Dental services provider Dental Corporation is nearing completion of a project that leverages Microsoft's Azure cloud computing service to deliver real-time data on its practices.
Sydney-headquartered Dental Corporation runs back-office services for a growing number of dental practices in Australia and New Zealand.
"We do their HR, payroll, all their IT and finances, so the dentist can really look managing the relationship with the customer," says Kellie King, Dental Corporation's executive manager for group business systems and services.
Dental Corporation is an acquisition company, King says. It has signed on in excess of 200 dental practices and is constantly bringing more on board. As a result, across its practices around 15 different software systems are used to manage financial and patient data.
Until embarking on the current project in partnership with systems integrator Breeze some 12 months ago, data from individual practices would be delivered to Dental Corporation's head office through a variety of means, including emails, faxes and PDF documents.
"We had a team here of about 15 people that would manually build the financial reports," King says. "You can imagine that it was a fairly laborious, long process."
Spotlight on: Cloud• The rise of security-as-a-service
• Amazon vs. Google vs. Windows Azure
• Should Australian businesses fear US cloud vendors?
• Can Chrome OS challenge Windows in the enterprise?
• Red Hat CEO: PaaS is the new application server
The project is a product of what King self-deprecatingly describes as a "harebrained idea" she had last year.
"I realised that even if we rolled out one software [system] across all the dental practices, we probably wouldn't get to a solution very quickly," she says.
"It would probably take us a few years to be able to get to the data. The data was important — you can only imagine running a business without any data on what's actually going on out there."
"Pretty quickly — I think it was our third meeting [with Dental Corporation] we realised it wasn't just reporting; it was a data issue," says Breeze's Mick Badran.
"We needed the data to be consistently reported and recorded across the practices," he says.
"They're all very disparate practices; there's no WAN or VPN between them [and] they all pretty much do their own thing. Given that they're located in many different regions, from my way of thinking the cloud was going to play a major part," Badran says.
In the new setup, a software agent is installed in each practice. It tracks and changes in practice data and extracts and forwards them to Azure, where the data is processed and made available to Dental Corporation.
"We were using Biz Talk Server as part the backend to do some of the analytics and data warehousing pre-processing, Badran says. "Microsoft's cloud has some very simple integration points with Service Bus and Service Bus Relay that allowed us to integrate into the cloud without having an impact on the need for VPNs and WANs [linking the practices].
"We've got a VPN connection from Dental Corp HQ to their network segment in Azure, so the servers appear on the same network, just on different segments. They can connect to things like on-premise ERP systems, and the reporting solution can be accessed by everyone internally."
Originally Breeze and Dental Corporation were only conducting development work and user acceptance testing in the cloud. However, after being plagued by some pre-production problems involving provisioning and configuring servers, they decided trial using Azure for the production deployment as well.
"[Dev and UAT] actually worked so well that we we're like, 'Well, why don't we just leave it up there?'" says King.
"It wasn't like we really chose the cloud; it was more 'let's put it up there and see what happens because that's quick and easy'. We were able to do that really quickly. [It was] easier than buying servers."
King says the project is helping to transform Dental Corporation from a reactive organisation into a proactive one.
"At the moment, we're looking six weeks behind saying 'Six weeks ago we weren't performing so well' to being more proactive about 'We've got a problem — let's solve it. We know in real time what's going on; we're really building out some of the reporting and analytics [capabilities].
"Once we start bringing that data into the business and showing them exactly how the business is performing then I think we'll start to see the real benefits of this project."