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Property firm flips to Azure to mobilise business processes

Property consultancy Strutt and Parker engaged cloud services provider 3GI to upgrade its IT systems to Microsoft Azure as more clients demanded a mobile-first approach

London-based property consultancy Strutt and Parker has switched its IT estate over to the Microsoft Azure Cloud as part of a refresh designed to mobilise its widely-distributed business.

With a history dating back 125 years and some clients that have been doing business with it for about the same length of time, Strutt and Parker specialises in property and estate services, with four service lines: estate agency; commercial consultancy; land ownership, management, farming and agronomy; and planning development and valuations, permissions, and general advisory services.

Many of its clients, who are, generally speaking, high net worth individuals own multiple properties, plots of land and even country estates, located all over the UK. For this reason, Strutt and Parker has evolved into a highly distributed business with 60 offices.

“We are not aiming our IT systems solely at the residential market,” said the firm’s head of IT, Shaun Spalding. “We wanted to try to build something that would enable collaboration across all four lines of business.

“The financial director of a major corporation might have a home in London, maybe some business properties, maybe a pied-à-terre elsewhere.”

In planning the firm’s system upgrade, Spalding took the lead from how customers were telling the company they wanted to interact with it. Generally speaking, they wanted to be able to engage over mobile, and take advantage of on-site services in the field.

“We are not a normal estate agent, we are at the high end, and at that level we have to be able to provide bespoke, tailored services to our clients,” he said.

Strutt and Parker had been running a traditional outsourced datacentre service, with a managed service wrap, which was coming up for review at the end of a five-year contract. This gave Spalding the impetus to re-evaluate whether maintaining the same sort of approach to IT was appropriate looking ahead.

“Five years ago, it was right to go into a serviced datacentre, but with the amount of change that has happened in the market, I started to question how best to deal with that,” he said. “I decided that actually the cloud was maybe a more appropriate strategy to take us through the next five years.

“Mobile was key to that because our consultants are in the field, in front of customers, and want to be able to start documents in the office, finish them on the train, and show them to the client on their device. We needed seamless applications and access to our files.”

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Spalding turned to IT consultancy 3GI to manage the transition into the cloud, partly because of its experience in running systems for luxury retailers, which he said gave him the confidence that it could manage the synergies for a business where the customer was king, sometimes literally.

He examined a number of other medium-sized providers, but found they tended to have legacy datacentre offerings with cloud services as a bolt-on option. A born-in-the-cloud business was much more appealing, given Strutt and Parker’s decision to start over, said Spalding.

“With 3GI, it was fully cloud-based,” he said. “They started from scratch with service wraps around Azure, and used existing customers to demonstrate it.”

3GI managing director Terry Lewis agreed that being a smaller provider gave his firm some advantages, particularly because the integrator has tended to be overlooked by large enterprises.

“Unlike most larger providers, our ability to demonstrate the technology Strutt and Parker wanted to use counted for us,” he said. “Bigger providers can’t necessarily do that because their larger clients don’t jump themselves.”

Spalding added: “We are a very collegiate organisation with a family feel, so we wanted to remove the perception that we were just using a third-party outsourcer.”

Three-year deal with Gamma

At the same time, Strutt and Parker has engaged business comms supplier Gamma on a three-year, £2m contract that will see it take over its existing wide area network (WAN) and fixed and mobile voice services, migrating them into Gamma’s Horizon cloud-based voice service and its new mobile network.

The services have been set up to be delivered over Gamma’s next-gen multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) data network, which will also give Strutt and Parker an interconnect into its Azure installation.

It is also rolling out Microsoft’s mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management and PC management platform, Intune.

With 60 different sites, Spalding said the switchover process has moved at varying speeds, but given the scale of the work being undertaken, alongside the network upgrade, things have gone well so far, with most of the transition taking place during September 2016.

Even before that, Strutt and Parker was already beginning to see some of the benefits, particularly in terms of laying the groundwork for future projects, he said.

“The building blocks are in place for things like hosted voice,” he added. “When we want to try something new in the future, it’s already there. We don’t need new hardware, and nothing is a separate project any more.”

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