AWS is quite fundamental to our ambitions. We wouldn’t be able to have such grand plans for the future if we were spending up to 20% of our time managing servers, and that time spent every week compounds fast in terms of opportunity costs.
Richard Wyke Head of Product and Development

New Zealand-based Figured provides financial-management software for farmers, farm accountants, farm advisors, and rural bankers. “What we do is provide a collaborative platform for farmers and other stakeholders to manage the financial performance of a farm,” says David Dodds, chief executive officer at Figured. “They can undertake all the budgeting, tracking, and forecasting needed to operate a farm as a business.” Figured launched in 2013 with three hundred farms in New Zealand, and now has six thousand paid subscriptions in Australia, New Zealand, and the US. The company’s software is available as an add-on to the cloud-based accounting system Xero. In 2016, leading New Zealand bank BNZ acquired a 17 percent stake in Figured, and the business won the “New Zealand Venture Investment Fund Best Hi-Tech Startup Company of the Year” award.

Farmers use Figured software to complete critical tasks such as managing livestock and crops, creating budgets, and planning and forecasting performance. The business relies on an IT infrastructure to deliver information in real time, and ensure farmers and other farm stakeholders can access its system when they need to.

Figured started its operations using a virtual infrastructure run by a New Zealand hosting provider. A physical data center infrastructure was not an option for the fledgling business, as it would have required a large up-front capital investment.

However, an inability to scale in line with expected growth across multiple markets, and the need to close deals with banks, prompted the business to review its virtual infrastructure. “Moving to a more globally recognized infrastructure-hosting partner would give us more credibility in areas like security and make banks more comfortable entering into commercial relationships with us,” says Richard Wyke, head of product and development at Figured. “We also wanted to become more flexible by moving to a continuous-integration model where our developers would integrate code into a repository several times a day, allowing constant automated builds and the fast detection of problems. This would enable us to issue new software releases faster and more frequently.”

The business also wanted to minimize the time devoted to infrastructure management to minimize opportunity costs. “If we could focus almost exclusively on software development, we could meet our goals of delivering new products and expanding into new markets more quickly,” Wyke says.

Figured conducted a review and chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) because AWS best met its requirements. AWS could provide a flexible, scalable infrastructure to support the business’s planned rapid entry into multiple markets, and had an established track record in securing the environments of its customers. The AWS infrastructure could also deliver the agility to support a highly automated, continuous-integration model, while minimizing the time and resources needed to manage infrastructure.

“We built from the ground up to support a complete rewrite of Figured to optimize the software for the cloud, and completed the migration to AWS in March 2015,” says Wyke.

The new version of Figured is running in an infrastructure hosted in the AWS Asia Pacific (Sydney) Region that comprises Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances running web servers, background job processing, and the company’s virtual private network (VPN). Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and MongoDB on Amazon EC2 run Figured’s database, while Amazon Route 53 provides a Domain Name Service (DNS) that enables Figured to route users to its application. Amazon ElastiCache provides caching services to improve the performance of the Figured application, while Amazon WorkSpaces provides fast, secure access to the AWS environment for staff and developers from desktops and mobile devices. To minimize its small administration load, Figured is using external suppliers to automate all instance provisioning and code deployment.

The figure below illustrates Figured’s environment in AWS:

figured_arch-diagram

Figured is now achieving all the benefits the team hoped for when moving to AWS. The flexibility provided using AWS has enabled Figured to undertake 1,690 releases over the last year to improve its software, ranging from ground-breaking new features to minor sub-features. The business is now rewriting some of the product’s fundamental code, and Dodds believes the ability to spin up test environments in minutes with AWS will ensure the work is completed quickly and efficiently. “We were able to complete a proof-of-concept for our machine-learning system for just $2.22 in hosting costs. For a small company, controlling our costs is really important - the alternative is to invest tens of thousands of dollars in hardware, software, and development time,” says Wyke.

The business has also been able to focus its resources on building tools for farmers, banks, and other stakeholders rather than on infrastructure challenges. “We hardly consider infrastructure an issue these days,” says Dodds. Performance and availability have remained well within Figured’s requirements even as the business scaled its infrastructure to support web-traffic growth of fifteen hundred percent per year.

Furthermore, the security provided by AWS has minimized the risk of data leakage or loss. AWS operates a Shared Responsibility Model, which maintains that security isn’t governed by one party but is an obligation that AWS and its customers have to uphold. As a result, Figured went through its own penetration testing and site-configuration review to make sure its security was up to the mark. “By working with AWS, we’ve made sure we are secure in the cloud, making it possible for us to work with banks and financial-service institutions,” says Dodds.

Wyke is extremely pleased with the service the company is receiving. “AWS is quite fundamental to our ambitions,” he says. “We wouldn’t be able to have such grand plans for the future if we were spending up to 20 percent of our time managing servers, and that time spent every week compounds fast in terms of opportunity costs.”

The business is particularly excited by the possibilities presented by Amazon Machine Learning, which enables developers to create machine-learning models that can generate predictions for applications using simple application programming interfaces. “We want to be about real time and projection. Our prototype using Amazon Machine Learning has shown the potential for providing real-time farm information to the banks, and helping accountants work more closely with farmers,” says Dodds. Figured expects AWS to play a key role in facilitating its growth into new regions. The business recently opened an office in the US - a key market - and expects this to play a vital role in future growth.

To learn more about how AWS can help you run financial service applications, visit our Financial Services in the Cloud details page