INFINITY supports a Midlands-based firm of accountants to invest in upgrading its IT infrastructure to combat cyber threats and protect client data.
Data Security/Compliance Project of the Year
Entry Description
Howards Chartered Certified Accountants, which employs almost 40 staff at its office in Stafford, has installed a site-wide connected mobility solution with enterprise-class security.
INFINITY carried out the installation, which included an on-site private cloud solution with multi-factor authentication (MFA), layer 7 security firewall and industry-leading end point detection and response, all monitored by a 24/7 and 365 days a year off-site service centre.

Howards’ Managing Director, Matt Bailey said: “The UK is now the most targeted nation for cyberattacks and as a professional services firm handling payroll, pension and taxation and dealing with mergers and acquisitions as well as litigation matters, we hold a lot of sensitive data. We have always made client confidentiality our priority, but with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force in May last year, data privacy was taken to an entirely new level. We have embraced this change and are using it to fuel strategic advancement in our business.”

Howards Accountants needed to modernise their workspace, and increase working mobility allowing their accountants to operate from anywhere in the world. The principal challenge as a financial house was that they are heavily governed by GDPR and regulatory bodies. INFINITY overcame this challenge by creating a private cloud solution enabling Howards to standardise the devices within their office, resulting in; hot-desking and the adoption of a BYOD policy for mobile workers, all without compromising security.

As well as modernisation of their workspace, there was a substantial requirement to progress the skills of the user. Howards Accountants are a well-established and successful firm with a wealth of knowledge and experience enabling them to look after their clients. The Director’s philosophy has always been that IT is an enabler for their staff and the era of digital transformation must be showcased by their business and staff. As a result, there was also a significant investment in the training of their users.

INFINITY designed a state-of-the-art server room, deploying the latest IBM servers and storage to run a sophisticated, fully branded, secure RDS environment; migrating to Microsoft Office365, alongside Microsoft Azure MFA. Business continuity is paramount for all fee-earning businesses, INFINITY addressed this by synchronising Howards data to the Infinity Datacentre. Having an offsite copy of their data, provides them with a level of essential security; nonetheless, being able to run their virtual machines from the offsite copy in full Disaster Recovery mode provides them guaranteed uptime and mobility.

The desired level of mobility was not possible with their legacy network until we replaced it with Cisco Meraki, for additional speed and security. Cisco Meraki were the industry first line cloud-managed access and aggregation switches, that combined the benefits of cloud-based centralised management with a powerful reliable access platform. This enabled Infinity to configure and monitor hundreds of switch ports for Howards instantly over the web, providing a fantastic customer experience in the event of support issues.

As well as replacing the network, INFINITY proposed that Howards standardise their end user devices utilising HP thin clients in the office space. Thin clients are protected from the use of unauthorised software, and greatly assist with the prevention of viruses. In addition, the adoption of thin client technology ensured that data cannot be copied to a disk or saved to any other location other than the server, which is a fundamental requirement for compliance within this hotly scrutinised finance sector.

Ultimately, INFINITY are required to provide a fantastic service to our client and this technology ensured that centralised processing made it easier to both manage and monitor their system and provide a far quicker return to service if an issue was discovered. Progressing the user’s skills was greatly assisted with standardisation of devices and as an additional benefit, Howards introduced large touch-screen 85” devices in meeting rooms for collaboration.

Furthermore, the solution enabled Howards to overcome a substantial industry hurdle by implementing encryption and information control exploiting AzureRMS. This ensured that Howards data is encrypted at the application level and includes a policy that defines the authorised use for that document. When a protected document is used by a legitimate user or it is processed by an authorised service, the data in the document is decrypted and the rights that are defined in the policy are enforced. This solution massively reduced costs for Howards and enabled them to maximise their return on investment, without having to heavily invest further. This was in stark contrast to other Accountancy firms who overspent with Major payroll vendors, but gave Howards the additional benefit that their solution covers all of their documentation and not just payroll.

INFINITY manage all deployments with the utmost diligence and making such a vast change to a fee earning business needed to go smoothly. Whatever the requirement may be, from software and servers to networks or client machines, making changes to any IT estate can be a complicated process - particularly like this case with Howards. INFINITY were able to guide Howards when deciding what services were right for them and provide them with a solution to shape the future of their business. Taking the time to understand their business whilst providing them with a fully-outsourced managed service and understanding how they operate in order to provide the business with insightful advice, that they could use to ensure that all of their needs are met right now whilst provisioning for the future.

Following the Microsoft enablement process a Microsoft Teams group was created for all project heads, followed by a project kick of meeting. After the project kick off meeting it was decided for maximum adoption and for the success of the project to be truly realised all members of staff were informed of the changes. Involving the staff in the process had a profound effect.

A proof of concept was completed with particular attention paid to Howards core applications, accessibility and global printing to ensure any hurdles were overcome before adoption.
Howards aren’t the most technically astute, in the past having had multiple machines and no continuity created various support challenges. That said, communication to staff was paramount so that they understood the changes and how they were going to delivered. All users benefitted from a 1:1 migration and training, with users being able to work anywhere in a recognisable workspace.

INFINITY engineers were onsite throughout the migration, to ensure any issues or training needs were met immediately, with no downtime experienced from any user. The success of the implementation was that no unforeseen obstacles had to be overcome as a result of the POC. Post-deployment, Infinity harvested the user’s satisfaction through Microsoft Forms to feed back to the business the users experience, adoption levels and overall satisfaction.

Accountants need mobility with the mere nature of their job, but Howards Accountants were becoming increasingly restricted by being in the office to perform routine tasks. This proved ineffective and costly. Users are now truly mobile, working anywhere from any device as if they were in the office.

INFINITY were able to provide business continuity as part of the solution with an immediate return to service; if one machine was faulty, users could logon to another device and carry on where they left off. INFINITY were able to position the dramatic overhaul as part of a fully wrapped managed service at an operational monthly cost, providing a lower cost of ownership and allowing everything to be implemented simultaneously - as the true benefits wouldn’t have been reached until the last item was completed.

A benefit that hadn’t been factored was how well the users would receive the technology, with user satisfaction at an all-time high. Downtime is a thing of the past, and users have gone from loathing IT to embracing it. All users have welcomed the improvements and have since become a sounding board for additional future developments.

An additional benefit to the business was Power BI, traditionally the firm has provided their clients with reports for Accounts. The adoption of Office365 has given them the ability to automate reporting, pulling the information into dashboards for easy viewing, saving them both time and money. Staff can now demonstrate client performance face to face in a graphical manner, which has seen remarkable feedback from their clients.

Summary of key outcomes:

• Multi-layer security defence
• Layer 7 protection
• Machine learning based anti-virus
• Around the clock security and performance monitoring (NOC)
• Private cloud consolidated workspace
• Compliance with GDPR and other regulations
• Increased productivity and efficiency
• Significant increase in user engagement
• Near continuous data protection and automated failover (DRaaS)
• Cost and time savings - client reporting automated in Power BI (Office365)
• Increased fee earning ability for the client by circa 12 hours per day
• Digital transformation - 85” touch screens allowing for more collaborative and interactive meetings

Matt Bailey of Howard's feedback: “All our staff now use the same technology with the latest updates on a system that is faster, smarter and accessible from anywhere. We are saving around 12 fee earning hours a day in operational efficiencies and reduced downtime. And, importantly, we can give clients the information they need quicker, safer and more accurately than ever before.”