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Azure Cloud at the Forefront of Development

By Phillip R. Kennedy, Director IT, PANDORA


Phillip R. Kennedy, Director IT, PANDORA

At PANDORA, our mission is to celebrate women and special moments in their lives by offering them the opportunity for personal expression. We happen to use high-quality, contemporary jewelry at affordable prices to do this. The vision is to become the world’s most loved jewelry brand. To accomplish this, it starts with great product and is supported by an engaging, memorable, and fun customer experience.

"Keeping the internal team light while leaning on key platform partners, to help us scale, is a model that was proven successful for our company"

Our pieces are sold in more than 9,500 stores in over 90 countries; sometimes our end customers shop at our corporate owned stores or franchises, while others seek out PANDORA at other retailers. As a company, PANDORA is growing by leaps and bounds, which is a testament to the beauty and quality of the products we make. To support this rapid growth, we have worked to remain at the forefront of technology, realizing the massive benefit a well executed technology solution can have on the business.

Information Technology as an internal competency within PANDORA is relatively new, being a little over 6 years old with all IT functions previously being outsourced. This had worked in a smaller organization but as the company’s growth accelerated, it was apparent having a strong, agile internal IT team was critical to success. Once the decision was made, the first key hires focused on internal user support and infrastructure. After these areas were brought up to high level, the next area was to better support our retail partner network.

Being a manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, and retailer we have a number of IT customers in and around the organization. Running a lean team while supporting these customers in a rapidly growing organization poses some unique technical challenges. We decided to hire a highly skilled internal team with both technical and business backgrounds and ensure they had a deep understanding of how the organization worked. Keeping the internal team light while leaning on key platform partners, to help us scale, is a model that was proven successful for our company. This also influenced our technology direction and very early on the decision was made to move to the cloud. This was early 2009 before the cloud was cool. Being very much a Microsoft shop, we chose Azure even thought it was very early in its development.

Our first Azure project was targeted at providing our retailer partners a more efficient way to place product orders online. We knew it didn’t fit for us to try and build out our internal infrastructure to support this and being a highly seasonal business at the time Azure provided us the ability to scale both up and down. This was very appealing. We chose to utilize the latest and greatest technology options at the time and took advantage of Azure PaaS, with web roles, worker roles, SQL Azure, HTML 5, JavaScript, C# and MVC. And wrote a number of customer integrations to connect out Dynamics ERP and CRM platforms.

We focused on a highly iterative development cycle with close customer involvement. We were able to quickly deliver a functioning prototype in our US market. Shortly after launch we were able to support one of our largest annual jewelry shows utilizing the PANDORA Cloud site as our main method for capturing order data. Azure enables us to quickly scale up to support the increased traffic and was very successful. We quickly expanded to our Canadian market and added additional functionality including document sharing, and self-serve reporting.

The Cloud based self-serve reporting was able to greatly reduce our customer service costs while providing our retailers a method for answering many of their own questions. Development continued on the Cloud portal adding a number of features over the next year and eventually becoming a strong tool for the organization to quickly implement special programs and growing into a one-stop-shop for our retail partners.

With the huge success in the Americas, other PANDORA markets globally began to request the solution. This prompted us to form a team focused on making this the global platform for B2B support. We partnered with a strong external development and QA team and built and internal business analyst organization focusing on managing the global market demand. The iterative approach was something new for some of our international markets more familiar with a waterfall approach to projects. With a bit of a rocky start, we were able to show successful results and quickly had our first international markets live on the solution.

Over the past year we have continued development and rollouts and current have 26 instances of the solution running globally supporting over 30 languages and 40 countries. We have 100% user adoption with over 85% of all our wholesale ordering happening through the portal. We have continued development in 3 week sprints deploying new features to each instance. This ability to rapidly deliver on customer request has been important to our growth as an organization and the perception of IT towards the organization.

Having run in a very iterative fashion, we have been able to take advantage of the many new features the Azure team has delivered including Azure Web Sites and are now utilizing logic apps, Azure service bus, and Azure API. The rapid expansion of the Azure offerings while being tricky to keep up with, have been important for our team to grow and scale. We are able to utilize many of the Azure features in other areas of the organization and are currently working on proof of concept project around data analytics including Azure Machine Learning, Data Lakes, and Azure Data Warehouse.

With Cloud being a global direction for PANDORA we have moved all office users to Office 365, CRM Online, and are currently migrating our on premise intranet to the Cloud. My goal would be to eventually use our server rooms as office space. The Azure services have enabled us to offload some non-critical IT functions and focus on what really matters, delivering value to the organization.

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