Lamy increases its operational efficiency thanks to the cloud
Having previously been dependent on its French parent company, the network of estate agents, Lamy, decided to use the cloud to host its data along with its office and business applications, in order to give itself greater operational flexibility. Hosting and services provider: Systemat. The employees of the 4 Belgian agencies are now able to count on better flexibility and responsiveness of their working tools. This has saved time and increased efficiency in providing services to clients.
Lamy, which operates in the property management market, has four agencies in Belgium, mainly specialising in co-ownership syndicates.
It now operates as a subsidiary company of the French group Nexity: a leading name in the French real-estate sector. For a number of years, it was largely dependent on its parent company for its IT solutions, whose procedures and services were implemented and managed in France. This situation put limits on its own business and was not able to satisfy its own specific requirements. Lamy’s managing director, Marc Milcamps, since reached an agreement with the parent company to gain independence in terms of its IT operations.
Rather paradoxically, this repossession was not done by adopting a home-grown solution, but by opting for the cloud strategy. Chosen partner: Systemat.
Objective: Responsiveness and Availability
For a number of years, the procedures and limits set out by the French parent company meant that operations were cumbersome and as a result, Lamy and its employees lacked responsiveness. As well as the slow network connection (lines were rented between each Belgium agency and the IT HQ in France), the management and security rules in place turned every step into a real challenge. This was the case whether it involved working on a file remotely or gaining authorisation to access certain websites. “We estimated that each employee lost two working hours a week as a result”.
With this in mind, along with a degree of apprehension, Marc Milcamps chose the cloud, following Systemat’s advice. “It was a step into the unknown but I have absolutely no regrets about that decision. I now see out-sourcing our databases as the obvious solution. We now enjoy an incredible amount of flexibility. In the past, working remotely posed almost insurmountable problems, but now, we can access our data and applications from anywhere. Our employees can now work from anywhere, even from home if they wish.
Personally, I no longer have to go back to the agency to do every little job, like managing a file, scanning a document or downloading an illustration from a website.
In the past, I was the point of contact for any request or problem even though I don’t really have any IT skills to speak of. Now, all the employees can contact Systemat’s help-line directly.”
Moving onto the cloud helped us to do away with other problems linked to local infrastructure (servers, business software implemented in each agency, local saving procedures, etc.)
From now on, everything is backed-up on the cloud. Business applications (co-ownership syndicates, asset management, transactions and rentals) and databases are centralised and made available to users via Citrix and virtual desktops. This means that they are coherent as well as being easy to maintain and update. All the documents generated by the business software Ecosoft related to syndicates and asset management (emails, reports, records, balances, etc.) are automatically stored on a shared central memory, which is updated remotely and accessible to everyone.
The only exception which still requires local (temporary) storage is the application for the management of co-ownership’s general meetings. “There is not always an internet connection available in the places where the meetings are held. Therefore, the data is loaded onto the laptop of the co-ownership manager, and then re-exported to the cloud after the meeting”, explained Marc Milcamps.
Infrastructure and services
Systemat dealt with all aspects of the transition onto the cloud. From the analysis of Lamy’s requirements and specific business features to the assistance of users on a daily basis through the helpdesk, as well as everything in between. Notably: providing infrastructure at its datacentre in Luxembourg (individual Active Directory, Exchange and Citrix servers), connections (internet, redundant high speed lines), and local solutions (PC, network, fire-walls, etc.) At the same time, the computers used (desktops and laptops) were updated and provided through a leasing system where they could be bought or replaced at the end of the contract.
Marc Milcamps, Managing Director of Lamy: “the extra flexibility and independence enables us to implement new business functions.”
Pierre Engels, Engagement Sales Specialist at Systemat: “We have taken the time to understand the requirements of all parties involved”.
Marc Milcamps: “Over the course of my career, I have witnessed various service migrations. The fact that this transition to the cloud went so smoothly proves that Systemat prepared the whole operation very well.”
Marc Milcamps: “Moving to the cloud was an essential step. IT is a permanent tool for us, it needs to be available morning, noon and night for every employee.”
Marc Milcamps: “It’s a false economy to try to keep the same computers for over 4 years”.
