Traeger's smart ­barbecue grills send alerts to ­customers’ phones, say Vice President of Infrastructure and Architecture Joshua Scott, left, and Systems Administrator Barry Haertel. They built the application on Amazon Web Services' cloud platform.

Mar 20 2024

Enterprises Deploy Cloud Solutions to Deliver New Customer Experiences

The cloud’s scalable, always-available resources open a range of possibilities.

To make a brisket that’s tender and juicy, backyard chefs must cook it slowly and at a low temperature, followed by a high-heat finish. But many Traeger customers have a secret weapon with which to cook their meat to perfection: an Internet of Things–enabled grill connected to the cloud that sends real-time cooking information and alerts to their smartphones.

Traeger, which sells two lines of Wi-Fi-enabled wood-pellet grills, has deployed an IoT platform on Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide its customers the best cooking experience and assistance possible.

Customers can throw their meat onto the grill and monitor the cooking temperature on a mobile app as they go about their days. Cooks can choose a recipe, press a “make now” button, and the grill will follow the recipe’s heating and cooking time instructions. Traeger’s smart grills also send notifications when the grill is running out of pellets or when the meat is ready.

“Our goal is to make everyone a ­backyard hero, not just people who’ve spent years learning how to cook a brisket,” says Joshua Scott, Traeger’s vice president of infrastructure and architecture. “Everyday Joes like me can still cook a good brisket on the weekend.”

As part of their digital transformation efforts, companies are increasingly turning to major public cloud providers such as AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud to modernize existing applications or create new, innovative solutions to improve the customer experience.

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The Cloud Increases App Availability

The cloud can scale to meet seasonal or sudden changes in demand and has worldwide availability, ensuring reliable service and uptime, says Roy Illsley, Omdia’s chief analyst of IT operations.

“Availability is one thing the cloud can generally offer because it’s got near endless resources scaled to meet demand,” Illsley says. “So, in theory, with all of their availability zones, you should be 100 percent available and running smoothly.”

Enterprises can also mine their data in the cloud to improve customer service. Artificial intelligence–powered chatbots can assist customers and answer questions, such as when their packages will arrive, Illsley says. And because the cloud is ubiquitous, it can improve customer experiences, whether that means home chefs remotely monitoring meat on backyard grills, airline passengers downloading boarding passes to their phones or any number of other examples, he says.

“In terms of customer experiences, the cloud and mobility have really opened up the world,” Illsley says. “You can do everything on your phone.”

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Cloud Enables Customer Experience Optimization

Traeger, based in Salt Lake City, has migrated its data, including its applications and website operations, to the cloud. In 2018, the company deployed its IoT infrastructure on AWS, which allowed it to introduce smart wood-pellet grills in early 2019, says Barry Haertel, a Traeger systems administrator.

Today, when a customer fires up an IoT-enabled grill, sensors transmit real-time data to Traeger’s IoT platform on AWS, which then communicates with the customer’s mobile app.

It wouldn’t be possible without the cloud, Scott says: “An IoT business like Traeger’s only works in the cloud. Putting something like this on-premises would be silly because we’d have to provision servers based on our peaks. That’s not economical or efficient.”

In fact, weekends and holidays are 10 times busier than weekdays. The company’s IoT platform on AWS processes up to 48 billion messages per month. “As more cooks come online, we can scale our resources to meet their needs,” Scott says.

Traeger uses AWS IoT Core and AWS IoT Device Management to securely connect, manage and monitor Traeger’s smart grills. Data is stored on Amazon’s DynamoDB, a fully managed NoSQL database.

The company also uses serverless computing services — AWS Fargate to run containers and AWS Lambda to run code — without having to provision or manage the infrastructure, Haertel says.

These high-level AWS services allow the Traeger team to focus on business logic and writing code while AWS manages the infrastructure, including dynamic scaling and security.

“The cloud takes that workload off us so we can focus on providing a great experience to our customers,” Haertel says.

