“My objective is to provide professional staff with the ability to communicate the way they like and make it easy for them. Windows Phone lets me do that.”
Shiran Herath, Chief Information Officer, McGrathNicol
Professional staff at boutique Australian advisory firm McGrathNicol need exceptional smartphone email capabilities. They want critical emails to have priority on their screens and the ability to quickly open and analyse documents and spreadsheets. At the
same time, IT staff want smartphones that can keep pace with consumer trends but also support mobile apps that have the same look and feel as desktop applications.
In mid-2011, staff trialled a range of iPhones, Blackberrys and Android phones, together with the new large-screen HTC HD7 smartphone, which uses the Windows Phone operating system. They found the in-built suite of Microsoft Office applications, Office Hub,
highly intuitive. Staff easily downloaded, analysed and annotated Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, and mastered new email management features in Outlook Mobile.
Now, employees who work late, off-site or abroad respond faster to urgent queries. IT staff have a highly adaptable smartphone platform with the ability to deploy new services, such as instant messaging and presence, without additional integration costs.
Attracted by lightning-fast download speeds, IT staff are already trialling the first 4G capable Windows Phone, the HTC Titan 4G.
|| Whether they are checking emails on their desktop, a tablet PC or their smartphone, I want staff to have the same experience. Familiarity leads directly into improved usability, which means staff are
happier, more productive and require less support.
| Shiran Herath,
Chief Information Officer,
McGrathNicol is an independent Australian boutique advisory firm specialising in corporate recovery, forensic accounting, and transaction services, such as corporate due diligence.
The firm employs approximately 320 professional and support staff who are based at offices in each of Australia’s state capitals and in New Zealand. As professional advisors, they spend many of their working hours travelling and at client sites across Australia
“Staff may not come in to their home office for months at a time,” says Shiran Herath, Chief Information Officer, McGrathNicol. “However, our challenge extends beyond giving them remote email and mobile connectivity. They need rapid response capabilities.
They don’t like having to set up their laptops in strange locations, find a network, log on and check email at strange times or while on the move – especially when an urgent request just involves scanning a document and giving a quick response.”
In early 2007, McGrathNicol deployed 160 Samsung Blackjack smartphones, which used the Windows Mobile 6.0 operating system. By connecting these phones to the firm’s existing email system, Microsoft Exchange 2003, the firm extended mobile email capabilities
to over half the company’s staff.
“These phones gave three fantastic years’ service, but by 2010 the smartphone market had expanded dramatically and fragmented. Many new combinations of smartphones and operating systems emerged with fantastic new features, and these included much improved
“I started looking for a new generation of phones with an open mind, but given the rate of change in the market, my prime consideration became adaptability. I wanted a stable, reliable smartphone that enabled me to integrate technologies as they evolved.
For example, if staff wanted unified communications and the firm agreed, I wanted the ability to deploy quickly with a minimum of integration requirements.”
In addition, Shiran had a long-term strategy for establishing what he calls a unified interface. “Whether they are checking emails on their desktop, a tablet PC or their smartphone, I want staff to have the same experience. Familiarity leads directly into
improved usability, which means staff are happier, more productive and require
To test staff preferences, Shiran began employee trials with a selection of smartphones in mid-2011. These included iPhones, Windows Phone devices and Android-based devices.
Shiran trialled HTC HD7 phones, using the latest version of the new Microsoft mobile operating system, Windows Phone, which had been released in October. This version contained features that Shiran believed would directly improve staff responsiveness, such
as email conversation views that group emails according to subject, and linked inboxes that enable staff to integrate personal and work emails in one inbox.
“We simply put the phones in front of people and they started using them without training,” says Shiran. “The suite of in-built Microsoft Office applications, called Office Hub, works smoothly on the large 10.9 cm screen. Opening and examining complex documents
proved easy and intuitive.”
|| Windows Phone integrates beautifully with Microsoft Exchange 2010. Both calendaring and email have a very similar feel and logic, so that staff quickly learn how to filter and prioritise email on their
| Shiran Herath,
Chief Information Officer,
From the technical perspective, the HTC Windows Phone would also help Shiran achieve his two strategic objectives: adaptability and a unified interface.
