Security practitioner working to investigate threats.

Over the past few years, the financial services industry in Canada has been on an accelerated journey to digital. Institutions big and small are reshaping their digital agendas and adopting a data strategy to keep pace with changing customer expectations.

While every company’s digital journey is noteworthy, the midmarket financial sector’s transformation is especially impressive as they have an increasingly unique challenge.

For starters, midmarket companies must learn to navigate the digital journey without the more robust resources of their larger peers. Another challenge is these companies don’t have the same level of flexibility and agility as some smaller organizations. And finally, waiting to adopt a digital strategy can put an organization at risk of being outranked by the competition or losing industry relevancy.

For Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), this has meant diving in headfirst and embracing the change that’s needed to provide more value to the 420,000+ members who rely on them to manage their pension. For HOOPP, it’s not about a competitive or leading edge, but about delivering value and a retirement promise to healthcare workers (both working and retired) – and this is no small feat.

HOOPP’s digital transformation journey started years ago to modernize the pension administration platform, realize operational efficiencies, and provide the most secure and innovative technology and tools to service their members. One of the biggest shifts (and challenges) was three years ago when they shifted from a traditional IT physical operating model to the public cloud leveraging Microsoft’s trusted Azure platform.

“Once this cloud adoption happened, that’s when the team realized that we needed to embrace change as a constant” said Juan Diz, Vice President, Pension Solutions Group (PSG), at HOOPP. “Being in the cloud, helped us innovate faster, reduce complexities, improve performance and lower costs.”

For many organizations, the pandemic accelerated cloud adoption, but because HOOPP had already started their journey with Azure, they had the foundation in place for innovation to scale. This meant they were able to deliver new services and technologies to their members faster throughout the course of the pandemic. And this was just the beginning, the next step involved refining their operating model to become more efficient using this cloud native technology and realizing an effective data strategy.

A Microsoft survey earlier this year found that almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of Canadian business leaders agree that data – and knowing how to draw actionable insights from that data – are key to business success in today’s economy. However, only about one-third (34 per cent) say their business has a comprehensive data strategy in place and even fewer (31 per cent) feel their organization is a data-led business.

As data has become one of the world’s most valuable assets, it’s imperative for organizations to know how to gather, store, analyze, and govern that data effectively.

HOOPP is ahead of the curve in Canada as they are already working on an effective data strategy leveraging Microsoft Azure’s comprehensive data platform to inform decision making. By utilizing Azure Synapse Analytics, a limitless analytics service that brings together data integration, enterprise data warehousing, and big data analytics, the teams at HOOPP are able to access a safe and secure environment for a single source of data analytics to enable timely decisions and improve member services.

“A great example of this is the digital journey of our members through our website, said Martin Tyborski, Director, PSG Data Platform at HOOPP. “We’re able to see how our members are interacting with our services, if they’re getting value, and who we’re leaving behind to provide coherent insights for our business partners – this enables us to be less prescriptive and more predictive.”

This adoption of new technology and a data strategy has also meant HOOPP needed to put the right security and safeguards in place around their infrastructure to protect sensitive information. HOOPP’s in-house IT team recently launched iGuard, a foundational fraud detection user access monitoring tool utilized to verify records and protect data and transactions.

In the past, a service of this magnitude would take years to build, and several resources to manage, however, with cloud native applications, HOOPP can set up an instance, scale and manage, all within the confines of their current IT team. Leveraging solutions like Azure Cosmos DB, a fully managed database service, teams have the ability to offload the administrative burdens of operating and scaling distributed databases to Azure. This means they don’t have to worry about managing VMs, hardware provisioning, setup and configuration, capacity, replication, software patching, or cluster scaling and can focus on more customer centric activities. HOOPP is currently enhancing iGuard with Microsoft AI and Machine learning solutions to identify user patterns and identify risks

“iGuard is a key piece to our digital transformation journey to provide the safeguards that we need when it comes to our members’ data,” said Zach Millis, PSG InfoSec Lead at HOOPP. “By further enhancing with AI and machine learning, we are able to identify user patterns and risks to best protect sensitive information.”

iGuard is just one example of how HOOPP is leveraging the Microsoft cloud to bring new solutions to life, and we look forward to collaborating on many other projects in the years to come.

It is story’s like HOOPP’s that showcase the importance of having a trusted cloud provider, establishing a data strategy and putting the right security safeguards in place. All these steps are imperative to ensuring success in today’s increasingly world.

If you are interested in learning more about how to establish and effective data strategy with Azure, please see below:

Register for the next webinar on Azure in our Cloud Digital Series here http://www.aka.ms/CloudDigitalSeries

To explore fundamentals and technical learning on Azure, please visit: https://aka.ms/MicrosofTrainingDays

For more learning resources on how Azure and other Microsoft solutions can help your organization, please visit https://www.aka.ms/MSLearn