ATLANTA: Microsoft's Azure public cloud and machine learning services will have an increasingly prominent role in the business of restaurant ingredients supplier JJ Food.
But its chief operating officer, Mushtaque Ahmed, believes the UK's internet connectivity needs to improve before businesses like his can fully harness cloud and mobile technology.
JJ Food is a 25-year old company that operates eight warehouses around the UK to deliver food and restaurant items to businesses around the UK.
At Convergence 2015, Ahmed described how the company currently uses a hybrid set-up for its IT needs, comprising on-premise and public cloud. It is now considering migrating more of its IT infrastructure to the cloud, despite lingering concerns around reliability and performance.
Its plans even extend to putting its Microsoft Dynamics AX enterprise resource planning system onto a public cloud platform.
"If architecturally it performs, then why not? There are lots of advantages to moving onto Microsoft's platform as opposed to our own data centres," Ahmed said. "There is no reason why we cannot trust Microsoft data centres."
Ahmed believes enterprises in general are beginning to shed their reservations around the robustness of cloud-hosted services.
"I think the confidence is growing in the user community that the cloud is not a throwaway product, or it is unreliable or inefficient," he said.
Cloud-powered machine learning
Cloud also helps JJ Food to optimise revenue through the use of Microsoft's Azure ML toolkit. The cloud-based machine learning service analyses what JJ Food's customers are buying through its e-commerce service and offers them related ingredients when they reach the online checkout.
Five in every 100 products offered to customers are purchased, resulting in a direct hike in JJ Food's revenue.
Ahmed also explained that Azure ML helps to add a "personal touch" to the service JJ Food offers customers shopping online, which it had lost as it became a more digital business.
"We used to be a 100 percent call centre-based company, we used to take orders from agents in the call centre but over the past five years 60 percent of that moved to the e-commerce portal," he said.
"What it really means is we've lost that human touch, customers are not talking to our agents any more. As a result, some up-sell and cross-sell [opportunities have] disappeared from the scene.
"This machine learning toolkit is helping us in a more intelligent way to support the automated [e-commerce] business."
JJ Food also uses Microsoft's cloud-based data collection and analytics services, including Event Hub, to monitor the temperature of goods being carried by the company's delivery vehicles.
Bluetooth-enabled sensors provide temperature readings to an app on Windows Mobile smartphones. That data is then fed over a mobile network connection to the Event Hub and analytic services. It is then translated into visual analytical information to alert JJ Food to situations where temperatures are above a determined threshold.
V3 asked Ahmed if the UK's lack of widespread high-speed broadband could be a challenge for JJ Food and other companies wanting to use services that require solid network connectivity.
"The biggest danger point is you lose connectivity to the internet, so you need to make sure that you have got more than one way of getting out to the internet," Ahmed said.
He said main issues are with mobility and having wireless connectivity in the event a network cable is disrupted.
Ahmed explained that JJ Food overcomes this problem by creating apps that can work without an internet connection by collecting and storing data within on-board memory until connectivity is restored and the data can be pushed into a cloud platform.
While JJ Food can bypass poor mobile broadband coverage, Ahmed said it is something it tries to avoid: "It is an extra burden on us when we double up on this application."
Ahmed is not impressed with connectivity across Britain and believes it needs improving: "Countries like Singapore, South Korea and Scandinavia are well ahead of the UK. The UK's mobile network is pathetic."
He said the mobile network operators have an opportunity to address this issue and offer business customers wireless internet connectivity as a backup network.
"I think that is going to change the landscape," he said. "Some of the smaller businesses do not need, say, 100Mbps or 1Gbps internet connectivity, and would be more than happy if they could have, say, a 10Mbps connection from BT or Virgin and another 5Mbps connection from Vodafone or Three as a backup or business continuity plan."
Online grocery giant Ocado has stated its ambitions to pursue a deeper cloud future, and has embraced what is calls the incoming Internet of Things and smart machines tsunami.
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