“The Windows Phone platform gave me the opportunity to experiment with two critical technologies,” says Shiran. “If the firm decided to extend unified communications to mobile devices, I would be able to integrate Windows Phone with Microsoft Lync. This
would give staff instant messaging and presence on their smartphones. It would also enable staff abroad to make international calls using the Lync server, reducing roaming costs and improving contact capabilities.”
“The other attraction was progress towards establishing a unified interface. Windows Phone integrates beautifully with Microsoft Exchange 2010. Both calendaring and email have a very similar feel and logic, so that staff quickly learn how to filter and prioritise
email on their mobile inbox.”
Convinced they provided the maximum potential for future connectivity, Shiran decided to issue 130 staff with HTC HD7 Windows Phone smartphones. The upgrade took place during November and December 2011, without staff training or external technical support.
The response proved so positive that within six months, IT staff began trialling the 4G HTC Windows Phone smartphones, attracted by the lightning-fast download speeds available on a 4G network.
With new large-screen HTC HD7 Windows Phones, staff working remotely can easily interrogate complex documents on their smartphones, enabling them to react quickly to urgent enquiries. In addition, the Windows Phone operating system gives technical staff
a springboard to integrate new capabilities when the firm wants them, at minimal additional cost.
Improved rapid response
Working with improved but familiar Office Hub applications, staff reaction times have improved, ensuring projects progress faster.
“Employees tell me it’s easy for them to scroll through documents and spreadsheets to find the paragraph or numbers that require immediate attention,” says Shiran. “They can rapidly analyse and annotate documents, and respond straight away.”
“One critical improvement is in the Outlook interface. Now staff can filter emails to their mobile phones, preventing irrelevant communications from clogging up the interface. They can identify a critical communication with just one tap on their phone.”
Easier technical support
From a technical perspective, the firm’s new fleet of phones have proved easy to support, which lowers their overall cost.
“Like any new system, usability can be measured in calls to technical support, and we hardly get any,” says Shiran. “In addition, the ongoing support burden is low and predictable. The Windows Phone operating system means we don’t have to physically go and
install new Microsoft applications on phones – that can be done remotely.”
“The fact that all our core business systems are Microsoft also simplifies support. If anything goes wrong, I only have to go to contact one person to get a resolution.”
Smoother off-site working
|| My objective is to provide professional staff with the ability to communicate the way they like. Windows Phone lets me do that.
| Shiran Herath,
Chief Information Officer,
The new phones are also helping staff deal with non-urgent issues. The smartphone’s Wi-Fi tethering capability enables staff to connect their laptops in unfamiliar environments like hotels or client offices.
“Wi-Fi tethering has proved very popular, because it’s easy-to-activate and easy-to-use,” says Shiran. “As long as staff have reception, all they have to do is place the phone next to their laptop and they can go online.”
“Staff love it because it removes much of the hassle of getting set up at client sites or when travelling. They aren’t dependent on their host’s IT staff and we don’t need to provide staff with separate mobile connection devices.”
Exceptional scope for new services
With the Windows Phone operating environment, Shiran is convinced he has procured a platform that will help the firm adapt, integrating new capabilities onto the phones easily and without excessive cost.
“In the next few months, I intend to deploy Microsoft Lync on our smartphones,” says Shiran. “Besides instant messaging, this will enable staff to instantly identify how best to reach colleagues and quickly establish three-party conference calls.”
“I also plan to integrate the firm’s customer relationship management system, Dynamics CRM and Dynamics AX Timesheet capabilities, with our smartphone fleet. This will give staff mobile access to information stored on our customer database.”
Next generation capabilities
The HTC-Windows Phone combination proved so popular that when HTC launched its Titan 4G phone in Australia, in June 2012, Shiran trialled it straight away. With a larger screen, 16 megapixel camera, and front-facing video camera for video-calling, the phone
is designed to take maximum advantage of 20 Mbps download speeds available on the new generation of 4G mobile networks, currently under construction.
“I wanted to see what difference the 4G network made, and the performance is very good” he says. “A two-megabyte attachment downloads in approximately one second, and smaller files seem to open instantaneously.”
“Also, this new phone is an excellent fit for the firm because most of our staff work in metropolitan areas now served with 4G networks. The big screen, fast browsing and lightning-fast download speeds make you feel you are working with a small desktop.”
Six months into the deployment, Shiran believes his commitment to adaptability has been vindicated. “My objective is to provide professional staff with the ability to communicate the way they like. Windows Phone lets me do that.”
Microsoft product that was featured
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