“In partnering with Ballard Chalmers, we were able to deliver within project timescales what would traditionally have been on-premises Microsoft Biztalk applications as scalable Azure PaaS solutions.”
Group Head of IT Development, Evo Group
Evo Group is the UK and Ireland’s largest specialist multi-channel business supplies and service distributor. They offer an array of tailored and specialist services within each channel, acting as a one-stop-shop, and with the broadest multi-channel sales structure in the sector.
Evo Group operates a centralised distribution network, with delivery centres around Britain and Ireland, complemented by local cross-dock sites. Their logistics platform includes hundreds of their own delivery vehicles, enabling next day supply to the customer base, which includes resellers, corporate clients and public-sector organisations.
The management of stock and delivery logistics are fundamental to operations and the Evo Group IT team had identified that existing systems could be improved upon by utilising the latest in cloud technology. Whilst the on-premises systems already in place worked well, the Evo IT team recognised that migrating to the cloud would enhance overall organisational processes.
Azure Logic Apps is a cloud service that helps automate and orchestrate tasks, business processes, and workflows when an organisation needs to integrate applications, data, systems, and services across the enterprise. Logic Apps simplifies how you design and build scalable solutions for app integration, data integration, system integration, enterprise application integration, whether in the cloud, on premises, or both.
Having worked together on enterprise software projects several times previously, Evo Group enlisted Ballard Chalmers for the build and migration of two core logistics on-premises legacy applications: The Transport Management System for despatches and the Product Information Management System.
Transport Management System – Despatches
When an order is ready for despatching out to a customer, its routing is categorised into delivery status stages, such as ‘planned’, ‘loaded’, ‘en-route’, ‘delivered’, ‘returned’. It is crucial to operations that such status messages are tracked and communicated at each stage of routing, including the proof of delivery (receipt and recipient signature). With a high volume – over 100,000 per day – the implemented system needed to be robust.
All of this is achieved using Azure Logic Apps. The Transport Management System has a decoupled Logic Apps which fetches the Despatch JSON files that are added to Azure SQL Database. If the Despatch status file is received with the proof of delivery, this record is also updated in Azure SQL and Azure COSMOS DB, with the recipient signature image file updated in real-time in Azure Blob Storage.
This Logic Apps implementation enables individual staff to easily share information with each other and facilitates improved collaboration across the delivery network. Field workers, such as delivery drivers, now share real-time data with those based in offices responsible for the respective part of the process, who can monitor and coordinate actions accordingly. This also facilitates customers being able to access their despatch status and proof of delivery signatures online.
Product Information Management System
Up to date product information enables Evo Group to maximise its ability to respond to demand fluctuations, adjust stock and adapt for any price changes. Utilising Azure Logic Apps here provides data faster and offers more control.
The product and catalogue files are polled from an FTP location and updated to the Azure SQL Database and a Logic App with a recurrence Trigger polls the FTP site every 10 minutes. Using an FTP Connector, the file contents are retrieved and added to the Azure SQL Database using Azure SQL Connector.
This Logic Apps implementation enables staff to access up to date product information, which can fluctuate based on any number of factors and drive content directly to Evo Group’s eCommerce sites. With faster access to such information, the organisation is well-positioned to monitor effectively and efficiently satisfy customer requirements.
DevOps: The development involved DevOps through automated unit tests and integration tests developed using Specflow and Selenium, and fully automated systems deployment using Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates and deployment pipelines. Once the system was live and operational DevOps continued as our DevOps engineers made fixes and enhancements to the live system using a very short test and release cycle.
Warren Mold, Group Head of IT Development at Evo Group said, “Our IT strategy is to move aggressively to the cloud via SaaS or PaaS where feasible. In partnering with Ballard Chalmers, we were able deliver within project timescales what would traditionally have been on-premises Microsoft Biztalk applications as scalable Azure PaaS solutions.”