Traeger’s three product teams — which are focused on IoT, the mobile app and website operations — work with business teams to gather requirements, monitor trends, and develop new features and services to meet customer needs, Scott says.

On the Traeger website, customers can buy grills, pellets, rubs and sauces. They can also find recipes and learn cooking tips from video tutorials, articles and virtual classes. The company has also released three major versions of the mobile app.

Customers can use the app to find recipes. Based on the recipe and portion of meat, the app guides customers through the cooking process, including when to inject the meat, wrap it in foil or turn up the heat. They can turn on the Super Smoke mode to smoke the meat. It also alerts them when the food is ready. “It helps our customers get those perfect grilling experiences,” Haertel says.

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Why the Cloud Allows for Quick Pivots

Arbinger Institute, a management, raining and leadership consulting firm, enhances its customer experience by regularly updating its online portal, where customers can access video training content and digital workbooks.

The portal, built on Microsoft Azure, became vital to the company during the pandemic, when Arbinger changed its business model from live, in-person workshops to virtual offerings, says James Prince, Arbinger’s director of IT infrastructure.

“The portal is always evolving and getting better,” Prince says. “We have new versions of the portal coming out every few weeks, with new features and tools being developed all the time.”

The company, based in Farmington, Utah, initially revamped its portal seven years ago from WordPress to a more robust, feature-rich site on Azure.

Arbinger uses Azure Media Services to host and deliver its custom video training content and Azure SQL Database for storage, he says.

In its early days, the portal allowed users to download slide decks for in-person training. But when COVID-19 hit and training went virtual, the company was able to pivot quickly because the Azure portal was already built.

Since then, Arbinger has shifted from 95 percent in-person training to 70 percent virtual training, which includes leadership and team-building workshops.

The company uses Microsoft Teams and Zoom for live training, but the portal supplements training sessions with additional video content and digital workbooks. Customers can log in to the portal and do the exercises in the workbooks, which are saved so that they can refer to them later.

“It’s a much more immersive experience now,” Prince says.

Azure also provides a secure and scalable platform, he notes. For example, the company’s IT team has spun up portal services in different Azure regions for high availability, allowing customers to gain fast access to portal content, regardless of their location.

“That way, our international clients have a much better experience,” he says.

James Prince


How the Cloud Modernizes Mortgage Lending

Mortgage industry software maker Optimal Blue can quickly build new apps and services for its customers because of Azure’s Platform as a Service offering, which provides a complete software development and deployment environment, says CTO Seever Sulaiman.

Cloud resources include as-a-service infrastructure such as servers, storage and networking, as well as middleware, development tools, databases and analytics tools.

“The cloud allows us to focus on innovation,” Sulaiman says. “Our team doesn’t have to worry about technical operations when it comes to PaaS, such as standing up and patching servers and hardening SQL databases with security. The cloud does that for us. With PaaS resources, we can speed up development and go to market faster.”

In 2017, Optimal built APIs that allow mortgage lenders to integrate its product and pricing engine into their own loan origination systems, he says. To do so, the company used Azure API Management, which lets it configure, publish and secure APIs.

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Optimal Blue’s product and pricing engine, which is used to lock about 40 percent of all mortgages completed nationwide today, allows mortgage originators to find and compare loan prices and options for their customers.

“Now, originators can log in to their own loan origination system, and within it, they can get loan rates from our PPE,” Sulaiman says.

More recently, the company consolidated three applications — two existing hedging and trading applications and a digital mortgage marketplace that connects loan buyers and sellers — into a single application on Azure.

The new application, called CompassEdge, also provides anonymized data so that customers who buy and sell loans can see how they are performing compared with their competitors. The Optimal Blue development team was able to quickly build that feature by using Azure Data Factory, which integrated the data into a data warehouse, Sulaiman says.

The overall result is an improved customer experience, he says. “It’s a more advanced, sophisticated application for our customers.” 

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Skylar Nielsen/ photos supplied by Traeger

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