Iconic London conference center revolutionizes workplace with Microsoft 365
The Queen Elizabeth II Centre (QEII) commands inspiring views of Westminster from its West End location in London. It takes a village of dedicated people to pull off just one event, never mind the 600-plus functions QEII executes every year. Since the conference center’s ICT team worked with a well-known Microsoft partner to implement Microsoft 365 and deploy Microsoft Surface devices, QEII staff are collaborating more easily, securely, and effectively than ever before. Now, the stars—and the teams—are aligned for a bright future.
Since 1986, the Queen Elizabeth II Centre (QEII) has hosted millions of people who’ve attended thousands of events in its 32 configurable spaces. With its Westminster location near iconic British landmarks—Big Ben and Westminster Abbey to name just two—the conference center is ideally situated. The recently refurbished event space offers conference planners a fresh, modern meeting venue. To match its refreshed physical space, QEII leadership wanted to upgrade the center’s information technology with a collaborative, highly secure tool set. For this landmark conference center, that meant rolling out Microsoft 365 and Surface devices on a large scale. The deployment may have been one of its most successful events yet.
Providing a premiere experience at each of the 600 or more events QEII hosts every year takes a wide range of unlikely collaborators. To keep the QEII name prominent among a field of highly competitive options—not just in the United Kingdom, but throughout Europe—sales professionals work closely with customers as they preview spaces. Once they’ve sold event space, the event management team takes over, working with the customer to create a final vision for the function and coordinating with teams from security to catering and finance. With so many conferences dealing with sensitive information—from government agencies to healthcare entities—providing reliable security from initial planning through the event itself is vital.
Teams are scattered throughout the six stories of the conference center, in addition to the three underground floors. Add that physical separation across a huge venue to the very different needs and responsibilities of all involved, and the challenge to effective collaboration becomes clear. One missed communication could create hours of additional work. For example, coordinating with porters for room setup was prone to misadventure: an out-of-date order or last-minute change meant time-intensive room setup would have to be redone.
At the nexus of it all is the QEII information and communications technology (ICT) department, a seven-person team responsible for event support, standard internal IT support, and business-related projects. Because the 50-odd employee group is normally matched by an equal contractor head count, the ICT team is faced with a revolving door for user IDs and access.
Making collaboration easier for disparate teams
QEII ICT Manager James Morris was concerned by the siloed nature of team communication he saw. “People use chat apps on their mobile devices during their breaks to connect with their friends,” he says. “It didn’t occur to them to communicate with their colleagues at work in the same spontaneous way.” Like professionals around the world, Morris and his coworkers found myriad email threads and the sheer volume of communication laborious to organize across specific projects and topics. To help fulfill his vision for a modern workplace to unify the diverse QEII workforce, he engaged London-based Microsoft Partner Network member TechQuarters to roll out Microsoft 365. Now, QEII has a wealth of collaborative apps that facilitate teamwork among its diverse staff.
No matter what their part in bringing an event together may be, the teams at QEII find that sharing files with Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint makes life easier. As they begin to use Microsoft Teams, Morris sees a whole new level of collaboration unfolding. They share documents, images, and communications in an individualized digital space, organized by project. Access is easily controlled. “Email and phone calls seem so old-fashioned now,” Morris says.
The ICT team incorporates Microsoft Planner into Teams, using it to assign and plan their work. “Our ICT team loves Planner,” says Morris. “I use it on my mobile device during my commute on the train to create a task—including an explanation, a checklist, and a due date—and share it with my colleagues. It’s brilliant.”
Sealing the deal with go-anywhere devices
Like ICT managers anywhere, Morris found that some staff members weren’t as eager to adopt new technology as others. But he believes that providing Surface devices helped propel the deployment along. He took a subtle approach when working with staff who were slower to adopt the new technology. “I’d simply go and sit with someone who’d been resistant,” he recounts. “We’d talk about something unrelated to technology, and I’d bring out my Surface to access a document instantly, or bring it up on my phone. People needed no direction after that. Seeing how easily I could access what I need inspired them to use the solutions on their own.”
Morris is gratified to see sales staff leading customers through event spaces with their Surface devices easily held in one hand. “All the information they need for the customer is right there,” he says. “The sales people can look at any system they need to access, show the client images, check availability. All of this is a huge benefit for us.”
Enhancing security while easing access
The conference center’s proximity to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament brings many government events, making information security paramount. That means securing conference planning data for these events along with the information shared by attendees.
In addition to the enhanced security required for government events, the center must meet its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) obligations. “James Cox at TechQuarters has done great work on GDPR and helping us get ready,” says Morris, noting that he’s created a GDPR team in the Teams app to continue that work and support ongoing compliance. “And regardless of rules, we are always concerned with security. With Microsoft Intune, part of Enterprise Mobility + Security, we can remotely manage a mobile device if we need to. Should it be lost, we can use Intune to wipe corporate information,” he adds.