Pure Cloud Solution Allows Secure Access to Shared Files for Remote Field Workers
The Springfield Centre for Business in Development is an independent consulting, training and research organisation based in Durham, UK. Their work is focused on market systems development and sustainable development, with their aim being to transform the systems that help poor and disadvantaged people to get the goods, services, jobs, and incomes that they need to improve their lives. The company also supports the North East community with its employees volunteering at local charities, schools and sporting clubs.
Springfield Centre was experiencing issues with it’s ageing in-house server not performing optimally with collaborative work, storage, emails, and file access.
Angela McGhin, Senior Business Administrator at Springfield Centre says, “The server that we had in-house was pretty much on its last legs, and it was getting to the end of its usable life. There was a real risk it would fail at any moment.”
Their ageing on-site server was taking up space in their office, and was slowing down emails, had limited storage, which meant they had maintenance expenses, running costs, and a constant noise. The server wasn’t meeting the organisation’s needs for storage or speed and an upgrade was required.
Support tickets had also been raised about their internet connection affecting their email. Their email system was running on their in-house multifunction Microsoft’s Small Business Server which was hosting their emails. This meant that staff outside of the office had email service impacted by the performance of the office internet connection.
Angela continues: “The other issues we had were that many of our staff are based overseas a lot of the time so they needed a way to be able to access files and emails safely and remotely.”
The nature of Springfield Centre’s work means they are involved in projects all over the world; because of this, their staff are mostly in the field in remote locations with no internet access. This meant they had trouble accessing their emails and collaborative work was difficult. Being offline prevented access to files and emails, and having no encryption software meant there was no safe way of copying those files to their laptops.
As established, long-term clients of Perfect Image, Springfield Centre have quarterly meetings with their Account Manager, Bob McKay, to discuss and review how their IT systems are running. It was from one of these business reviews that concerns about the age of their on-site server was discussed, along with the support tickets that had been raised about their internet connection affecting their email.
Angela explains that the cloud wasn’t something the company had considered as a solution, “Not specifically. We knew it existed, but weren’t really sure if it was for us until we spoke to Perfect Image and went through the whole process.”
Springfield Centre’s Account Manager at Perfect Image presented the company with ideas of how to solve their issues. What was offered to them was a way of copying all relevant data easily onto their machines, without worrying about overwriting everybody else’s work when collaborating on the same document. This would also mean a secure solution to speed up emails, improve data storage and access, improve shared work and provide automated workflows that would improve efficiency and productivity. That was ultimately what the combination of Office 365, SharePoint, and OneDrive for Business could offer.
Perfect Image proposed that the company move their email to the cloud-based Office 365, all of their documents to SharePoint on Office 365, and upgrade all of their laptops to Windows 10.
Angela says, “Bob spoke to us quite a bit about what SharePoint could do, he showed us some examples, and he also suggested that we do a workshop up at the Perfect Image office.”
A one-day workshop was organised within Perfect Image’s office, and one of our experienced SharePoint specialists presented the functionality and potential of the tool, from the basics to the more advanced aspects, to demonstrate SharePoint’s capabilities and what Springfield Centre could achieve with it.
Angela says, “I did a little bit of research myself beforehand, but I didn’t get as good an understanding of what the system could do as we did in the workshop. It was a full day session and there were about five of us from Springfield. Lee [Carrick, Perfect Image’s SharePoint Practice Manager] had set up a training site for us so there was something there that we could log into, and work on so that we could see all of the individual elements. The workshop was definitely a big help for us. Until we saw it in action we weren’t fully sure of what SharePoint was going to be able to do for us.”
The new email system meant that Springfield Centre could have faster emails, with more storage. As it keeps a copy of the whole mailbox offline, field staff could still fully work on their files despite a lack of internet access. Then, even with a temporary or weak internet connection, their computer would synchronise emails, back up their files, and merge any changes to files if people had worked together.
One of the ways that SharePoint has helped Springfield Centre to become more efficient is with automated workflows. The company now have an internal process for booking holidays that previously involved manually filling in paper forms, handing it to whichever director was free, having it signed off, and passing that to admin for them to record in three different places. Now, the employee simply requests their holidays on SharePoint which triggers an email to a director, and when it is approved a confirmation email is sent to the employee and also to admin to update their records.
When a serverless, pure cloud solution was decided on, they were able to discard their physical server instead of renewing it with a costly replacement that would only have a lifespan of a few years. Because so many of their employees are on the go and rarely in the office, the accessibility the solution offers the organisation works perfectly for Springfield. Additionally, due to the fact the cloud services they have are based on monthly subscription costs, there are no large upfront expenses involved.
The company’s Account Manager, Bob McKay, says, “What I liked was that we went from a standard solution, which was essentially a box in the corner with a fan and lights, to something completely different. Now, if anything happens to their machines or data, they are always protected. If they want to move offices, they pick up their machines and go, and they’ve got everything.”
Perfect Image first upgraded all of Springfield Centre’s machines to Windows 10 and installed BitLocker. For data security, BitLocker was key. BitLocker is a data encryption tool that meant any files stored on laptops would be secure. Then we connected the machines to Azure Active Directory which created a serverless network and migrated their emails to the cloud via Office 365. This shift to the cloud ultimately resulted in a network with enhanced security with better accessibility. They also have access control and varying levels of access for different people within the organisation.
Angela explains, “The solution of SharePoint was a great option for us in that everything was backed up to the cloud. We have the security, and we have the remote access which we wanted. We’ve got different levels of access for different people in the organisation, and we’re now starting to look at the slightly more advanced tools that SharePoint offers to improve our way of working.”
If employees want to work offline, they can access SharePoint and synchronise the files that they need, and OneDrive for Business works with SharePoint to take a copy of all of the files to their machine. Then, when they are able to connect to the internet, OneDrive again works with SharePoint to resync any changes and handle any collisions of edits from multiple people on one document. It merges the different versions of the document and any changes as much as possible or flag any clashes. This has given Springfield Centre a way for their employees to work collaboratively even when they aren’t in the office together – or even in the same continent.
Angela says of OneDrive: “This meant that people could have files they could work on when they didn’t have internet access – which does occasionally happen for us. They could then sync that back up to the cloud whenever they were back in the UK and back online, so it wouldn’t interrupt workflows and productivity.”
From their workshop, Springfield Centre was made aware of the more advanced and technical features of SharePoint that could be worked towards long term.
Angela explains, “It was a little bit intimidating at first, but we could start to see how those features could be useful for us. Although we knew we would have to take it slow and build up gradually to those things, we definitely could start to see the real benefits of what the system could eventually bring for us.”
On the other benefits of SharePoint, Angela explains, “We’re still on a fairly basic level with it. We’ve still got the one main site that we work on, but we have got a few individual document libraries. At the moment, it’s down to me to work on the development of it so I work on it bit by bit then roll it out any new elements to the rest of the team.”
Springfield Centre is going to continue working on and developing their solution to increase efficiency, improve productivity and promote collaborative work for the benefit of the whole business.
Angela concludes: “In general everybody is pleased with how it is looking and also with the potential that they can see in it as well. The team made it as easy as they possibly could… Everybody we dealt with took their time to explain things, helped us through any difficult bits, and helped us through the issues of having people spread around in terms of location and time. It’s definitely been the right decision, and we would definitely recommend other people go with Perfect Image in the future.”