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Safe Azure implementation with Virtual Data Center

Virtual Data Center and Innofactor's expertise were an integral part of the Norwegian Elmera Group's cloud strategy

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Customer case: Elmera Group

The Norwegian holding company Elmera Group is a national electricity retailer and provider of related services to households, private and public companies, as well as municipalities. Elmera Group is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and its turnover in 2021 was NOK 15.2 billion (EUR 1.4 billion).

One of Elmera Group's subsidiaries is Norway's largest electricity  retailer Fjordkraft, which was separated into its own company from BKK (now Eviny) in December 2020. Fjordkraft supplies electricity to approximately 1.8 million people in more than 900,000 households, businesses, and public institutions across Norway.

Innofactor provides solutions for the "Cloud First" strategy

Elmera Group is building an effective IT and operations department. "Cloud First" is the strategy, and on its way into the cloud, Elmera Group has adopted Virtual Data Center (VDC) to achieve stability, control of costs and security – and leaned on Innofactor's professional expertise to top up the team.

"We don't yet have a large expert community, and are thus obliged to have someone on board," says Rasmus Rasmussen, head of operations and platform with Elmera Group.

Fjordkraft AS was established in 2001, and was listed in March 2018. BKK (Eviny) operated all IT infrastructure for this company until 2020, when it was decided that the IT platform should be separated from BKK (Eviny). As a part of the separation, a handful of key employees went along, including the head of operations and platform, Rasmus Rasmussen, and Rune Bergsvåg, team leader for infrastructure and identity.

Elmera Group ASA was established as a holding company for Elmera Group, of which Fjordkraft is now a part. Today, Elmera Group has a centralised IT department, as well as a separate department for Data & Analysis.

"We were to develop an operations environment and gain control of what was taken over from BKK. In the development it was an assumption that we would use certain suppliers, because we were not to become a huge operations department. This is where Innofactor entered the picture with profound expertise," Rasmussen says.

The strategy is cloud first

The operations and platform department currently comprises nine people.

"On our part it's about balancing the expertise and using resources outside of our own organization when we need it," Rasmussen says.

For the cloud and Azure, external expertise was definitely a topic.

"When we split the community following the separation from BKK, most of the systems were running in an on-prem environment at BKK. When we came in and defined what we called a 'cloud project,' the idea was to move almost everything into the cloud – but it quickly became evident that we couldn't move everything. We too have legacy systems, although the strategy is cloud first," he says.

The entire organization is committed to the cloud project, management included. Innofactor came into the project early on, and has helped survey the existing cloud environment, plan the migration cloud-to-cloud, adapt the Virtual Data Center platform with regard to governance and security, setup and design accesses in Azure, as well as optimize the cost of the solution.

Virtual Data Center gives confidence

In the autumn of 2021, Elmera Group saw the need for a fully-fledged partner who could deliver operation and management of the cloud platform in Azure (Managed Services). A need for a 24/7 support agreement was also identified, to ensure the uptime of critical services. In January 2022, the agreement for Managed Services was signed, and a customer team was set up for support, operation, and management of Elmera's cloud platform.

"Managed Services have benefitted us in the form of stability, better security, lower costs, more control of procedures, and governance, among other things. And, with VDC, we as a customer are confident that all documentation is correctly handled and that security is in the driving seat," Rune Bergsvåg says.

In the cloud process, Elmera Group has had a dedicated Innofactor resource, Håkon Baglo, and drawn on a number of other consultants as needed.

"They are really skilled people, professional and conscientious. At the milestone level there has been, as there always are, a few hiccups – but no major obstacles," Bergsvåg says.

Everything will go under the same umbrella in Azure

For now, Elmera Group has a few large ongoing projects.

"We have some large ongoing projects: We are equipping VDC, and taking a bit at a time. A large project that runs to the end of the first quarter of 2023 is to include everything already running in Azure under Innofactor's umbrella," Bergsvåg continues.

The work covers all customer front pages, such as the website and the Fjordkraft app, where Innofactor takes over operational responsibility for the services.

"Then we will successively start with new things that are currently outside of the Innofactor umbrella, including internal development. In brief, all Azure services will be going into the same environment," Bergsvåg says.

"In addition, the strategy for our existing on-prem and legacy systems is that they will also be moved to Azure and the cloud – but we haven't yet defined this project. Our major idea is that everything will be in Azure," Rasmus Rasmussen says.

