As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, I talked to Luke Spikes, Chief Executive Officer at Spikes Cavell, about how the company took a long-term strategic bet on Windows Azure to deliver a new product, spotlightonspend, that helps public sector entities share spending data with the general public. You can read the full customer success story here. Here’s what he had to say:

Himanshu Kumar Singh: What does Spikes Cavell do?

Luke Spikes: Spikes Cavell develops online solutions that help public sector entities increase the efficiency of their procurement practices to save money. Through our self-hosted Observatory offering, a modular suite of data-driven online tools, we enable government organizations to collect and store spend information from multiple systems in a single database. Financial decision makers can use search, analytics, and reporting tools in Observatory to identify opportunities for savings.   

HKS: How did you come up with the idea for spotlightonspend?

LS: In August 2009, I read an article in the Sunday Times newspaper that sparked an idea for a new cloud-based product to empower public sector organizations to share spending data with the general public. The articled was about a manifesto proposal from David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader who was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain in May 2010, to compel public entities to disclose all external payments for goods and services. We recognized an opportunity to build on the spending analysis and reporting functionality we had already developed for Observatory to help government organizations comply with this proposed policy. The obvious challenge was how to scale our infrastructure to handle the potential use of such an application by thousands of people at the same time. To maximize sales opportunities, we wanted to deliver the application in the cloud shortly after the general election in May 2010. We started development in September 2009.                                                       

HKS: Did you evaluate other cloud providers besides Windows Azure?

LS: At first, we used Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) to host spotlightonspend, but we learned that we needed to continuously update and reconfigure servers, which inhibited developer productivity and the company’s responsiveness to new market opportunities. After several months, we decided to move spotlightonspend to Windows Azure.

HKS: Why did you decide to launch spotlightonspend on Windows Azure?

LS: The shift to Windows Azure was a long-term strategic bet on our part. As a growing company in an industry moved by rapidly changing political considerations, we needed the agility that only a fully managed cloud platform like Windows Azure can provide.

HKS: Did you meet your election deadline?

LS: Yes, we released spotlightonspend in May 2010, only days after the newly installed coalition government formally announced its transparency policy. By June 2011, we had delivered 40 customers in the United Kingdom. We are now offering the solution to U.S.-based public sector organizations.  

HKS: Describe some of the other benefits of Windows Azure for Spikes Cavell and its customers.

LS: The migration to Windows Azure took only 10 weeks, a timeline that would not have been possible without the flexibility and ease-of-use of Microsoft technologies. The ability to access a complete set of tools in a single platform means we can keep our development costs low and continue providing new functionality to meet customer requirements. Because Windows Azure makes it easier for us to focus on our core strengths, we’re able to devote more time to supporting existing customers and nurturing business opportunities in new markets, which has played a crucial role in our success.

Read the full story.  Learn how others are using Windows Azure.