Ascender Empowers People-First Organizations with AWS


Putting People First with Cloud-Based HR Software

As a global provider of payroll and human capital management (HCM) software, Ascender HCM provides a range of solutions, from pure SaaS implementations to fully outsourced payroll and HCM. Headquartered in Australia, the company serves more than 1.3 million customers and their employees and 1,100 brands across 31 countries.

Over the years, Ascender has expanded its market presence through several mergers and acquisitions. As a result, the company needed to standardize its diversified processes and technology to ensure a holistic approach across all areas of its operations. However, because Ascender was using a private cloud infrastructure from a managed service provider, it lacked the flexibility to make changes or scale without long-term commitments.


It’s almost as if no limitations exist on the AWS Cloud. We’re able to scale up machines to do whatever we want without any real concern, be it cost or security."

Matt O'Halloran
IT Director, Ascender HCM

Enhancing Visibility and Control

Ascender handles vast amounts of confidential employee data for its customers and wanted to have more hands-on control over privacy in its application platforms. “It was really difficult to introduce new technologies that weren’t in our provider’s service catalogue,” says Matt O'Halloran, IT director at Ascender HCM. “It would take a significant amount of time for our cloud provider to build new capabilities, so we weren’t able to take advantage of interesting ideas in the marketplace, such as ways to improve security.”

Because of this, Ascender decided to completely redesign its IT infrastructure on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud, with three specific goals in mind: improve security, increase agility in product development, and achieve greater cost-effectiveness.

“AWS has an industry-leading compliance program, and security is built into all of its cloud-native services. The visibility and control that AWS provides is not something we could accomplish on a private cloud without spending huge amounts of time, effort, and money,” says O’Halloran.

Increasing Compute Capacity Fourfold

Since migrating its core applications to AWS, Ascender has seen a fourfold increase in compute and storage capacity as well as a double-digit reduction in its total cost of operations (TCO) on an annualized basis.

The company has also improved the scalability of its products and services. "It’s almost as if no limitations exist on the AWS Cloud. We’re able to scale up machines to do whatever we want without any real concern, be it cost or security," O’Halloran says. "With our previous provider, every attempt to scale up would result in lengthy conversations about the limitations of the underlying equipment and how we could manage the time frame of provisioning new hardware, which typically took months."

Integrating Core Services Seamlessly and Securely

Going all in on the AWS Cloud has enabled Ascender to integrate business-critical complementary services seamlessly, instead of having to find workarounds or implement features with incomplete functionality. For example, the company started hosting its core service offering, PeoplePay, on AWS by using Amazon CloudFront for content delivery. It also uses AWS Web Application Firewall (AWS WAF) to protect customer-facing applications and Amazon GuardDuty for threat monitoring.

“Adding AWS WAF and Amazon GuardDuty on top of our existing security controls and capabilities was such a smooth and simple process in comparison to our legacy infrastructure,” says O’Halloran. “The combination of these AWS Cloud-native services really provides added assurance to our clients and prospects that we take utmost care with data protection.”

Additionally, Ascender has started using Amazon WorkSpaces to provide a more secure environment for service teams to collaborate with clients. Ascender also uses Amazon WorkSpaces for outsourced payroll processing, which reduces the overall risk compared to storing data on local machines.

Increasing Agility in Product Development

With AWS, Ascender can access a wide range of technology to quickly introduce new features or improve its legacy tools. As an example, the company was running one of its services through an older version of SQL Servers that was nearing end-of-life. Instead of purchasing new virtual machines or licenses, engineers were able to incorporate a standard Amazon Machine Image (AMI) in their existing Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances. “This solution simplified the build and management aspect of that service,” explains Todd McDonough, head of Products and Professional Services at Ascender HCM.

By tapping on the comprehensive suite of cloud-based services available in the AWS Marketplace, Ascender can quickly experiment with new technology applications such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). “There’s definitely a lot of pressure to bring new things to market and keep up with trends such as AI and ML,” says McDonough. “The ability to access these technology groups is significant for us. Previously, these were all on the distant horizon.”

More Strategic Time Management

Ascender’s customer IT team, which consists of just three specialists serving over 400 customers with more than 200,000 employees between them, was previously tied up in manual maintenance tasks such as security patching. With AWS, they have automated these tasks and can now focus more on strategic undertakings. Changing passwords across customer accounts used to take a couple days and is now instantaneous.

“In the last few months, I’ve had some team members proactively suggest ways in which we can improve application performance,” McDonough says. “With most of the mundane manual tasks automated on AWS, their world has changed for the better and there has been a definite rise in their productivity and efficiency.”

Since the migration, customers have also seen an improvement in Ascender’s level of service and have expressed their satisfaction. Processing tasks such as running HR reports, which could take an hour in the legacy environment, now takes just 15 minutes. “We’ve had a number of conversations with existing clients and have gone through audits with larger organizations. All of those interactions have been very positive. With AWS, the general feedback is that everything is faster and seamless,” McDonough says.

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About Ascender HCM

Ascender HCM is a provider of human capital management (HCM) software. Headquartered in Australia, the company serves more than 1.3 million customers and their employees and over 1,100 global brands with its payroll and HCM solutions.

Benefits of AWS

  • Increases compute and storage capabilities fourfold
  • Reduces TCO by double digits
  • Completes operational tasks in 15 minutes instead of 1 hour
  • Improves security and compliance
  • Enhances software development agility

AWS Services Used

Amazon CloudFront

Amazon CloudFront is a fast content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers globally with low latency, high transfer speeds, all within a developer-friendly environment.

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AWS Web Application Firewall

AWS WAF is a web application firewall that helps protect your web applications or APIs against common web exploits that may affect availability, compromise security, or consume excessive resources.

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Amazon GuardDuty

Amazon GuardDuty is a threat detection service that continuously monitors for malicious activity and unauthorized behavior to protect your AWS accounts, workloads, and data stored in Amazon S3.

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Amazon WorkSpaces

Amazon WorkSpaces is a managed, secure Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution. You can use Amazon WorkSpaces to provision either Windows or Linux desktops in just a few minutes and quickly scale to provide thousands of desktops to workers across the globe.

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