AtmanCo adopts Azure to support growth

Background

Founded in 2003 by psychologist and president Michel Guay, AtmanCo is a provider of multilingual personality testing services to HR departments on a global basis. The company aims to create "business happiness" with a psychometric testing solution that helps client organizations select qualified personnel and develop natural talents, delivering employee satisfaction that can reduce churn. In addition to its personality test, Atman currently offers four modules that can be integrated into recruitment, evaluation and talent management processes: At Plus, which identifies personality attributes and competencies for specific jobs;  At Model, which allows corporations to build custom reference models that can be used as a standard in recruitment; At Match, which assesses the potential for two individuals to work productively together; and At Team, which enables the client to understand and coach to organizational team strengths. The company employs 15 staff at headquarters in Montreal, and maintains a network of dedicated and other HR specialist distribution partners that bundle the AtmanCo service into their own offerings.

Adoption drivers

Cindy Boisvert, communications and marketing officer, AtmanCo
Cindy Boisvert, communications and marketing officer, AtmanCo

Atman tests were originally administered in paper format; however, the company has transitioned to the digital realm and continues to develop its web strategy for service delivery. According to communications and marketing officer Cindy Boisvert, "We’re not just a psychometric test; we are really a platform provided as software-as-a-service." This month, the company expects to launch a new and improved website to better support its ecommerce model and to build awareness for the range of services that it offers. AtmanCo’s key challenge is to change market perceptions: "it’s really a service, rather than a product," Boisvert stressed. For the website refresh, the company has added content that targets varied customer needs, and that outline the company’s value proposition to different business units within the client organization. The company also worked on SEO to attract new eyes.

With expanded platform and ecommerce capabilities, AtmanCo hopes to develop additional market opportunity. Based on research into talent intelligence market sizing, the company is optimistic about its growth possibilities. According to Stephane Poirier, AtmanCo VP business development and technology, the potential market for its services is "very large - some estimates put the total HR/human capital solutions market at $3 billion[1]." While psychometric testing was initially reserved to evaluation of corporate executives, with more cost effective and less complex platforms like AtmanCo’s, the scope of assessment has broadened to reach virtually all employee categories - democratizing the process and also extending AtmanCo’s market potential. As Poirier noted, "in the recruiting process, pre-interview testing of candidates is now best practice," an activity that is now available to smaller businesses through the AtmanCo platform. To support anticipated growth, the company turned to a technology platform capable of scale.

Easy implementation of scale capability

Stephane Poirier, VP business development and technology, AtmanCo
Stephane Poirier, VP business development and technology, AtmanCo

AtmanCo’s initial foray into the digital realm was an ASP website with IIS and SQL server on the backend, which the company later transitioned to a .NET 2.0 application supported by SQL.  But as Poirier explained, with company growth, the need for a more scalable solution became apparent. For AtmanCo, which operated as a Microsoft shop, transition to the Azure PaaS was the most obvious choice. According to lead developer Simon Paquette, "we moved from SQL Server 2008 to SQL Azure and the transition was virtually flawless. Because of the architecture driving Atman, with CQRS we have baked in segregation between the actions that users take on the website and the data storage. We developed Atman with formal fields that have allowed us to easily port to Azure SQL. We wanted to create the least possible number of links between tables since the data itself would be on multiple servers."

Azure adoption was also driven by privacy compliance requirements, particularly in Europe: Paquette noted, "we do store private information about candidates. European laws require that we have some servers in Europe," a need that could be fulfilled through deployment of geographically redundant software in Microsoft’s global data centre network. In Paquette’s view, Microsoft servers provided adequate security: "in fact, I’m pretty sure that the data is more secure than it was with the old platform."

In the transition to Azure, Microsoft provided an architect who offered initial guidance, and the company employed six developers to program the new web/ecommerce platform on Azure. The three month transition included quality assurance testing to ensure platform stability - to make sure that new integrations would not provoking new issues. At this time, Atman also implemented a new deployment approach designed to allow upgrade of the platform with no downtime for customers. With Azure, the team would be able to use multiple servers in a synchronous way, allowing new version deployments that would be invisible to technology users. Since completion of this migration, the company has reduced the project team to an architect and Simon Paquette.

In developing the AtmanCo platform, the company aimed to simplify the psychometric test, but also the user experience to encourage client autonomy and self service. But to drive usage, Atman has also worked to develop interoperability with other software, such as Salesforce, creating APIs through use of Castle MonoRail, an open source web application framework built on top of the ASP.NET, and the REST approach, based on HTTP and XML for API management.  This means that the platform is accessible to technical partners that can reach the web, and also open for integration with customer systems.

Tech benefits

Simon Paquette, lead developer, AtmanCo
Simon Paquette, lead developer, AtmanCo

For AtmanCo technical staff, adoption of Azure has meant reduced time for tasks such as version deployment, and ultimately, a faster platform. From a technology perspective, the company’s ability to choose where data resides in the Azure platform has translated into a form of disaster recovery. While AtmanCo maintains its databases on the North American east coast, its backups reside on the west coast. In Europe, the company is also able to maintain data and backup in very distinct geographic regions to provide extra insurance against disaster.

Azure has also provided new capacity which has translated into improved customer experience. For example, prior to deployment on Azure, AtmanCo had to contact clients to advise them of scheduled downtime for maintenance and version changes - a real issue in European markets where time differences with Canada could create significant work disruption. In addition to the delivery of more reliable and more secure services to global customers, Paquette also described the company’s new ability to scale up compute/database needs or to migrate to another server as required as "a huge improvement."

For the company, transition to Azure has also delivered financial benefits. With the old platform, AtmanCo employed a dedicated network administrator to manage the server and database, an expense that Poirier argued would only increase as the company deployed new servers and contracted new hosting partners to address growth in its user base. "When we decided to implement the new version of the platform in Europe, it took two days and it’s [the Azure service] is about $600 a month - it’s nothing. On the financial side, moving to Azure offered real advantage" - which Poirier estimates at $60,000 per year.

Interestingly, AtmanCo has also benefited from reference to Microsoft’s cloud in conversations with customers. While use of cloud technologies may have raised some eyebrows some years back, today AtmanCo has found that deployment on Azure offers credibility that has enhanced its marketing message and provided an advantage in RFPs. "When we say the service is hosted by Microsoft - rather than by a local hoster - it’s a no brainer for customers," Poirier noted, since Azure is identified with reliability, security and SLAs - attributes that AtmanCo in turn is able to associate with its own offerings. This level of user preference, rather than acceptance, is an interesting twist on the cloud vs. traditional IT debate, and a key indicator of the advance of cloud technologies in the marketplace.

 

 


[1] Nik Kinley, Talent Intelligence, p. 10. http://nikkinley.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Talent-Intelligence-Introduction.pdf

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