Credenza Software won over professional-service customers with a product suite that augments Microsoft Outlook messaging and collaboration software with tools for logging phone calls, opening client-related documents, tracking billable time, and more. But the on-premises software had feature and user limitations that confined Credenza to its small-business customer base. Then, by using the Windows Azure platform, Credenza redesigned its software as a cloud-based subscription service. The result is an affordable, highly scalable solution that has expanded the company’s market base from 30 to 600 customers in one year. Moving to Windows Azure has also helped Credenza redesign its business model, turning the company into a provider of subscription-based services that can be delivered to customers regardless of their location and bringing in a steady revenue stream.Situation
Credenza Software is a young but fast-growing company that was launched with a clear goal: create a solution to help small and midsize professional firms, such as law offices, accountants, and architects, manage their practices more efficiently using Microsoft Outlook messaging and collaboration software.
Credenza is a subsidiary of Gavel & Gown Software, which makes practice management software for law firms. Credenza entered the market in early 2010 with a stand-alone, on-premises software product designed to integrate tightly with Microsoft Office Outlook. The software provides functions to help professionals integrate diverse sources and types of client and project information—including email messages, phone calls, documents, contacts, and billable time—with a firm’s accounting system.
“For lawyers, architects, accountants, and other service professionals, there is so much information they have to work with every day that we felt designing a solution like this, that would integrate with Outlook—an application that they all use every day and throughout the day—would be incredibly valuable,” says Ron Collins, President of Gavel & Gown and Credenza.
The initial version of the software worked well and won accolades from users. But Credenza quickly realized that the solution would run up against limits in the face of customer requests for more features. It would also be hard to expand the product’s market base because of the problems inherent in deploying software solutions at customer sites.
“The product had been architected for small firms with two or three people in an office. These firms typically don’t have a lot of in-house technology expertise, which was a problem if we wanted to add more features and functionality to the application, with all the accompanying on-site upgrade work and training,” says Christopher Cardinal, Chief Technology Officer of Gavel & Gown and Credenza.
During internal discussions, Credenza ruled out the idea of hosting the product itself.
“That would have required a huge capital expenditure, and running such an operation is not in our competency,” Cardinal says. “We realized that to grow our product, we would have to move to a new architecture. Creating a cloud application was the obvious choice.”
Credenza, which is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, started evaluating cloud hosting vendors.
“We wanted a platform that would be compatible with our development environment,” says Cardinal. “We needed industry-standard security features to protect data, which is a big requirement for law firms. The platform had to be highly scalable so we could add customers quickly. And there had to be strong vendor commitment to the cloud. We were changing our business model from traditional, independent software vendor to cloud ISV. It was a big decision for us. We needed the reassurance that the platform vendor would be there for us in the future.”
Cardinal notes that Credenza also had to recognize price issues on the part of its small-business customers. Quite often, they had small budgets for IT expenses, which limited their willingness to upgrade to a product with more elaborate features or invest in new hardware that could offer better performance for rich features. “This is a very price-sensitive market,” he says. “Our ability to scale the software to support lots of users or add more features was limited.”
Credenza wanted to expand the product with more features and support for more users without making it more complicated and expensive. Another important factor for Credenza was determining how it could successfully grow the market for the product.Solution
Credenza decided to move its product offering to the Windows Azure platform, which offers a subscription-based, software-as-a-service model. The Windows Azure platform provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centers. Credenza initially considered cloud platforms from Amazon and Google, but both fell short of the company’s requirements. “They lacked the completeness of features and functionality that we were looking for,” says Cardinal.
||Windows Azure has helped us completely transform our business model. We now have a continual, monthly revenue stream using a platform that supports very fast growth and is letting us enter new markets and new geographies where we couldn’t go before
Gavel & Gown and Credenza Software
The Credenza software application relies on the local Microsoft Outlook information and structure but takes advantage of Windows Azure cloud services to add rich features that meet the needs of professional services companies.
The solution uses Microsoft SQL Azure, a self-managed, multitenant relational cloud database built on Microsoft SQL Server technology; Windows Azure Blob Storage and Table Storage; and Windows Azure Compute, an Internet-scale application-hosting environment. Cardinal credits easy access to simplified Windows Azure APIs for helping Credenza redesign its application for the cloud.
Simplifying the Purchase
Credenza wanted to make it straightforward for customers to discover, try, and buy its solution online. By using marketing best practices, the firm established a 15-day trial period for the solution and made the trial easy for customers to find on the Credenza website. It takes just a few minutes to download and install the full version of the software, which shows up as modules inside a user’s Microsoft Outlook client.
The modules provide the same functions available in the previous version, including quick access to documents, records of phone calls, and a billable-time tracker—which users open by clicking icons embedded in Outlook. The tight integration allows a user to, say, click a customer name in an email message to open a list of all communications with that customer, with quick links to documents related to the customer’s case or project.
Credenza kept the customer adoption process as simple as possible. During the trial period, prospects do not have to register, enter credit card information, or talk to a sales representative. After the trial is over, Credenza keeps the barriers to adoption low. The solution is priced starting at CAD$9.95 per month for the basic service, or $19.95 per month for more advanced team features. Customers can use the solution on a month-to-month basis without any long-term contracts.
The platform also provides a flexible cost structure for Credenza, which pays only for the amount of storage space and processing power needed to support a specific number of customers at any given time.