Important to be aware of the cost

The cost of living a life in the cloud is a topic that also concerns the Elmera Group. According to Rune Bergsvåg, the cost structure is known, and there have been no shocks in that regard.

"We have established control mechanisms so there are few people who can create resources, as well as policies that prevent an individual from creating the costliest resources. This means we can't 'press the wrong button' and for example start up a very costly CPU," he says.

Both Bergsvåg and Rasmussen are of the opinion that costs are an important factor:

"The cost level of cloud services is an issue. We must for example consider whether and for what we should have a 24/7 uptime guarantee. Cost optimisation is extremely important, and it can also be complicated."

"At the same time the cloud provides a lot, particularly in terms of scaling. If an on-prem solution was to scale correspondingly, it would often cost far more. The Fjordkraft app is a typical candidate for scaling: It needs to work 24/7, 365 days a year," Rasmussen says.

Did you know that Innofactor has been awarded Microsoft Azure Advanced Specialization status in recognition of accelerating cloud migration projects in the Nordics?

Read our press release

Difficult to acquire Azure expertise

When questioned on what has been most demanding in technical terms, Rune Bergsvåg says that there haven't been many technical issues.

"We have found good solutions to everything," he says.

Organizationally, the picture is more complex. Microsoft Azure wasn't entirely unknown territory when BKK and Fjordkraft separated, but nevertheless limited to the key persons who went along.

"We're working on boosting internal competence, but it's hard work. The challenge is both in balancing what we need to resolve internally and externally, and that we have a small internal environment that makes it difficult to distribute the competence. It's difficult to become good in several areas when there are few strings to play on," Rasmussen says.

"At the same time it's hard to recruit this competence when you have a small environment; it's extremely difficult for small players such as ourselves. The large environments clean up the market," Bergsvåg adds

Reaping the benefits of using Power Platform

Elmera Group is also at an advanced stage of deploying Microsoft Power Platform for visualizing data in different areas – and there's more to come. The head of the Data & Analysis department, Stig Rune Utstrand, says that they see great potential in using Power Apps, Power BI, and Power Automate.

"The coolest thing now is maybe that we are using Power BI integrated towards the end-customers. By tethering several technical environments, we have integrated Power BI as part of the Fjordkraft's front-end application. In this solution, our business customers can access there own data with regard to consumption and invoices", Utstrand says.

"We also have a number of larger customers who have financial hedging and can see their results. Overall, when we're completely done, we will have around 15 different visualizations concerning the customers' data."

He says that processes like these contribute to greater interest in the use of the Power Platform.

"It's often the case that, when you hand over something that's interesting, more user cases always emerge."

The Data & Analysis department has also delivered a solution to the finance department where a solution for reporting with Power BI is linked with Power Apps that the finance department can maintain itself.

"They thus become more self-reliant, the "time to market" is much shorter and there are far fewer questions for us. When the users see this is simple, they want to set up even more reports than we have historically submitted. I believe Power Automate and low-code via Power Apps will replace some of the current services – because why should finance order from us if they can do it themselves," Utstrand continues, emphasizing the business value and time to market.

"My motivation is that we should have a data platform in Azure that makes it easy for the end-customer to analyze prepared data. Now much is in place, in terms of technology – and the next step is to get the business to adopt the possibilities. Then information and more information is the key to triggering curiosity," he says.

Democratization of IT

A dedicated DevOps environment with agile teams across IT disciplines and a farewell to the silo mindset is an ongoing process in the company.

"Although it's challenging, we work on recruitment, and we train some of the resources we already have – so that they can work with Innofactor in combined teams," Rune Bergsvåg says – adding that with more internal expertise, the company will move toward a democratization of IT.

"Then everyone can come along to play. With Microsoft Power Platform those who have good ideas can create their own things – then the whole company becomes IT. That's great!"

How it was done

The following solutions and services, among others, are part of the overall solution implemented for Elmera Group:

Three tips for the cloud journey from Rasmus Rasmussen and Rune Bergsvåg

  • You must have internal expertise,or it can't be done. You also need good procurement expertise, otherwise you become very dependent on those on the other side of the table. Everyone is out for themselves, and you have to set the agenda yourself.
  • You must have control of costs. This is important for management being on board – and they don't like overruns. You must have control there.
  • The choice of partner is extremely important, and you need the whole organization on board. It's the processes in the company that must guide the journey to the cloud. It should make everyday work and processes easier for them.

"They are really skilled people, professional, and conscientious"

Rune Bergsvåg
team leader for infrastructure and identity
Elmera Group


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