Leveraging technology

Sep 09, 2019

If you’re looking to grow your firm, be diligent and adaptable in finding the IT system that suits your needs.

Adopting new technology is vital to support the growth of any firm. Being adaptable and open to new technologies can set a quickly-growing company up for success while refusing to evolve with technology can spell failure.

Mead & Hunt has learned this lesson firsthand. Our company is in the middle of a growth spurt. In the last 25 years, we’ve grown from two offices to more than 35, and from 130 employees to more than 750. Our revenue has increased tenfold, from $13 million to $136 million annually. We have an ambitious vision for our future involving intense growth. We could not achieve this without strategically applying new technologies.

To achieve our growth goals, we needed to be able to bid on projects regardless of their location, and we needed to be able to access the very best talent from across the nation. We also needed to consider the cultural shift towards telecommuting we were seeing in our industry. Employees need files, software, and resources available immediately, no matter where they are working, and expectations of speed, safety, and accuracy continue to rise.

We needed to identify and implement a solution that met our company’s extensive and evolving needs. The task seemed daunting, but by breaking it into smaller steps, we were able to succeed.

  • Evaluate the company’s needs. Our IT team manages the needs of a widespread network of architects, engineers, and technical professionals. They needed the ability to send extremely large, graphic files to clients and partnering firms across the country. In addition, our staff were demanding software speed that matched previous experiences even while working out in the field – or anywhere else. Physical workstations have a great user experience but are time-consuming and expensive to deploy and manage. They require costly hardware and take a long time to get up and running, so they limit our ability to pursue projects where we do not have a branch office. To meet our growth goals, we needed to be able to work from anywhere a project takes us. Physical workstations were just not cutting it. We knew we needed to completely overhaul our IT infrastructure.
  • Be adaptable if a solution doesn’t pan out. The first solution we tried was on-premises virtual desktop infrastructure. VDI is technology that hosts a desktop operating system on a centralized server. Hosting the VDI on-premises required massive capital expenditures just to get the first workstation up and running, and the ongoing maintenance needed a lot of IT resources. After a month in production, I received feedback that user productivity had dropped 15 percent – exactly the opposite of what we were trying to achieve. We needed a new approach.
  • Explore a different approach. After much trial and error, we found a solution called Workspot that used a different approach: cloud-native Desktop-as-a-Service. DaaS is a form of VDI which is outsourced and handled by a third party, so it is supplied complete and ready to operate. This solution would not work for every firm, but it worked for our needs: with many small offices and field work, this solution fits our niche need to produce high-level work from anywhere. With a cloud-native DaaS approach, we can run high-performance workstations in regions across the nation, and easily deploy new cloud workstations around the world. This allows us to be extremely agile – we can get a new office up and running within minutes. This also means that we are more prepared in terms of disaster recovery: if an office were to burn down, we could be back online within five minutes, thus saving valuable time and money. Finally, the solution was really a no-brainer when it comes to cost. After crunching the numbers, it was shown that implementing cloud workstations would save our firm $42,000 over five years. Sold! Now, we were ready to put it to a performance test.
  • Test it out! We launched a pilot of Workspot Workstation Cloud on Microsoft Azure, which is a Microsoft service created for building and testing applications and services through Microsoft-managed data centers. This was up and running in just a few days. We were surprised but happy to find that the cloud workstations performed the same or better than our high-end physical workstations. There could be absolutely no compromises on performance for our power users, and Workspot passed the crucial test in providing a great experience for them. Unlike the other solutions we evaluated, there were no upfront capital expenses, and there was no infrastructure to maintain. Our employees can be creative and productive from anywhere. We can hire people based on talent, expertise, and skill without being limited by their geographic location. If Mead & Hunt opens a new branch office, our use of cloud workstations allows us to do it faster and at a significantly lower cost than before.

End result? Through our adoption of a cloud-native approach, we have been able to keep up with our ambitious growth goals. My IT team is happy, the design engineers are happy, and we get a consistent cost every month. Our IT costs remain stable even as we are growing at least 15 percent per year. Our network is better protected, and we’ve been able to improve our disaster preparedness. Additional workstations are ready to be activated in an alternate Azure region in the (unlikely) event of an Azure outage, providing peace of mind and protecting productivity.

My team and I are excited to find that next innovation that will give us the edge we need to continue to grow. Does this solution make sense for every firm? Definitely not. However, I believe it could become more common in the future and adopting this approach could eventually help with external collaboration with teaming partners and clients. We live in an exciting time – technology continues to develop ways for us to get more done faster. I look forward to seeing where it takes us in the future.

As CIO/Vice President, Andy Knauf securely connects Mead & Hunt professionals with clients and each other. As head of the Information Technology Department, he stays on top of the latest technologies, overseeing IT-related purchasing, anticipating future network needs and security, and identifying proactive solutions. Contact him at andy.knauf@meadhunt.com.

Share or reference important data related to IT in the AEC industry in Zweig Group’s 2019 Information Technology Survey of AEC Firms.

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