PMT™ expands Emerald value-added service platform into the cloud

Pattern Matched Technologies™ (PMT) will be making its Emerald™ Realtime value-added service distribution platform available to customers in Africa as a cloud-based service.

The solutions developer is partnering with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and First Distribution (FD) to migrate the solution and making it accessible to more enterprises in the cloud.

Maro Asmaclis, the Emerald™ project lead at PMT™, explains that the value-added service (VAS) engine allows clients to provide various products and services to their customers.

Currently, Emerald™ processes billions of transactions for banks and mobile telcos, managing services like prepaid electricity, airtime, and data.

“The solution adds a lot of value for our clients,” she says. “We’ve been developing it for 15 years and it’s very stable, reliable, and redundant while offering our clients rich features such as Real-time Voucher Distribution, Secure Password and PIN management, Batch File Processing, Quick Onboarding of Third-Party Suppliers/Vendors and Real-time Transaction History Views, amongst many other futures.”

Pieter Janse van Rensburg, Chief Technical Officer at PMT™, points out that Emerald™ is essentially an integration hub that allows enterprises to offer add-on services to the client. “So banks or retailers can offer customers services like airtime or data purchases, prepaid electricity or vouchers.”

“It links directly back to the service provider and allows our clients to add significant value to their customers.”

Because clients need to be able to adapt as the service offerings change, and customers’ need evolve, Emerald™ is able to adapt to that with a continuous stream of enhancements being added constantly.

“Emerald™ has been in the market for 15 years, and I have been involved with it for 13 of them,” Asmaclis says. “Over time, we have seen the introduction of many different types of services – from straight data purchases to bundles with various types, periods, and functionality. We have incorporated all of these offerings into Emerald™ and also kept it up-to-date with the latest technologies as they become available.”

Janse van Rensburg says that, while the service provider owns the product and constantly evolves it, often it’s a bank or retailer that is the trusted interface to the customer. “With Emerald™, we facilitate that flow end-to-end, allowing our clients to support their customers in buying third-party services.”

Emerald’s key strengths are its agility and flexibility: it can quickly onboard new customers; offers short delivery cycles; and makes it easy for customers to integrate new services. “The bottom line is that we facilitate the technological and integration challenges to make it easy for our customers to bring new products to market.”

Because it is a flexible platform, it can run in a way that best suits the customer. “So you can run shared instances where there are multiple clients, or dedicated instances for customers that need to facilitate high-volume loads,” Janse van Rensburg says.

Expanding functionality and footprint

Currently, Emerald™ is deployed in an on-premise environment, in a secure and privatised stack. PMT™ is in the process of migrating the offering on AWS so clients will be able to access it in the cloud too.

“One of our key messages is that we are trying to land the concept of airtime for Africa,” Janse van Rensburg says. “This talks to where we see Emerald™ being the solution that can run anywhere and reach everyone.”

The cloud is key to making Emerald™ available to more customers in more locations and PMT™ expects to have it live as a cloud service by early next year.

Fortunately, the company has considerable experience in developing cloud services through its seven-year-long relationship with AWS and FD.

“Back when we started our cloud journey, we did a lot of market research before choosing to partner with AWS as the cloud provider that best matched our strategy,” Janse van Rensburg says.

PMT built its Obsidian™ solution offering in the cloud and also offers a number of other cloud-based services including Amber™, our USSD gateway.

“Because of our past successes, we understand how to incorporate those learnings into evolving Emerald™ to where we want it to be in the future,” Janse van Rensburg says. “Migrating to the cloud can be a daunting journey, but we are confident going into this project because we have the experience and we know they are transferable.”

It took PMT three years to build The Obsidian™ Connectivity Platform as a cloud-based service, but these timelines will be dramatically reduced for Emerald™ – partly because Emerald™ is already a mature solution, but also because of the experience PMT has gained with AWS.

