Office 365 revolutionises planning consultancy
Rebekah Jubb, Partner, Bell Cornwell
Established over 25 years ago, Bell Cornwell is a chartered town planning consultancy, undertaking projects ranging from individual household property extensions to large scale commercial developments covering land use planning and associated issues. With 19 staff spread over three offices, the majority of staff are planning consultants, where a typical day entails the compilation of large reports for our clients, which contain lots of photos and graphics such as plans, maps and photographs, as well as reviewing many large pdf files – sometimes in excess of 100MB. We are increasingly running entire projects electronically, including submission of planning applications and appeals, so rely very heavily on our IT system.
We used to store these reports on an on-premise Windows server in the main office and when working remotely, the only way to access my files was to dial in to my laptop – which was left on my desk at the office – in order to connect to the network. As you can imagine, accessing this heavy graphical content was a painstakingly slow process and reduced my ability to respond to clients’ needs.
As planning consultants, time is our asset to sell our expertise, so, in reality, the majority of us were storing all our documents locally to our laptops so we could work remotely much more productively. Of course, this meant that valuable information wasn’t always backed up straight away nor was it centrally available on the servers for compliance and for other staff to access. Also, the satellite offices had no access to the main server and could only store data locally. They often felt detached from the rest of the company.
Our existing server was coming to the end of its life and several laptop hard drives had failed, which was not only causing loss of data but major disruption to the workplace. We needed an upgrade fast. Initially, we looked at putting in terminal servers at each office with a comms link between the three – but the capital investment required, along with maintenance and security issues made this route cost prohibitive.
We started working with a new IT partner, Connexion, last December to help us address this issue. They quickly recognised that we needed to work with large files on our local desktops, fast and flexibly, from any location in order to be able to respond effectively to our clients. They advised we should invest in new performance Windows 8 laptops and migrate to Microsoft Office 365.
Within 3 months we were up and running – and I can truly say that Office 365 has really revolutionised the business. It gives me access to all my data – I can now work from home as effectively as in the office, as well as download, view and save attachments. Connexion also set-up Skydrive Pro on each of our laptops so we are confident that our files are all securely backed up and project information is searchable and available to the whole team online. I understand from Connexion that we are one of the first to be using SkyDrive Pro on Windows 8 - so it feels as if we have not only caught up with everyone else – we have actually overtaken them!
We’re also making great use of Microsoft Lync – it’s a fun and fast way of asking a colleague a quick question, wherever they are, as opposed to filling up their in boxes with emails. SharePoint has enabled all three offices to access the technical document libraries, the latest company templates, personnel documents and other general company information which has provided so much more consistency across the company and enables us to serve our clients more efficiently.
In our business, time is money. Office 365 is secure, flexible, reliable and always available. And I sleep a lot better these days.
For more information regarding Bell Cornwell, please visit: www.bell-cornwell.co.uk
For more information regarding Connexion, please visit: www.connexion.co.uk