directdialogs creates comprehensive, simple and affordable marketing solution for B2C businesses. In October 2011, the company launched a loyalty program that combines cardless loyalty with mobile, social, and email marketing. By running directdialogs on the Windows Azure platform, the company took advantage of a flexible development environment along with the stability, scalability, and easy maintenance of cloud computing. The result was much faster time-to-market, and more ability to focus on the application, leaving infrastructure concerns to Microsoft.
Incorporated in 2011, directdialogs is an innovative software company building comprehensive, simple and affordable customer-centric products for B2C businesses. Located both in the US and India, the company currently employs 10 people.
Retaining customers and building a loyal customer base are becoming top priorities for small businesses around the world. To meet these needs, various new products are being introduced in the market to enhance customer engagement such as email marketing, mobile loyalty products, social media marketing tools, and SMS marketing.
directdialogs, part of Brightspot Technology Solutions, built a cardless loyalty program combined with email, social, and mobile campaign management. Developed with cutting-edge technology, the application combines the essential customer engagement tools for small businesses while still keeping it affordable. Both single-store and multi-store chains in retail, restaurant, cafe’s, spa’s and other B2C businesses can use directdialogs to nurture and monetize customer relationship. The application will help businesses bring their customers back by offering rewards and enabling the business to run precisely targeted email and mobile marketing campaigns.
Combining loyalty program with applications such as email marketing, mobile marketing and integrating it with social platforms were a sizable ask for a startup. However, directdialogs leveraged a sophisticated campaign management module built earlier within Brightspot Technology Solutions to speed up the development cycle.
In addition, the company considered its delivery options carefully. “We wanted to capture the market and ensure continued success,” says Senthil Natchimuthu, Co-founder, directdialogs. “We didn’t want to add ongoing deployment, development, and maintenance costs to the business.”
With on-premises hosting, customers would need to set up virtual private networks to access the application. It was a time consuming task and often required outsourced IT support. Thus, an on-premises version was completely ruled out.
Executives saw an opportunity to host the application in a cloud environment to gain scalability while trimming operating expenses. The company wanted to remove the technical complexity from the product and make it as simple as possible for its customers to use.
To scale for a large number of customers, the company chose to develop directdialogs as a cloud-based application delivered on the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure is a cloud services platform that provides on-demand compute, storage, bandwidth, content delivery, middleware, and marketplace capabilities to build, host, and scale web applications through Microsoft data centers.
“We were also considering using Amazon Web Services (AWS) to host our application,” says Gopi Raman, Co-founder, directdialogs. “But we found that the tools and processes for deploying applications to the Amazon cloud service required several manual, time-consuming steps. The Windows Azure platform on the other hand was a perfect way to meet all our needs.”
Because directdialogs builds its products entirely on Microsoft product stack, the decision to use the platform-as-a-service model provided by Windows Azure was easy. directdialogs also received assistance from Microsoft as a member of its BizSpark program, which provides development tools and expertise to innovative software startups.
directdialogs is built from ground up, using Microsoft technologies. It consists of two primary components – a cloud-based application for the business owner to design loyalty programs and send campaigns, and a Microsoft Silverlight Out-of-Browser (OOB) plug-in that installs at the store’s desktop/point-of-sale, which captures the customer personal details and their purchases.
The application built on Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0, runs on a Web role on the Windows Azure platform. It also uses a Virtual Machine (VM) role to handle some background processes related to uploading large files and to host MongoDB, a scalable, high-performance, open source, document-oriented database. The whole user interface is built using Microsoft Silverlight 4 using the Model-View-View-Model (MVVM) framework. The data layer is built using SQL Azure, the database component of the Windows Azure platform, and Entity Framework.
directdialogs uses blobs, tables and queues in Windows Azure storage to store and process temporary data uploaded by users for their campaign initiatives. The application also uses the Windows Azure Appfabric access control services for user identification.
Some of the core components of the application are:
Desktop Plug-in: It is a Silverlight OOB component that runs on the point-of-sale machine. Silverlight’s isolated storage is synched with SQL Azure using SQL Azure’s bi-directional Data Synchronization feature.
Cloud-based Application: It is built on Silverlight 4 and is hosted in a Web role. When a user/business owner logs in, several background processes are initiated and run in parallel.
Background Processes: Customer list import and some other compute intensive processes such as campaign execution, data synchronization between on-premises application and cloud application and refreshing the Mongo DB cube run as a background process, hosted in a VM role.
MongoDB: It is used for customer segmentation, reporting and data mining. All reports are displayed from the MongoDB cube.
Mobile Application API: It supports mobile applications of various platforms.
The directdialogs application started working in July, 2011 with pilot customers in India. The beta application is launched in the US in October, 2011.
Senthil Natchimuthu says, “The pay-as-you-go model of Windows Azure supports our business model of providing a subscription-based service. So far, we are happy with our choice.”
Using the Windows Azure platform to develop directdialogs has helped the company to reduce its time-to-market and gain greater development agility and cost-effective, on-demand scalability.
Using Windows Azure as its cloud-computing platform has given the company ability to speed development with familiar and intuitive tools and technologies. It takes advantage of the Microsoft .NET Framework and the interoperability between Windows Azure and Visual Studio to easily develop and administer the application.
“The use of Windows Azure has helped us shorten our time-to-market,” says Senthil Natchimuthu. “We are able to get to market at least 30 percent faster.”
Increases Ability to Focus on Core Application
A key benefit of the Windows Azure platform is that Microsoft takes care of the routine IT infrastructure tasks required in a hosting environment. Gopi Raman says, “With Windows Azure, we don’t have to worry about data center infrastructure. Data backups, security updates, and all other time-consuming maintenance tasks are taken care of by Microsoft. As a result, we can increase our focus on our application.”
Offers Powerful Scalability
With Windows Azure, the company has instant, on-demand scalability of the underlying infrastructure. It can quickly increase its computing and storage resources to accommodate a growing list of customers. “Windows Azure is the technology we were looking for,” says Sam Kalaiselvan, Software Architect, directdialogs. “It gives us the needed scalability and also the elasticity to manage large quantities of data.”
Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:
Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centers.
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 technologies.
Windows Azure platform AppFabric. With Windows Azure platform AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.
AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST Web services.
Microsoft Codename “Dallas.” Developers and information workers can use the new service code-named Dallas to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.
To learn more about the Windows Azure platform, visit:
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