by George Nott

Collaboration and clients key as RSM launches ECM in the cloud

May 29, 2016
Business IntelligenceCloud ComputingCollaboration Software

RSM, the world’s seventh largest audit, tax and consulting network, prides itself on its ‘one-firm structure’. In October last year, the group’s network of member firms in 120 countries united behind a singular global brand – RSM.

“This now means that in 730 locations around the world you can see the RSM name [under] one single, unified brand,” explains CIO of RSM in Australia, Paul Joseph.

The real change, however, is not taking place on the surface. Behind the rebrand, a five year IT transformation programme is already underway. When complete, RSM’s 1,000 plus staff in Australia will be working and collaborating in the cloud, assisting clients via a web based portal.

“The aim of the project is to create efficiencies for our staff and simplify information for our clients,” says Joseph.

It will also allow RSM gain insight and find workflow efficiencies in its own business.

“Being a centralised system our team of dedicated engineers will be able to spend less time managing the system and more time in working with the business to extract as much functionality and value as possible,” he adds. “From an IT perspective, our reach means that we need to have access to the information, systems and infrastructure to support our business needs.”

Breaking habits

So far three of RSM’s 29 offices in Australia have been migrated onto the cloud-based central enterprise content management (ECM) system, iManage. Though the change from an IT perspective was no small feat, there’s the added challenge of changing the ways employees work.

“Rather than having free rein of being able to locate or store a document, having that structured approach of where to put a particular file is probably the biggest challenge so far,” says Sam Mannix, RSM’s business engagement and architecture manager.

“It doesn’t sound that major – instead of saving your document onto this file server, you save it onto this system. When you go down into a detailed level … you’re trying to break a routine that dates back 15 or 20 years – it’s not something that will change overnight.”

In order to enhance the search capabilities of the ECM, staff are required to provide additional data when saving documents.

“Once we demonstrate this to employees, it becomes much easier to see the need to change work habits,” says Joseph.

“It’s about showing them, through the search capabilities, they’ll be able to search through that data much quicker,” adds Mannix. “There’s no magical channel to get the message out. Until someone says – ‘I’m sick of you telling me that’ – then we know we’ve achieved the objective of getting the message out!”

Centralised in the cloud

RSM explored the best ways to centralise their ECM and considered setting up their own data centre, but opted for the cloud with Microsoft Azure.

“We were able to stand the infrastructure up in a fraction of the time it would take to procure, configure and stress test hardware on premises,” says Joseph. “Over a four year timeframe we estimated a minor cost saving by going to Azure however that didn’t take into account any costs associated with running local infrastructure.”

“We didn’t even have to get to cooling and power and maintenance,” adds Mannix. “Not only would it have cost us far more, but from a disaster recovery perspective, we would have also been susceptible to power fluctuations and outages which meant we’d essentially need two data centres. So we were able to take that complexity out and have a higher level of disaster recovery by hosting it into Azure.”

Every second counts

With accountants charging in six minute units, there is no time to waste. Throughout the programme, including the migration to the cloud and centralising the ECM, maintaining speed is essential. RSM executives mandated that performance during peak periods had to be, at a minimum, the same in the cloud as it had been on-site.

“From the outset, our number one concern was speed. For our accountants to sit there and have to wait for a document to download would have been unacceptable – the project would have been a failure,” says Mannix.

The company adopted the Riverbed Application Performance Platform, including a new controller and appliances. Riverbed’s Steelhead CX was also used to optimise documents going in and out of the cloud.

“It gave us the metrics we needed to see how frequently documents were transferred between the offices. We were able to use these insights from our local servers to scope our future planning,” says Mannix.

Crucially, there’s been no degradation in performance.

“Not only have we been able to maintain the same performance, but we have lowered our operational costs because we’re seeing a two times reduction in traffic,” he adds.

“Staff have noticed the change in how they work, but not a change in speed from a local file server at local speed. By maintaining the same speed I think we’ve done a tremendous job.”

Exciting future

As the peak end-of-financial-year period approaches, the team will be closely monitoring performance in the offices already migrated.

“Having a single, structured approach to storing information will allow our teams to store, recall and search client information in an efficient manner,” says Joseph.

“Extending this with our collaboration and automation phases will allow us to work more closely with our clients and ultimately deliver an outcome to the client in a shorter timeframe. The future looks exciting!”