As a result of moving to a downloadable trial and monthly subscription model, Credenza has experienced dramatic growth. When it launched the solution in late 2010, it had 30 customers. A year later, the company has more than 600 customers, a 20-fold increase.
“What Windows Azure provides is a platform where our customers can keep a lot of information that is easy to access from anywhere, without being tied to a specific network,” says Collins. “And the pay-as-you-go model of Windows Azure supports our business model of providing a subscription-based service. It allows us to scale up or down as needed. So far, we’ve only had to scale up.”Benefits
By moving its on-premises application to the cloud using the Windows Azure platform, Credenza transformed a good product with limited growth potential into a compelling, affordable, and highly scalable solution that is being adopted quickly by professional services firms. The Windows Azure tools makes it possible for Credenza to build features that meet the information-management, reliability, and security needs of its customers; and, with Microsoft taking care of the IT infrastructure, Credenza can focus on building the product and getting it to market quickly. Credenza has also taken advantage of the Windows Azure platform to move its business to a highly scalable, subscription-based model.
Profitable, Scalable Business Model
By taking advantage of the Windows Azure platform, Credenza was able to transform itself from being a provider of on-premises software deployments—with their attendant cost and complexity—to a high-growth subscription service business.
“The Windows Azure platform has dramatically improved our offering to our customers,” says Collins. “Before, our customers used to buy software in a box with a one-time license fee and all the hardware and upgrade issues that went with that model. Now, they can subscribe to the service for a reasonable monthly price without any long-term contract or commitments, and they always have the most up-to-date software.”
And, with the product in the cloud, Credenza can pursue larger firms as well as geographically dispersed customers. This dramatically increases the company’s potential for greater sales and profitability, enabling the addition of new customers without the complexities of deploying and configuring software at customer sites.
“Windows Azure has helped us completely transform our business model,” says Collins. “We now have a continual, monthly revenue stream that supports fast growth and is letting us enter new markets and new geographies.”
Enhanced Reliability, Security
Credenza was confident from the outset that Windows Azure would provide the reliability and security that its clients need. Says Cardinal, “Our customers depend on the Credenza software to capture information that gets their bills out. Windows Azure provides the mission-critical reliability that helps them conduct business. It also provides the industry-standard security protocols that help firms meet ethical, regulatory, and statutory requirements, which is particularly important for lawyers.”
Cardinal notes that Windows Azure offers “massive scalability” that is easy to tap into. “The process is really simple,” he says. “Using the management tools that Windows Azure provides, we add new instances to increase our capacity when we feel there is a need. It’s a short and simple process that allows us to quickly expand as more customers sign up.”
Andrew Cummins, Product Marketing Manager for Credenza, adds that the Windows Azure infrastructure helps the company assure customers about the confidentiality of their data. “Our customers get peace of mind knowing their information is hosted in a Microsoft data center,” he says. “Customers easily meet the necessary audit requirements and certifications that are required by our users.”
Hosted IT Infrastructure Helps Focus Developers on Product Features
With a full set of Windows and Windows Azure tools at their disposal, the Credenza developers created a rich set of features that meet the needs of busy professionals whose livelihoods are dependent on continual client interactions and billable hours.
Credenza was able to focus all of its development efforts on the product’s features, because Microsoft was taking care of the IT infrastructure. “We’re software developers, not operations guys,” says Cardinal. “Running back-end systems is not our core competency, and we didn’t want to commit to the time and capital expenditures needed for such systems. The Windows Azure platform takes care of the back-end infrastructure for us, freeing us to focus on our customer requirements and building valuable features.”
Cardinal says that the integration between the Windows Azure platform—including its tools and easily accessible APIs—and Credenza in-house Windows development expertise was a natural fit. This expedited the company’s redesign of the original on-premises software. “Windows Azure helped us get the product to market much faster than if we had to tackle a lot of infrastructure issues. And our developers were able to quickly jump into the redesign work, because of the familiarity of the tools,” Cardinal says. “We ramped up quickly and can make fast modifications and updates to the solution and have them appear instantly.”Microsoft Cloud Power
Microsoft offers a complete set of cloud-based solutions to meet business needs, including solutions for advertising; communications (email, meetings); collaboration (document storage, sharing, workflow); business applications (customer resource management, business productivity); data storage and management; and infrastructure services. In addition, customers can take advantage of an entire ecosystem of solution providers and Microsoft partners.
For more information about Microsoft Cloud Power, go to: www.microsoft.com/cloud
Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:
Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centers.
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 technologies.
Windows Azure AppFabric. With Windows Azure AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.
− AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
− AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST web services.
Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket. Developers and information workers can use the new service DataMarket to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.
To learn more, visit: www.microsoft.com/windowsazure
Related Resources and Information
To learn more about the Windows Azure platform, visit the website at: www.windowsazure.com
Learn: Channel9 Windows Azure Training Course
Read: Security Best Practices for Developing on the Windows Azure Platform
Download: Windows Azure Training Kit
Download: Windows Azure SDKFor More Information
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For more information about Credenza Software products and services, call (888) 444-1224 or visit the website at: www.credenzasoft.com
To view the full story plus video of Credenza Software and other success stories, visit the Microsoft Success Web site at: www.microsoft.com/business/success/ This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.