NVoicePay is a financial services solution provider with a big business goal—providing an easy-to-use, affordable cloud-based service that can help midsized companies reduce or eliminate the need for paper processes when dealing with vendor invoices and associated payments. To create its solution, NVoicePay turned to the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure provides rich development tools and a “pay-as-you-go” IT infrastructure that helped NVoicePay launch its solution, called AP Assist. NVoicePay, working with technology partners ADP and First Data, anticipates it will go from zero dollars at launch to more than U.S.$250 million in customer transactions moving through its system within a period of 24 months. NVoicePay is helping customers save tens of thousands of dollars annually by streamlining an essential business process.Situation
NVoicePay is a young company with ambitious plans to tackle a large market opportunity: Creating a business-to-business (B2B) payment network to help midsized businesses reduce or eliminate paper-based processes when dealing with invoices and associated payments.
||We evaluated the cloud offerings from Google and Amazon, but in the end, we found that Windows Azure provided the breadth of features and services—which were lacking in the other platforms—that we needed to create our B2B NVoicePay Payment Network.
Chief Technology Officer
The issue of manual payment processes is vexing for the hundreds of thousands of businesses that struggle to find efficient ways of handling vendor invoices and payments. “The problem we are addressing is simple to understand,” says Karla Friede, Chief Executive Officer of NVoicePay. “About 90 percent of B2B invoice payments are still made by writing a paper check. It’s an expensive, time-consuming process. For example, in the automotive business—one of the industries we are targeting—dealership costs for writing a single check average $3 each when labor and materials are taken into account.”
It’s a familiar challenge to most companies in the midmarket business segment, which according to the U.S. Small Business Administration consists of more than 625,000 firms in the United States. The invoice payment process typically involves a number of tedious steps. Invoices arrive in the mail. An accounts payable employee opens the mail, takes out the invoices, and makes sure the goods were actually received. Following that, the invoices have to be approved and invoice information is keyed into the company’s accounting system. When a company goes to pay its invoices, most start by loading paper-check stock into a printer once or twice a month to batch-process dozens or even hundreds of checks at a time, which is preferable to printing checks individually.
For the vendor receiving a payment, the manual process is similar. Mail is opened, checks are sorted, and information is put into the accounting system. At the end of that process, all checks must be taken to a bank and deposited. “Both ends of the process are time consuming, manual, and prone to human error,” says Friede.
As NVoicePay explored options for creating an effective B2B payment solution, it identified a number of criteria as critical to the solution’s success. The solution had to be simple to sign up for and use. It needed to be available on a variety of devices such as desktop PCs, portable computers, and smartphones. It also needed “dial-tone availability” so that it would be there whenever busy customers with limited staff resources needed to use it. It had to provide a robust level of security to protect financial data. And it needed to handle intense bursts of traffic.
“We anticipated going through explosive growth with our transactions, and, as a result, we identified significant scalability needs,” says Shaun McAravey, Chief Technology Officer for NVoicePay. “We started looking at cloud platforms for the scalability in storage and in compute resources to handle anticipated traffic.”Solution
With the help of Microsoft Gold Certified Partner SoftSource Consulting, NVoicePay decided to create its solution, called NVoicePay AP Assist—the core component of its NVoicePay Payment Network—on the Windows Azure platform from Microsoft.
“We were looking for a cloud platform that would allow us to effectively deliver an always-on payment solution to our customers,” says McAravey. “We evaluated the cloud offerings from Google and Amazon. But in the end, we found that Windows Azure provided the breadth of features and services that we needed to create our NVoicePay Payment Network. Those features were lacking in the other platforms. Windows Azure provides scalable storage and compute resources and a flexible pay-as-you-go business model. And with Windows Azure AppFabric, we can integrate with our clients’ on-premises services, provide enhanced security to protect financial data, and implement single sign-on for our system.”
Adds Friede, “Microsoft has demonstrated its commitment to the cloud, and based on that we bet our future on it.”
Partnering with ADP, First Data
NVoicePay worked closely with two partners on the solution. The first is the Dealer Services Division of Automatic Data Processing (ADP), a leading provider of integrated computing solutions to auto, truck, motorcycle, marine, recreational, heavy vehicle, and agricultural vehicle dealers. NVoicePay successfully integrated and certified AP Assist with the ADP Dealer Management System, which provides automotive dealers with solutions for core business processes.
NVoicePay also partnered with First Data Corporation, a global leader in electronic commerce and payment processing services for merchants. First Data is providing essential behind-the-scenes functions, such as processing the transactions that are initiated by the NVoicePay Payment Network.
