Roularta Media Group owes its leading position in the Belgian publishing industry to its innovative spirit and eye for media trends. Staying relevant to its readers is key to Roularta’s competitive strategy, but its existing technologies didn’t offer the flexibility and speed demanded by the data analytics platform it planned. The company worked with Microsoft partner element61 and Microsoft FastTrack for Azure, executing with a swath of Microsoft Azure solutions to build a highly secure, fast data analytics platform in just a few months.
The challenge: Staying relevant in a universe of change
Roularta Media Group has grown from a community newspaper printed in the founder’s backyard in the 1950s to a stock listed media giant with an international publishing reach, including renowned publications like Knack/Le Vif and Trends/Tendances. Its cross-media offerings span television, video and audio, radio, print, online, e-commerce, and social media in Dutch, French, English, and German.
To target the many audiences for its diverse publications -millions of readers across Belgium- Roularta needed data. Just as it originally lavished attention on its massive printing presses (and still does), Roularta devised an ongoing digital strategy that includes ingesting and analyzing vast amounts of data quickly with a high level of security.
Roularta had largely shifted from an on-premises environment to several clouds for its website and other online capabilities. The company determined that its existing solutions couldn’t handle the data analytics task that would advance its digital strategy, so it turned to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. In the fast-paced, competitive media space though, time is not just money—it’s survival. To move to Azure as quickly as possible and get help fine-tuning its configuration choices of Azure services, Roularta took advantage of specific expertise from element61 - a member of the Microsoft Partner Network - and the Microsoft FastTrack for Azure team.
The objective: Approaching digital transformation from the ground up
To sharpen the online engagement with media consumers, Mark Daemen—Manager of Data and New Business at Roularta Media Group—and his team envisioned a cutting-edge solution. It would capture every digital touchpoint, put it into the right context, and use the data to offer content and product recommendations, targeting and optimizing marketing and advertising campaigns. An unrelenting stream of hits strikes the Roularta website as it gets more than 21 million visits and 35 million views each month.
Yves Wittouck, Manager of Data Engineering at Roularta, shared the team’s vision. “Our technology couldn’t capture the data at the volume and velocity we have. We wanted a stack to align with our digital strategy and meet our big data challenges,” he says.
How to Build a flexible team?
As it planned its project to endow its business analysts with rich data analysis capabilities, the Roularta team studied the Azure technologies it had chosen to ensure that it made optimal configuration choices from the start. That meant bringing all the right people together.
Roularta already had a close working relationship with element61, which has extensive experience with Microsoft Business Analytics solutions. The two companies supplemented their working relationship with the Microsoft FastTrack for Azure team to gain access to its deep technical expertise. Wittouck’s team held one-day workshops with element61 to create and test proofs of concept. The FastTrack for Azure team helped them define the architecture. “The three-way relationship with element61 and Microsoft FastTrack for Azure gave Roularta the best of all worlds,” says Wittouck. “Our people learned the technology quickly, but the FastTrack for Azure team was always there to provide deep expertise on configuration choices and provide a general direction.” That elastic team approach was both cost-effective and expeditious. “We advanced very quickly once we started working with element61 and the FastTrack for Azure team,” says Daemen. “That relationship was an accelerator for our project.”
The Roularta team is pleased to have found the perfect solution for its data analytics platform. While its other solutions worked well for other functionality, Roularta needed the capability Azure could provide for its foray into data analytics. Roularta regards its choice of vendor as an expansion of its overall team, with far-reaching benefits. “We chose Azure to use with our on-premises infrastructure because we feel that Microsoft has more strategies about interoperating with on-premises solutions than any other vendor,” says Wittouck. “And the rich partner ecosystem we can access with Microsoft makes it easy to find expert help when we need it. That’s why we chose Azure over Google or Amazon Web Services.”
Creating the ultimate cloud solution
As a technology-agnostic company, Roularta uses the solutions that it feels best align with specific needs. It adopted a Snowflake data warehouse to expose its data to multiple users and then sought an ingestion engine that could keep pace with the enormous data streams for predictive analytics.
Roularta now hosts its Snowflake data warehouse in Azure, using Azure Databricks for fully managed real-time data ingestion from Azure Data Lake and to help cleanse personally identifiable information from its data. It reveals insights with Azure Databricks, the collaborative analytics service that supports the interactive, multidisciplinary ethos that Roularta envisioned.
The company sees its Azure deployment as aligning closely with its multidisciplinary strategy. “This was not so much an IT operation as it was a business operation,” says Daemen. “We co-created our use cases—they weren’t a decree from someone removed from the realities of our business. In the end, we decided what we needed as a company, and we got it. We use Azure as the base of our digital strategy, and we are delighted with our solution. We believe that by the end of 2020, we’ll be in the lead of publishing companies in Belgium.”
Do you want to know more?
Do you want to know more about digital transformation and other smart applications of data in Marketing or are you interested in Azure ? Or if you just have a question, feel free to contact us.
Watch our video about Driving Marketing with a CDP and an Azure Data Platform.