Australian accountancy firm removes phones in favour of Skype for Business

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 15 August 2016
Australian accountancy firm removes phones in favour of Skype for Business

According to Bradley Kay, CIO at full service Australian accounting and advisory firm Pitcher Partners, the function of IT is all about empowering people. “We changed our perspective to think more about the IT services we deliver as if we were walking in the shoes of our clients and our people.  Simplifying the corporate IT experience for staff and ensuring they have the tools and information they need to be productive where ever they are means we are more likely to bring the best to our clients.”

In an article for Microsoft Australia, Kay explains: “To successfully change the experience for staff meant we had to fundamentally change the nature of IT and create a different culture.  We set about developing a culture of collaboration and innovation and started by adopting the mindset that ‘we’re not in the business of running IT, we’re in the business of empowering people’.”

“We stopped talking about boxes and wires, and started talking about business goals.  Of course it didn’t stop here, changing culture is hard work and takes time.”

Two years in, a lot has changed, particularly when it comes to communications. “Client-facing staff working in remote locations across the county were disconnected from each other, from the day-to-day events in the office and the culture of the firm. It’s been our goal to make our staff have in office experience, wherever they are and provide solutions that allow them to work effectively, from anywhere on any device.”

As part of making this happen, Pitcher Partners changed the management of their mobile fleet, implemented Microsoft Direct Access, together with Skype for Business, and removed all handsets from desks.

As Kay explains, “All partners and staff now using Skype for Business. No-one has a handset anymore and we’re receiving proactive feedback from staff that they’re able to work from home and client sites in a way that was never possible before. We have partners travelling interstate or internationally all the time and now we have them running solely off their mobile devices. They’re infinitely more productive.”

In outlining the goals for this transformation, Kay calls out greater mobility, as well as the need to simplify user experience and consolidate providers. But first he had to overcome fears that a solution like Skype for Business, wouldn’t work, or would be too big and too complex to undertake.

“Surprisingly those fears were unfounded.  Although it was important to do our homework, for example understand the key elements of our environment that would lead to success, like making the right choices with equipment and the robustness of the network.  The approach we took to pilot to small groups and expand gradually, meant end to end we were faster to deploy and although it created some complexity with coexistence of two phones systems, it helped us identify and overcome major technical challenges early on without disruption to the business.”

From pilot stage to completion, the full implementation process of Skype for Business took between 4 months, in partnership with Qtec Systems, and concluded in April, 2016. Today, the whole firm is using the service.

As Harry Tsockallos, head of the project management office and IT operations at Pitcher Partners explains: “It was a big jump for a lot of the partners, not having a desk phone, so it took some change management on our part. Once they were able to use it, and realised the ease in doing so, the feedback has been great.”

One of the standout benefits of the implementation of Skype for Business has been a reduction in telephone and hosting charges. Pitcher Partners has been able to simplify user experience for partners and staff, including video conferencing.

Kay explains: “We removed our dedicated video conferencing solution totally in favour of Skype for Business, so we have the same user point and click experience on the laptop, mobile and video conference room.  No need to call IT to set up a video conference anymore.  We’re also saving money, not only on the phone bill, but we removed 100 percent of the costs associated with our hosted video conference service.”

In terms of indirect cost savings, Kay continues, “We’re now seeing a decline in the volume of email since deploying Skype for Business and will monitor this with interest!  But also with the mobility we have now we don’t force people to be physically in the office in order to collaborate which practically translates into reduced need to travel back from client sites, reduced wasted time local travel costs and more time with our clients.  We’ve even had partners join team meetings via Skype on a mobile device in the back of a cab between clients.”

Kay is seeing staff behaviours change. “Since moving to this new voice solution, we’re noticing a trend in staff using more video conferencing calls, more chat and IM rather than email, more desktop sharing, and more staff using calendars in a smarter way to show their presence.”

Pitcher Partners is now regularly running national training sessions on Skype for Business so staff across the country.

There were some challenges in getting to the call flow management needed, as Tsockallos explains: “We have very different requirements in the firm for senior executives and partners, and many of them need calls to be answered or diverted at different times of the day. This means that for around 10 percent of the firm, call flows can get reasonably complicated, and it’s hard to make things work as expected.  We pushed Skype for Business to its limits when it came to call flow management, however it has been able to meet our needs.”

And Skype for Business hasn’t been the only success story for Pitcher partners, Direct Access has also made its mark. “Direct Access, I can’t rave enough about. For such a small change, there has been such a huge impact on our firm. It’s been an awesome tool for us,” Kay says.

The strategic partnership with no signs of slowing

“We are attempting to leverage the Microsoft platform as much as we can and I must say, our experience over the last couple of years has been overwhelmingly positive.  Almost everything we have tried with Microsoft has worked remarkably well. Perhaps better than expected.”

A key element to Pitcher Partner’s success has been the way they set up and leveraged their Microsoft Enterprise Agreement.

“In our journey so far, Microsoft has been a strategic partner; they’ve helped us think differently about our existing investments and how we could make progress with stuff we already had.  It’s not only the big picture where this helped though, it also helped us keep a sharp focus on the small changes that can make a big difference.”

While Pitcher Partners are already running CRM Online, Yammer, OneNote and OneDrive, Kay and his team will continue to focus on leveraging Microsoft’s cloud platform.

“We see that Office 365 and Azure as a big part of our future, not only in terms of productivity, but it will also help us augment our infrastructure and manage our growth. I suspect we will also adopt Azure to run our national and international apps and help us with our plans for machine learning.”

“We’re experimenting with things now that could change the way we do business.”

“Looking to the future, we’re still pursuing our mantra, ‘make us faster, make us more mobile.’  For us, this is grounded in hyper-connectivity and simplicity to ensure we create client experiences that matter.”

 


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