CPA Australia is one of the world’s largest accounting bodies with more than 155,000 members working in 118 countries around the world and over 25,000 members working in senior leadership positions. With an overarching goal to maximise the share of people wanting a career built on professional accounting skills, the organisation’s core services to members include education, training, technical support and advocacy.
Employees and members work together with local and international bodies to represent the views and concerns of the profession to governments, regulators, industries, academia and the general public.
Aligning IT with the Business
Continually looking to enhance services to members, CPA Australia embarked on a company wide implementation of key business systems.
CPA Australia developed a new IT strategy, which set out a vision for providing a simple, stable, secure and supple architecture (the 4 S strategy) for the future. An integration platform formed a key part of the strategy and after evaluating delivery partners, CPA Australia selected Mexia to deliver the solution.
At the heart of our system implementation was the need for the architecture to deliver flexibility. To achieve that, we needed to be able to break apart the different components of the architecture to manage and develop them separately. We also wanted to use external services more and therefore needed to integrate with these applications in a way that allows us to work in an asynchronous manner.
In addition to the high risk aspects, the team detected other areas for improvement, as outlined below:
Future proofing the platform was a key element of the project - consisting of defining, building and implementing the necessary operational tools, processes and procedures for managing the environment on an ongoing basis. This required us to deploy the solution across all of CPA Australia’s environments (development, test, staging, production and DR) with interface con guration/code migration and testing all taken into account.
Selecting the Integration Platform and Tools
Choosing the right technologies to build the foundational platform was crucial. The solution had to be exible, scalable, secure, stable, and simple to support CPA Australia’s strategic agenda.
“We evaluated various integration platforms including MuleSoft, Oracle Fusion and Software AG webMethods,” explained Mr Harrison. “Given our strong investment in Microsoft technologies, Microsoft BizTalk was a natural choice for us, both from a licensing and capability perspective.”
The BizTalk project was a foundational component of the solution, allowing CPA Australia to leverage services externally (e.g. SaaS products), build its own cloud applications and services, and integrate them all back to core internal systems to support key decision making.
Initially, CPA Australia considered hosting the new integration platform on-premises, however after further evaluation, it was decided to utilise Microsoft Azure instead.
Mr Harrison outlined the reasons for choosing Azure, “Compared to steep initial on-premises licensing costs, Azure was a much more cost e ective option for us. This is not including the costs saved from eliminating overheads in data centre management and skills development- costs we’d incur if pursuing an on-premises approach.”
While cost was one factor, ultimately Azure was selected for its alignment to CPA Australia’s business needs and strategy. The Azure integration platform is designed to provide high levels of redundancy, improved supportability (whilst modernising the environment through cloud-hosting), mobility and SaaS application connectivity.
Solution Design & Delivery
The Mexia team designed a 100% Azure-hosted integration platform that leverages both Azure PaaS and BizTalk Server IaaS technologies. This provided a loosely coupled architecture with the capability to view real time data for analysis, giving CPA Australia complete visibility of all transactions processed through the integration platform. Building a hybrid integration solution connecting to on-premises business systems gave the team capability to build rich, reliable, scalable services hosted on the cloud, on a pay- as-you-go model, without having to make large capital expenditure on provisioning hardware.
Integrating themselves within the CPA Australia team, Mexia provided mentoring and training to internal developers and worked closely with CPA Australia’s project manager to ensure diversity of thought within the blended team.
As with all our large projects, we utilised the Mexia Integration Consulting Framework – a process based on agile methodology, with a variety of tasks undertaken simultaneously with frequent opportunity for review and redirection. This flexible approach has proven to be most effective for managing project risk for all stakeholders,”
Creative features of this approach included:
- Fully scripted Azure deployment processes for repeatability & consistency
- Redundant with parallel deployments to both Azure East and Azure South East regions
- Comprehensive use of modern Azure PaaS components, including Traffic Manager and Service Bus
- Use of the tried and tested BizTalk Server platforms hosted in Azure IaaS for integrations.
Business Outcomes & Benefits
The solution provides CPA Australia with a strong foundation for growth and future change, while addressing areas of concern as identi ed at the beginning of the project. In addition, the solution has delivered the following benefits:
Improved operational monitoring - with the introduction of BizTalk 360 for governance and Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) reports, the CPA Australia operations team and their business teams have good insight into the health and performance characteristics of the platform.
Stability and business continuity - Mexia’s design is based on provisioning identical processing nodes into separate data centres in Sydney and Melbourne, with Azure Traffc Manager distributing traffic across the nodes. This provides high levels of process isolation and defends against Azure sub-region failures.
Benefits from an Azure based solution - CPA Australia now has the exibility to easily adjust infrastructure to peak periods of demand (such as end of semester demand to obtain test results) along with automated environment provisioning. For this project, the production environment was built in a matter of hours versus weeks anticipated for an onsite deployment.
Mr Harrison also called out Mexia’s expertise in integration: “Mexia provided ongoing support and valuable recommendations for us throughout the project, such as alternative solutions to maintain security at a decreased cost, and other recommendations to lower the complexity in our network architecture.”
Even at the early stage of the deployment process, the cloud–based project has delivered a far superior solution than originally envisioned with on-premises architecture - while reducing the original project budget by more than 30%. CPA Australia expect that as their cloud management capability matures (for example, by turning o test environments once they are no longer required), further operational expenses will be reduced.
By reducing the integration complexity for future web app interfaces, CPA Australia is now free to pursue its strategic agenda and service improvement initiatives. From a technical perspective, the initial integration with external partners has been extremely successful, delivering three Azure environments and seven new interfaces into production within three months.
CPA Australia has now commenced building new interfaces to connect business systems, and will replace other remaining point-to-point custom integrations with Azure hosted interfaces.
The first of these interfaces has already gone live, integrating the SaaS learning management systems (LMS) with Dynamics CRM on-premises. This has enabled a large part of CPA Australia’s e-learning strategy, and facilitated e-commerce transactions through e-learning.
Delivery of this integration platform has given us a new level of flexibility within CPA Australia which allows us to deliver on our strategy, and continue improving the experience we offer to our members.