And the company isn’t approaching the idea cold. “There has been incremental learning,” Janse van Rensburg points out. “We have wanted to be there for a long time, so planning is at an advanced stage.”

The team believes the move will bring a wealth of benefits and greatly expand Emerald’s reach in both geography and customer profile. “The cloud will allow us to realise our future vision for Emerald™ which is to provide airtime for Africa,” Janse van Rensburg says.

Another major benefit expected from the cloud migration is known service stability and high-uptime, key elements that we have been proud of in our on-premise offering, since redundancy is built into AWS as a core feature.

Janse van Rensburg believes the knowledge and experience gained from working with partners like AWS and FD will contribute significantly to the success of the Emerald™ migration. “There is a wealth of shared knowledge, architecture best practices, and general best practices that we can leverage. There is a wider support team and knowledge base on hand, so we have access to more resources.”

This support extends across geographical boundaries too, reducing the risk of extending the Emerald™ service into Africa. “AWS already has a presence and great support in Africa and Europe, so if we need to enable a country we don’t need to procure hardware and find in-country support because we know we can trust AWS and other partners.

“This means there are a lot of problems that we don’t have to solve which gives us more time to focus on developing the product.”

Joshua Adair, lead brand manager at PMT™, points out that having the ability to scale Emerald™ across regions opens up international opportunities for PMT’s clients. “Being with AWS allows us to make their global vision possible.”

The journey to AWS

Moving an established system like Emerald™ into the cloud isn’t a once-off process: PMT™ has already completed a number of what Janse van Rensburg calls micro-journeys to understand various components of the product one at a time. “These smaller journeys allow us to work through the product systematically, to understand what works and how to implement it.”

The cloud roadmap takes a two-fold approach starting with the migration off the on-premise infrastructure.

“The first step is the lift-and-shift approach,” Janse van Rensburg says. “This is where we will take what works and put it into the cloud. Much of this migration journey is fully supported by AWS and FD. The result will be running pretty much the existing system, but in a way that removes the physical requirement.”

PMT™ is currently in the advanced stage of planning this step and expects to have completed it before the end of this year.

Once the solution is hosted on AWS, PMT™ can start optimising it and making it even easier for clients to consume. “We can optimise some of the Emerald™ components, working through each scenario, tweaking, and testing,” Janse van Rensburg explains.

“And then we can look at replacing or adding services, leveraging the technologies available in AWS. This means we can start looking at things like containerisation and microservices as part of our continuous improvement journey.”

These technologies are more than buzzwords, he adds. “We are going to be able to optimise a big chunk of the work that’s required every time and this means we can help our clients offer additional value to their customers quicker than ever.”

Because constant updates and improvements are possible in the cloud, Janse van Rensburg adds that Emerald’s release cycles will be quicker, more predictable, and more manageable.

Being part of the AWS ecosystem also means that PMT can leverage the AWS cloud marketplace to add services to its own offerings and make Emerald™ services available to other developers.

Enabling Africa

PMT™ has a long-standing passion for using technology to enable solutions in Africa.

“There are a lot of disempowered people on the continent who have not yet fully realised the dream of being transactionally active,” Janse van Rensburg says. “Our passion is to grow the market and empower those people.”

Asmaclis adds: “This passion, and our vision for Africa, is to give people the means to access financial services and value-added services. Today, they are often isolated and in remote areas without access to banking and other financial services.

“Our aim is to supply them with a means of getting easy access to financial products and services so they can participate more actively in the economy.”

The First Distribution value-add

As an AWS distributor, FD started partnering with PMT™ close to three years ago.

“FD has a local team that understands our business, and broader South African business, so they can effectively help us to expand into the cloud,” Janse van Rensburg says.

“A partner like FD works with a number of corporates so they can help us learn a lot quicker than we could do on our own.

“Having a partner that supports us with local services and is able to guide us through their expertise and architects helps us to make the right decisions and realise our vision.”

FD, along with AWS, also facilitates upskilling and training for the PMT™ team.

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