GreatSoft provides a sophisticated practice management solution for customers such as accountants and auditors. Wanting to expand market reach with cloud services, which the company considers the technology of the future, it migrated its flagship solution, GreatSoft, to Windows Azure. It now benefits from a scalable solution that can serve customers of all sizes, who can realize up to a 75 percent cost-savings. The company expects to reach new segments and grow by 50 percent.
A member of the Microsoft Partner Network since 2006, GreatSoft has been operating for more than 25 years, providing practice management solutions for customers such as accountants and auditors who base their business models on billable hours. In 2000, it began developing its flagship solution, GreatSoft, which is now distributed to more than 750 companies in 15 African countries. The web-based GreatSoft solution is linked to one Microsoft SQL Server database-and the software is employed by 25,000 users every day. The company has customers throughout Africa, including KPMG, Deloitte, PwC, Mazars Group, Grant Thornton International, Nolands South Africa, and Moore Stephens.
"GreatSoft is a world-class, end-to-end solution for a niche market," says Bruce Morgan, Managing Director at GreatSoft. "We have an incredible amount of intellectual property and a product focus that gives us a dominant position in that market."
The company built the GreatSoft solution by using only Microsoft technologies. It manually installed GreatSoft on servers at customers' sites and charged them on a per-user, per-month subscription basis.
In November 2010, GreatSoft considered developing the solution by using Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment. It sought to expand into the global market, reduce the cost and time of deployment, and serve smaller companies in a highly secure environment. "Until now, we've been limited to face-to-face sales and on-site implementations," says Morgan. "My vision is that anyone in the world can find GreatSoft on the web, sign up with a credit card, and use the solution on a per-transaction basis. This would open up a massive market for us."
GreatSoft began participating in the Windows Azure Rapid Deployment Program, which gives companies technical and marketing assistance in developing cloud services solutions. It set out to deliver GreatSoft as a platform-as-a-service solution that would use Windows Azure Cloud Services capabilities to host, scale, and manage compute power on the Internet through Microsoft data centers. "We decided to invest in cloud services because we are an industry leader and the cloud is the way of the future," says Morgan. "We wanted to stay ahead of the game."
With support from Microsoft experts, GreatSoft migrated the three main modules of the solution-e-Cost, e-Time, and e-CRM-to Microsoft ASP.NET 4, a web framework for building web applications. It hosts the web application by using a Windows Azure web role. "The web role provides an environment for our ASP.NET application that is compatible with Internet Information Services 7.0, a set of Internet-based services," says Imtiaz Lorgat, Development Director at GreatSoft. "It allows the solution to function in the same way as if it were running on Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system."
To store data, GreatSoft used Windows Azure SQL Database, a multitenant capable relational database service that is built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies and managed by Microsoft. To ensure high performance for users in disparate locations, it employs caching services in Windows Azure, which temporarily stores information from application sources and reduces the time needed to conduct database transactions. "We changed the GreatSoft solution to facilitate migration to Windows Azure, but the impact on the existing architecture has been minimal," says Lorgat.
A three-person development team spent 60 hours reworking the sophisticated solution into a cloud services offering. The company will continue fine-tuning GreatSoft in the coming months, and it plans to market the solution globally soon. "We're looking forward to going live with our first customer in June 2012," says Morgan. "It's been so easy for us that we expect a seamless deployment."
By migrating its flagship solution to Windows Azure, GreatSoft can meet the demands of customers in a scalable way. The company gains a competitive advantage because it can market its solution anywhere in the world, while its customers benefit from reduced deployment costs and flexible pricing options. "By building the GreatSoft solution on Windows Azure, we give our customers great peace of mind," says Morgan. "Microsoft provides cloud services capabilities that are highly secure, agile, and resilient."
Increased Scalability to Serve Customers with 5,000 Employees or More
GreatSoft can quickly and easily deploy its solution to customers around the world-with support for multiple entities and multiple currencies-and scale compute capabilities up or down to meet demand. Says Morgan, "We expect the cloud services solution to serve customers with three employees and scale to customers with more than 5,000 employees."
Reduced Setup Costs for Customers by 75 Percent
Because the GreatSoft solution is available as a cloud service, customers avoid the costs of managing hardware on-premises. The company will continue to use a subscription-based revenue model as it moves into cloud services, and it is also considering a per-transaction pricing model. "Our customers will realize up to a 75 percent savings in setup costs," says Morgan. "They can simply access the solution by using a browser. We will provide consulting only in terms of setting up certain complexities-for organizations that use multiple currencies or have numerous branches, for example."
Expanded Market Opportunities to Make it Possible to Grow by 50 Percent Within 24 Months
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GreatSoft expects to take its practice management solution worldwide. "Without Windows Azure, we would not have been able to dream of the growth that we believe is possible now," says Morgan. "In terms of market reach, we are limited only by where we direct our marketing efforts. We expect to grow by at least 50 percent within 24 months of going live."