Over the years, it became increasingly evident to us that the multitude of servers and applications we had were costly and complicated to operate and, overtime, had a tendency to get more so, rather than less so. Compound this with a diverse client need around technology, we risked becoming too internally focused on our IT needs.
We took the plunge late 2012 by setting the objective of having no internal servers, and that all daily activity and information should be available on premise, remotely or while on the move.
Our day-to-day activity means all staff need access to project information, documents and timesheets. Also, finance and development staff should be able to check out the latest version of the source code for a software development, easily monitor and track client needs, generate invoices, manage accounts and communicate effectively within a project team, as well as with clients.
Our environment encompassed a wide range of internal and external servers, holding everything such as Active Directory, SharePoint, Shared Drives, Exchange Server, Remote Desktop access, synchronisation software for mail and calendars, best-of-breed applications for timesheet capture, accounting, software development, and so on. On the desktop, the major software in use is Microsoft Office, plus an additional suite of specialist software to allow communication, collaboration, file sharing and file synchronisation, catered for staff working from our offices and client’s offices.
In our assessment of the cloud options, we quickly realised that it was possible to achieve our objective. However, it would require a change in our thought process on how functionality should be delivered and run and, in some cases, for us to forgo certain niceties for the greater good of flexibility.
The biggest change was the realisation that most of our best-of-breed applications were being used only to a maximum of 20% of their functional capability. It raised the obvious question whether we could do away with some applications and replace them with more basic generic capability? In most cases the answer was, yes, we could. So, we removed our CRM, CMS, time tracker, project tracker, client portal and shared drive and replaced all with basic SharePoint (Office 365 version) capability and document libraries. Yes, we lost a couple of features and there were some issues, but none that were too important. The upside was massive and still is. We achieved flexibility and information availability, independent of location, platform or device.
Our accounting system was more challenging; it was the one piece of technology we could not afford to reduce functionality on. Fortunately, we found a cloud-based solution with relative ease that ended up giving us more functionality. This, in turn, allowed us to retire our standalone timesheet system in favour of an add-on that integrated seamlessly with our new cloud-based accounting system.
Our monster of a shared drive got the boot as well, by making it read-only and implementing a common-sense policy for the movement of key files into SharePoint document libraries for projects and client proposals, and management.
Our website was migrated to Office 365 that pretty much had everything we needed with the added benefit that changes could be administered within the same UI and change control environment as the rest of our information (update – as of late 2014 Microsoft made a decision not to support public websites from within Office365, they are phasing out over 2 years; this means we’ll be moving our public facing content to another cloud platform over the next year).
We simplified our Active Directory, desktop software distribution, mail, calendars and shared drive access by replacing our Small Business Server installations with an Office 365 Enterprise Plan and complimented this with SkyDrive, where necessary. This really saved us a lot of time and effort and made for much easier management of our environment. Finally we rationalized our software code control, code deployment onto remote virtualised servers and cloud-based source control and backup.
The end result
No internal servers and Office 365 Enterprise Plan for the bulk of our needs. Plus a number of externally managed virtual servers for development purposes and a cloud-based accounting solution linked to project/timesheet tracking.
Whilst we chose to go mainly the route of Office 365, there are other cloud offerings available that achieve similar objectives. As for us, we needed to stick within the Microsoft suite of technologies because of our reliance on the Office toolset and some of the server technologies like SharePoint; however, we feel a similar result could have been achieved within Google.
The positive results of our move to the cloud is a substantial reduction in operational cost, more time availability to focus on our clients needs, and a considerable amount of flexibility and mobility in the way we collaborate and share information.
The downside is that we have forgone some functionality, performance over the internet can on occasion be a bit slow and in some respects the cloud offerings we use are clunky and are noticeable early versions of a new paradigm.
However, overall the positives far outweigh the negatives and we suspect as time passes the cloud functionality will mature more. Also, network performance can be addressed in a number of ways if needed.