandwidth, content delivery, middleware, and marketplace capabilities to build, host, and scale web applications through Microsoft data centers.

  • SQL Database. SQL Database is a self-managed, multitenant relational cloud database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies. It provides built-in high-availability, fault tolerance, and scale-out database capabilities, as well as cloud-based data synchronization and reporting, to build custom enterprise and web applications and extend the reach of data assets.

To learn more, visit:
www.windowsazure.com

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about Xpertdoc Technologies products and services, call (866) 961-9111 or visit the website at:
www.xpertdoc.com

For more information about Prologis products and services, visit the website at:
www.prologis.com

Solution Overview




Partner Profile

Xpertdoc Technologies provides document output automation solutions that transform Microsoft Word into an industrial-strength customer communication platform. The company is based in Montreal, Canada.


Business Situation

To help customers adopt its Xpertdoc Solution more quickly and cost-effectively, Xpertdoc needed to augment its on-premises deployment model with a hosted offering. However, Xpertdoc did not want to build or manage a scalable and resilient hosting infrastructure on its own.


Solution

Xpertdoc built its new hosted offering on Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment.


Benefits

  • Increased customer value and choice
  • Rapid development and deployment
  • Immediate, cost-effective, global scalability
  • Superior reliability
  • Improved business agility and sales


Software and Services
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Microsoft SQL Azure Database
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional
  • Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010

Vertical Industries
  • High Tech & Electronics
  • Manufacturing & Resources

Country / Region
Canada

Business Needs
Cloud & Server Platform

IT Issues
Cloud Services

Languages
English