Using Windows Azure
To build AP Assist, NVoicePay used a number of Windows Azure components and related Microsoft products. From the Windows Azure platform, it used:
Windows Azure AppFabric, which provides services and a middleware framework for developing, deploying, and managing business applications in the cloud and on premises. NVoicePay is using the AppFabric Service Bus, which pushes data to Silverlight clients in real time, and AppFabric Access Control, which delivers security features and lets NVoicePay federate with Active Directory services at client locations to quickly and seamlessly authenticate users.
Windows Azure Blob Storage, which provides an intermediary store-and-forward function for in-transit financial transaction information.
Windows Azure Table Storage, which provides structured storage that can be queried and that has tremendous scalability. VoicePay is using Windows Azure Table Storage to store payment status information, client configuration information, and vendor preferences.
Windows Azure Queue Storage, which provides reliable, persistent messaging between services. Windows Azure Queue Storage is used by NVoicePay to schedule new vendor submissions and payment preference changes prior to processing in the NVoicePay data center.
Microsoft SQL Azure Database, a highly scalable, fully managed relational cloud database. NVoicePay is using SQL Azure Database to cross-index information stored in Blob Storage and to provide summary reporting through the client software. Through the client software, customers can find out, for example, when a payment is made.
Project Sydney, which provides enhanced security for network connections between on-premises applications and the Windows Azure–hosted AP Assist using standard IP protocols. During a communication session between the client and the cloud, Project Sydney initiates a dedicated, standard TCP/IP virtual network overlay for the session; all relevant data is placed logically inside this overlay network.
The Windows Azure VM Role, a feature that allows NVoicePay to deploy related legacy applications in the cloud simply and easily.
In addition, NVoicePay used development tools and technology that included:
Microsoft Silverlight 4 browser plug-in technology for the client software, which allows customers to submit payments or securely sign up in the cloud using a secure sockets layer (SSL)–based connection and an X.509 certificate. NVoicePay is using Silverlight to deliver three different types of interfaces, or “screens,” that can be used depending on the user location and device. These include web browsers and “out-of-browser” stand-alone PC applications. NVoicePay also used Silverlight to create a client application optimized for Windows Phone 7 devices. The Silverlight component of AP Assist uses raw sockets—IP-based endpoints that allow direct sending and receiving of network packets—to communicate with customers’ on-premises accounting systems, providing a seamless blend of cloud and on-premises services and functionality.
Microsoft .NET Framework 4 and the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional development system, which provided the tools and a common software development framework for creating a cloud-based solution that runs across multiple client endpoints. The .NET Framework also supports the technology used for asymmetric encryption of data.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0, which is the business software used in the NVoicePay data center for customer relationship management (CRM).
Windows Server 2008 Datacenter, which is the core server operating system used in the company’s data center.
NVoicePay began rolling out its AP Assist solution in early 2010. The company first targeted heavy equipment, automotive, and truck dealerships, which typically have high volumes of vendor invoices and payments every month. NVoicePay is expanding its targets to include manufacturing and distribution companies.Benefits
By taking advantage of the Windows Azure platform, NVoicePay was able to quickly create and deliver a powerful yet easy-to-use B2B payment processing solution for the midsize business market. NVoicePay now has a flexible, convenient, affordable solution to offer its target customers, with the high level of data security they demand. NVoicePay also has a rich platform for future development efforts.
Flexible, Convenient, and Cost-effective
The Windows Azure platform provides flexibility and cost-effectiveness for NVoicePay customers—and for the company itself. “Windows Azure allowed us to create features that provide a lot of flexibility and ease of use for our customers,” says McAravey. “For example, we designed the different screens so that AP Assist can be accessed from a variety of client devices. People are no longer tied to a PC using a dedicated application.”
McAravey explains that an accounts payable person can use a Silverlight-based application on his or her desktop or laptop. A vendor can quickly sign up or use the AP Assist service from a web browser. And a busy—and mobile—manager, such as a corporate comptroller, can approve invoices from his or her Windows Phone using the Silverlight client application. “AP Assist offers tremendous convenience that allows a company to tailor its use of the solution according to its business needs,” McAravey says. “And it is always available, so tasks such as approving invoices can be completed at any time of the day or night.”
The solution is also very affordable, a compelling point for customers looking to cut costs while also streamlining their businesses processes. “That leads to big savings for our customers,” says Friede. “In the first vertical market that we are targeting, we estimate that our Windows Azure–based solution can save dealerships between $25,000 and $250,000 annually, depending on their size. That’s a significant cost reduction for any midsize business, particularly in a difficult economy.”
