Earlier today at the Australian Partner Conference (APC), Pip Marlow announced that our new Microsoft Azure Geo in Australia has reached private preview stage. It’s an incredibly exciting time for us as we work with a number of customers and partners to test key workloads, stress test the new infrastructure, and build Australia’s leading cloud services – empowering Australian organisations and individuals to do more and be more.

Anticipation for the Geo opening is high, and I’m pleased to share that general availability is around the corner, a matter of months away, and will happen well before the end of the year. In the meantime, we’re busy working to create the best experience possible for our customers and partners.

Turning the spotlight to Janison – an education ISV based in Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales – I caught up with Wayne Houlden, Managing Director, to find out how Microsoft Azure has delivered up to 70 per cent business growth and enabled Janison to compete with large organisations such as SAP and Blackboard.

Q: Tell me about Janison, and the role of cloud – and perhaps more specifically Microsoft Azure – in your business?

A: At Janison, we aim to be at the forefront of innovation in the development and delivery of learning assessment technologies improving the performance of organisations and learning experiences for employees and students across the globe. Based primarily in NSW, we’re a team of around 60, focused on expanding our business in Australia and overseas by extending our partner network and working on a range of high profile national learning and assessment projects. We have achieved around 20-to-30 per cent growth per year as we’ve worked toward this. As a result of our strategy and efforts, our growth for the next couple of years is looking more like 40 to 70 per cent, and our competitors are increasingly becoming NASDAQ organisations, such as SAP, Sum Total, RM, and Pearson Education.

The cloud is an incredibly disruptive technology, and we recognised early on that it would allow small and medium sized organisations to rapidly build applications that are highly scalable and profitable. We set about thinking how we designed our applications so that they would be ideally suited to running on and taking full advantage of Microsoft Azure, and redeveloped a lot of what we did by analysing some of the best practices for building such applications. From this, we have built a system that is multi-tenanted, scalable, and can be implemented on any cloud infrastructure – the Janison Cloud Learning System. Currently, around 150 of our customers in Australia are on the platform, with many more interested once the Australian Azure Geos become available.

Microsoft Azure has also played a critical role in our international expansion at Janison. Using Azure, we’re able to create and deliver instances of our applications in whatever region we need, while still managing everything directly from our operation centre in Australia.

Q: It’s great to see you’ve created your own Cloud IP that extends across multiple industries and sectors.  How has your Cloud Learning System (CLS) evolved in recent years? 

A: Every sector is very different in its requirements, so at the beginning of Janison’s journey to the cloud we had to go back and analyse how each component would run on Microsoft Azure, and re-architect accordingly. We came up with a plug-in architecture empowering us to build specific functionalities for clients, and generic services that can be turned on and off depending on needs – currently we offer around 140 of these plug-ins from our single code base.

The flexibility offered by Azure is a huge part of our recent success, as are its multi-lingual capabilities. Another distinguishing factor is that it’s a multi-tenanted system, which is quite appealing to agencies and departments that go through regular rebranding exercises as they can edit the system in an ad-hoc manner. Partnering with Microsoft has also empowered us with the size and skill we need to deliver to large companies – we might only be a medium sized company compared to other players, but we can deliver a project that is just as large, and at a more competitive price point. This gives us an edge over the competition, utilising cloud and cloud enabled designs can result in the price our services far more competitively.

Q: There’s a lot of talk within Australia about how organisations either need to be a disruptor or be disrupted.  How does Janison approach innovation to regularly enhance functionalities and features?

A: With Microsoft Azure, we’re empowered to compete for business on a global level; no longer hamstrung by being based in Australia. We can think much bigger than we used to, and we can dream big too. This is inspiring us to think about the way we create our IT for the future because we know we’re not restricted in what we can do and the services we can offer. Also, we look at Microsoft Azure and the way it is being developed and improved with all the new features that come through on a regular basis.  We try to mimic much of what we see in that strategy in the way that we create our products. This allows us to consistently provide new features or new functionalities on a regular basis, enriching the services we offer.

A great example of our platform in action is Deakin University, where we worked together to create an open-learning platform called Deakin Connect. The platform offers more interactivity and connections between students, more social interactions via platforms used by students, including Facebook and LinkedIn, and the engaging and dynamic course environment. In the last intake more than 2,500 learners across 63 countries joined the course. The advantages of being able to manage the course from a single environment have been hugely beneficial for Deakin from an assessment and marketing perspective.

This is just one example of the platforms created at Janison. In other instances institutions use our services for running highly scalable assessments, others use it for assessment centre provisions, learning catalogues, and massive open online courses.

Q: How have you been getting ready for the Microsoft Azure launch in Australia?

A: We’ve been firing up various machines and testing software on the platform, and are about to go live with a BETA environment that people can trial and see how it works inside the Australian Geos. This means we’ll be able to source user-feedback so when the services are ready to go live later this year they’ll be optimised for user success. At Janison, we can’t wait to offer our customers lower latency, while increasing our offerings because we will be able to meet some of the government requirements around security and data sovereignty.