Business inspection: A spacious and secure IT set-up

By Richard Stuart-Turner, Monday 26 January 2015

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Migrating IT to a hybrid cloud system boosted Romax’s security, scalability and ability to collaborate.

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Dowding (right): "As your business grows, it can grow with you"

The challenge

The thought of walking into the office one morning to find that your IT system has gone into meltdown overnight is likely to send shivers down the spine of even the most hardy print director.

With a robust IT infrastructure now at the heart of any modern business, it’s absolutely vital that everything is backed up regularly, even multiple times. This helps to ensure that customer work and details, along with anything else a business might store on a computer, are easily recoverable in the face of disaster.

Greenwich-based marketing services and direct mail specialist Romax had been using the Windows 2003 file server for the past few years. But conscious that the product will be unsupported from July 2015, meaning that security patches and updates will no longer be provided, the company directors realised that in order to keep files safe, secure and backed up it was time to get up to date.

Around a year ago the business first looked into overhauling its IT infrastructure. It set about looking at the various options on the market with one of the main criteria being that its customers’ data could be kept safely and securely on-site at Romax.

“Everything we do within the business revolves around data so we have to give reassurance to our clients that their data is protected with us,” says operations and technology director Wesley Dowding.

The method

After carrying out a strategic review of its existing IT system, Romax researched the market and ultimately focused on three options: replacing its old local server with a more modern equivalent or investing in either Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps for Work cloud storage options.

“We could have gone and bought a new server and done exactly what we’d done before but that wouldn’t have given us any of the cloud benefits of resilience, flexible working and collaborative working across sites,” says Dowding.

After consulting with its third-party IT advisers, and deciding that it needed to retain the flexibility and abilities of Microsoft software such as Excel and Access, Romax selected the Office 365 hybrid cloud infrastructure. This system has enabled the firm to store files, documents and quotations on the internet, but keep customer data secure on-site.

“We take any potential hacker issues away by keeping data within our own premises and environment. It is however backed up through a secure Windows Azure server in real time and also backed up online,” explains Dowding.

Deployment began in March 2014 and the transfer of the files to the cloud server and the accompanying Windows Azure back-up system was fully completed by November.

The firm’s staff all played a major part in the system migration. Dowding and managing director Robin Sumner made sure that they were well informed about the reasons for making the switch and encouraged them to share their opinions about it. 

“The migration of documents was really down to the business and the people in it. As with any business, certainly one that’s been going as long as we have, we have documents that were all over the place in terms of their branding, how long they’d been there and whether or not they were useful anymore. It wasn’t just for me to decide that we weren’t going to transfer certain files,” explains Dowding.

“Everyone in their particular areas had to have their input into how we were going to do our housekeeping, tidy everything up and only take everything over that really needed to be taken.”

The directors held training sessions with staff and Sumner reports that everyone got to grips with the new infrastructure quickly and easily.

“The only difference was a change of habits. Where we used to save something to a server, we now just save it onto [web application platform] SharePoint. Automatically we have got fewer documents, the originals stay correct and everyone can track where the originals are. There’s a clear log showing what has changed, by whom and why.”

The cost of the hybrid cloud system investment was dearer in the short term than buying a new local server would have been, according to Sumner. However, he reports that the investment will work out cheaper in the long run, and that the additional benefits are more than worth the extra capital outlay.

“The initial spend was about £17,000 and we also have an ongoing contract with the IT support company that comes in at about £2,500 a month,” he says. 

“Some people might see that as quite an outlay but everyone’s now working on the same IT platform and each time a new Microsoft Office suite, item or product comes out we get it automatically; there’s no additional outlay on top of that.

“We also have much better internal communications and efficiencies so you have to look at it as a holistic company vision and implementation plan rather than just an IT back-up.”

The firm’s new IT infrastructure has also increased its protection against virus attacks.

Dowding explains: “We have a two-level back-up for our data as we also back up in real time from our servers. If a virus were to get into our IT network, which is very unlikely because we have up-to-date Windows Intune security, it would also affect the real-time Windows back-up too. So we also back up that online in the staggered format so it can always go back to a state just before the virus attack.”

The result

Dowding says the business has already started to reap the numerous benefits of implementing its hybrid cloud storage system.

“The cloud comes into its own for storing company documents, ranging from business templates all the way through to quotations. So if we’re out on the road we can access all of that easily using Office 365 and SharePoint,” he says. 

“Our salespeople don’t have to wait until they get back into the office to raise a quotation if they’ve been on the road. It gives us an enormous amount of flexibility and also allows us to respond quickly.”

Hybrid cloud storage has also given Romax significantly increased flexibility, enabling the firm to allow staff to work from home if appropriate or necessary, ensuring that business needs can be met at all times.

“The cloud solution also gives us the ability to be able to collaborate even if we’re not in the same building,” reports Dowding.

“We can work on a document at the same time and we can use communications such as Microsoft Lync, with which we can instant message clients and each other, make video calls and do whiteboarding, all over the internet.”

Another benefit the system has brought to the firm is that a full-time member of staff who used to spend around 90% of his working hours checking and backing up the old IT infrastructure has now been freed up to do other things.

“As all backing up is now automated that person can now do more productive jobs. For an SME that’s a big thing, almost like employing a new person,” says Dowding.

Office 365 cloud infrastructure has also brought scalability to Romax, with the included OneDrive business account providing the company with unlimited space and capacity for files.

“As your business grows, it can grow with you. And if our computers were to die we would just get another license given to us and wouldn’t lose any of our software,” says Dowding.

Ultimately, this business move has given Romax the peace of mind that it could now quickly resume its operations with minimal disruption in even the worst case IT scenario, leaving its customers with the confidence that their work is in the safest of hands. 


Vital statistics Romax

Location Greenwich, London

Inspection host Managing director Robin Sumner and operations and technology director Wesley Dowding

Size Turnover: Just under £4m; Staff: 25; Premises size: 836sqm 

Established 1997

Products Digital print, direct mail, direct marketing, cross-media, data management, design, online communications 

Kit Xerox iGen 150, Xerox DocuColour 8000, two Xerox Nuvera 120 mono printers, Xerox 4127 mono printer, Horizon AFC-566FG cross-folder, Perfecta guillotine, two CMC Pratica polywrap machines  

Inspection focus Moving your IT infrastructure to the cloud


TOP TIPS

Be aware of how up-to-date your current IT infrastructure is as it will help determine whether you need to renew it. “Firms running the Windows 2003 server, like we were, won’t have any more support from Microsoft or any more security patches from July this year,” says operations and technology director Wesley Dowding.

Consider whether you would be able to recover from a major IT disaster with your current infrastructure. “One of the major priorities when we built the infrastructure was that we would be able to continue to service our clients if the worst were to happen,” says Dowding.

Do your research in order to select the most suitable choice for your business. There are numerous options, each with its own unique features and benefits.

Partner with an IT company you can trust. “I would recommend anybody going down this route to partner with somebody who understands how to migrate to a system like this,” says Dowding.

Include your staff in the consultation process. “Get everybody on board and involved right from the onset. Someone is going to have an issue, suggestion or problem so if you can allay that fear from an early stage then everyone will adopt it from the beginning,” says managing director Robin Sumner.

Have a migration plan in place to ensure that the transition to the cloud goes smoothly. And have a back-up plan for each stage of the migration to prevent anything from going wrong.

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