Infusion, a Microsoft National Systems Integrator partner with locations in the US, Canada, and internationally, serves markets including financial services, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, and government—but can the company break into show business, too? The possibility presented great opportunities—and challenges. Any partner looking to expand into new verticals will want to read these excerpts from my conversation with Infusion CTO, Sheldon Fernandez.

Josh Waldo: You were already a success in serving Fortune 500 companies in several major industries—where did you see Infusion fitting in the entertainment industry?

Sheldon Fernandez: It’s no news that reality shows are big and getting bigger. We saw a number of production and casting companies in this segment using disparate, unsecure, and archaic ways to obtain and review audition videos—everything from submissions through YouTube and Facebook to mailing VHS tapes. Reviewing videos this way took hundreds of personnel hours—and a lot of money. We had solved similar problems for companies in other industries, and we seized the opportunity to apply our know-how to the entertainment industry.

JW: How did you do that?

SF: We created a video capture platform called Personif, and offered it as a cloud-hosted service on Windows Azure. It’s for any company that wants to engage users by soliciting and managing co-generated content. We’re targeting production and casting companies and other entertainment firms.

JW: What was your biggest challenge?

SF: Many of the people in the entertainment industry are steeped in non-Microsoft technologies, such as Apache, Java, and PHP. They wanted to know why we were using Microsoft instead of whatever Facebook and YouTube used.

JW: How did you respond?

SF: Our technical team had to do some “gentle” evangelization to convince them that the Microsoft stack could meet their needs. Pointing to our previous engagements helped, but one factor was the dazzling sorting and triaging capabilities of Pivot. An even bigger factor was the ability to host their IP on Windows Azure, which delivered enhanced security and dynamic scaling—as well as unmatchable pricing. Large companies save with the low costs of hosting on Windows Azure, and small companies gain an entry point that was previously out of reach. People see the demo and the numbers, and they’re convinced.

JW: What results are customers seeing with Personif?

SF: Take FremantleMedia, which produces The X Factor for Fox. It cut video review time from weeks to as little as hours. FremantleMedia’s first online casting for The X Factor was an unqualified success—they handled higher response rates to their campaign and used a faster screening process for auditions than was ever possible before. They can support thousands of concurrent users and scale quickly during evening hours when the show is on—exactly what they need.

JW: And how is the move into the entertainment industry working out for you?
SF: We’ve handled featured contests involving Jordin Sparks and the Super Bowl, and recently developed a Facebook application for American Idol. With Windows Azure, we push out campaigns more quickly, simply, and affordably than these companies are used to. With Windows Azure, we can offer price points as low $1,000 per month; that gives us a vast market to penetrate that we couldn’t approach otherwise.

To learn more, check out Personif’s website and Pinpoint profile.