An early customer—Michael J. DuBois, Vice President of Finance at Balise Motor Sales Company in West Springfield, Massachusetts—says his company has quickly seen the cost benefits of using AP Assist. “With the NVoicePay payment solution, we recovered our upfront cost in the first month’s use,” Dubois says. “The cost per payment is less than the postage needed to mail a check.”
||Building a mission-critical B2B payment network would have been nearly impossible without the low-cost, pay-as-you-go access of the Windows Azure platform. We could not have built our network at this speed and cost without it.
Chief Executive Officer
By using Windows Azure, NVoicePay avoided the high cost and management overhead of creating a new IT infrastructure to support AP Assist. “The Windows Azure business model of paying only for the computing resources you need has been key for us as an early-stage company,” Friede says. “The cost of provisioning and maintaining our infrastructure would have been prohibitive otherwise. Building a mission-critical B2B payment network would have been nearly impossible without the low-cost, pay-as-you-go access of the Windows Azure platform. We could not have built our network at this speed and cost without it.”
Effective Security for Sensitive Data
A common concern with customers, and a key issue evaluated by NVoicePay when looking at different cloud platforms for AP Assist, is transactional security. Windows Azure provided the tools and technology needed to assure NVoicePay customers that their data is protected when in transition and while at rest.
“Our AP Assist solution is all about payments, so obviously security is very, very important to us,” says McAravey. “We have to offer secure access to our services, and any data we store must be secure.”
The AppFabric Access Control is especially important in providing authentication and authorization of users. The ability of Access Control to federate with the Active Directory service running on customers’ local Windows Server networks eliminates the need to set up and maintain separate user logons. This delivers convenience for people using AP Assist, provides greater control for managers at customer sites, and minimizes potential security breaches that can stem from multiple logon points.
The store-and-forward architecture used by NVoicePay also provides an additional layer of security by preventing outside applications from directly accessing the NVoicePay payment processing system. “With Windows Azure, we were able to design AP Assist so that payments are submitted to the cloud and then stored there until they are forwarded to our payment processing system,” says McAravey. “This architecture provides an effective buffer that protects the confidential financial information that is flowing through our system.”
Rich Platform for Business Growth
With Windows Azure, NVoicePay gained a rich and powerful platform that made it possible to launch an ambitious initiative targeting a very large—and largely untapped—customer market. It was also able to attract high-profile, influential partners.
Notes Clifton E. Mason, Vice President of Product Marketing for ADP Dealer Services: “One of the critical attributes of the Windows Azure–based NVoicePay solution is its ability to tightly integrate with our ADP Dealer Management System. It’s through this integration that our customers can seamlessly and easily process their payables in an electronic manner, which is more efficient and less costly than traditional methods.”
Says Vinny Breault, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at First Data: “The NVoicePay solution is really user friendly and intelligent. An accounts payable person can quickly grasp how to use the software and not have to worry about a drain on resources for integrating with current processes or systems. A lot of midsize companies have a hard time monetizing the benefits of electronic AP solutions. NVoicePay does a great job of helping clients understand the value.”
Friede says these benefits are made possible by Windows Azure and its cloud-based services, which is opening up a vast business opportunity for NVoicePay. “We’re addressing the $2.5 billion opportunity of moving invoice payments from paper checks to electronic networks for midsize companies,” Friede says.
Fast Revenue Generation
NVoicePay is already experiencing the benefits of deploying its solution on Windows Azure, with customer traffic levels expanding exponentially. In the first quarter of 2010, when AP Assist was launched, the company had no funds flowing through the network. However, company managers expect that they’ll see more than $50 million flowing through AP Assist by the end of 2010, and more than $250 million in traffic on the network by the end of next year. Those numbers are based on existing customers and do not include future customers expected to sign up for the service.
“The Windows Azure platform enabled us to get into the market in 12 months and to deliver a mission-critical, enterprise-class payment network for the midsize business market,” Friede says. “In less than 24 months, we will have gone from zero dollars to hundreds of millions of dollars moving through our network. This is a tribute to the effectiveness of cloud computing and the richness and power of the Windows Azure platform, which helped make our solution possible.”Microsoft Cloud Services
Microsoft offers a complete set of cloud-based solutions to meet business needs, including solutions for advertising, communications (email, meetings), collaboration (document storage, sharing, and 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 Services, 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.
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.
- 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.
To learn more, visit: www.microsoft.com/windowsazure
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 web, go to www.microsoft.com
For more information about NVoicePay, call (877) 626-6332 or visit the website at: www.nvoicepay.com
To view the video documentation of NVoicePay and other success stories visit the Microsoft Success Web site at: www.microsoft.com/business/success/
See how other companies successfully implemented money and time saving solutions in their business using the Windows Azure platform. View an additional case study here.
To learn more about the Windows Azure platform, visit the website at: www.windowsazure.com
Related White Paper: Security Best Practices for Developing on the Windows Azure Platform