ROYAL EXCHANGE RETAIL REVENUES ROCKET HIGHER FOLLOWING MOVE TO THE CLOUD
The Nigerian insurance company, Royal Exchange, launched a retail strategy to grow revenues. Its in-house retail platform suffered, however, from power outages and low bandwidth which led to lost business. By moving to Azure, the retail platform benefited from 24/7 high availability which helped improve operations and drove a 75% rise in revenues.

BUSINESS NEEDS
Royal Exchange is a broad-based insurance provider that offers products and services ranging from money, household and business protection to an array of life insurance products. Founded in 1918 by parent company Royal Exchange Assurance in London, it is one of the most well-known insurance providers in Nigeria.
It registered on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in 1990 and merged with African Prudential Insurance and Phoenix of Nigeria Assurance in 2007. This significantly extended its presence in both Africa and across the African continent. It has a number of flagship subsidiaries within its structure; including Prudential Life, Finance and Asset Management and a Micro-Finance Bank.
Despite its formidable presence, the company wanted to grow its market share by launching a retail strategy and moving beyond wholesale insurance. To this end, it developed an ERP retail platform called E-business which essentially allowed customers to purchase insurance products online: be it vehicle coverage, life insurance, healthcare or investment products. The solution was also designed for field agents who could use the platform to drive immediate sales.
The platform was based in-house and connectivity was provided by an ISP. However, bandwidth and power supply problems led to a lot of downtime that effectively rendered the platform useless for substantial lengths of time and undermined the company’s retail strategy.
Ejike Osisioma, Group Head of IT, Royal Exchange, explains, “The platform often collapsed and, from our perspective, there was a whole chain of dependency from ISP service delivery to operational platforms. We needed to find a way to deal with them.  We have agents all over the country, and it was affecting them and customers. We were frequently receiving calls from agents saying they couldn’t complete business transactions.”

SOLUTION
As the company sought an alternative, it turned to a hosted solution. It considered Amazon Web Services, GoDaddy, Rackspace and Microsoft Azure. Ejike Osisioma says, “We carried out an extensive survey of different platforms and noted some challenges with some of them.  However, I was really impressed with Microsoft Azure.”
“Several years earlier, I had visited a Microsoft Technology Center in Dubai and was impressed by the high levels of availability and security. I took Azure to the Board, and we decided to run an initial, six-month test hosting the retail e-business platform and a SQL Server on the platform. We used a pay-as-you-go model to get a feel for how the platform works. It was clear within three months that Azure was the correct choice.”
Microsoft Azure is an open, flexible, enterprise-grade, cloud computing platform that enables users to move faster, do more and save money with either infrastructure-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service or a combination of both. Designed for building, deploying and managing applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers, it is characterized by flexibility, guaranteed high availability and high levels of security.
It supports many different programming languages, tools and frameworks:  including both Microsoft-specific and third-party software and systems. It also provides a raft of services: from storage and compute power to data management, analytics, identity-management, networking and developer and integration services. Users can also manage Azure services using the web-based Azure Portal, which enables users to browse active resources, modify settings, launch new resources, and view basic monitoring data from active virtual machines and services.

BENEFITS
Because the Royal Exchange board had seen, within three months of the testing period, the benefits of using Azure for its retail platform, the company decided to adopt it fully within the context of infrastructure-as-a-service.
It commissioned its IT partner, Signal Alliance, with running its e-business platform and SQL Server for Azure. This was because of Signal Alliance’s Azure expertise and understanding of Royal Exchange’s business.  “Azure’s 24/7 high-availability is absolutely fundamental to our retail strategy.  We are now driving retail business forward at a quicker pace,” adds Ejike Osisioma. The benefits noted by Royal insurance include

75% increase in retail platform revenues
Lower TCO and greater reliability than an in-house platform
Underpinning retail operations and supporting field agents with 24/7 availability
First insurance company in Nigeria to use the public cloud
Ability to bring new customer-focused services to the retail platform
Comprehensive backup strategy
Dedicated VPN to access retail data in the cloud on a daily basis
Moving other parts of the business into the cloud, such as Finance and Asset Management services, to support and strengthen customer services
Developing a cloud roadmap for its software due to lower costs, greater flexibility and ease of management.