Pierre Engels: “Choosing a partner also capable of integrating telecommunications systems was key to the success of this project”.
Lamy in brief
- 4 agencies (Antwerp, Uccle, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and Berchem-Sainte-Agathe)
- 72 people, 60 of whom specialise in co-ownership syndicates.
- Management of co-ownership syndicates, syndicates for retirement homes, asset management of private real property, rentals and transactions.
- Portfolio of property: almost 20,000 properties including houses, offices, apartments and businesses.
A smooth on-boarding to Cloud
The performance of our athletes at this summer's London Olympics is still fresh in all our minds, and for the COIB (Belgian Olympic Committee) and its communication unit, it has undoubtedly been the biggest event of 2012. But in the spring, with this major event looming, the COIB opted to switch its IT infrastructure to the Systemat Cloud, a somewhat risky decision in terms of the timing but one that in the end proved to be a winning choice.
With a limited workforce of 25 full-time staff, the COIB is classed as an SME, albeit one with quite specific requirements, due firstly to the peaks of activity linked to the sporting calendar and secondly to its responsibility for an especially elite group (top-level athletes). "The COIB's chief remit is to support high-level sport. And on account of the stakes involved and the sacrifices made by our best athletes in order to reach the top, it's a very advanced and demanding field", explains Luc Rampaer, the COIB's communication manager. "We also have to manage numerous different target groups to whom we must respond rapidly and efficiently, namely athletes, coaches, sports federations, sponsors, journalists, etc."
So it's not hard to understand why the COIB needs its computer infrastructure to be as reliable and high-performance as its athletes. "Information technology is one of the cornerstones of our organisation. Our activity requires rapid access to information, especially during events like the Olympic Games, when it's all hands on deck for the duration!", Luc Rampaer emphasises. "We also have to meet the mobility needs of our staff and be capable of smoothly integrating seasonal staff into our network so that the team can be reinforced during peak periods."
The choice of a local IT partner
As is often the case with SMEs, the COIB does not have an internal IT team. The choice of working with an external partner was therefore a given. "We're well aware of our needs, but we require constant support in terms of monitoring and also tailored advice, because IT is a complex area that's constantly evolving. We've experienced a few difficulties in the past with partners who were undoubtedly less suited to our scale than Systemat. For us, it's important to work with a reliable partner for whom we really count. That's the case with Systemat, who provide us with a service closely tailored to our needs, particularly its helpdesk team (Assist-Line), which is accessible to all our users and outside the standard time slots too."
Why Cloud Computing?
For the COIB as for most organisations, the issue of whether to switch to Cloud cropped up when they were looking to replace their old infrastructure. Should they purchase a server and workstations? Or should they "reach for the clouds"?
Luc Rampaer underlines the main reasons that led the COIB to launch its IT system in Cloud: "First and foremost was the need for mobility, to be able to access our data easily irrespective of time or place. At the Beijing Olympics, we had quite a few problems and we felt it was important to prevent their recurrence."
Another key factor in the COIB's choice was the relative ease of making the transition from a "traditional" infrastructure to Cloud: "Systemat has provided us with comprehensive support on this project and, most importantly, reassured us regarding their ability to anticipate events. One good tip I would give other companies thinking of switching to Cloud would be to choose an "off-peak" period as it's vital to prepare things well, analyse the firm's particularities, reassure staff by arranging a short training session, etc. We did the opposite by making the switch just before the Olympics... it was a source of stress at certain times but, in the end, it proved to be the right decision. The switch to Cloud brings incomparable ease of use, access to everything from everywhere and, eventually, major time savings for users!"
The fact that quite a few SMEs are still apprehensive about Cloud is primarily due to the sense of loss of control linked to the delocalisation of data. Luc Rampaer: "On the contrary, our experience is a feeling of increased security since the move to Cloud, especially in terms of back-up, where the current solution is considerably more secure than our previous one."
"In terms of nice surprises, we should also mention Systemat's ability to carry all of our standard and specific applications in Cloud, such as our SIMS database developed in Access 2007. Cloud also permits the use of less sophisticated workstations, as the bulk of the calculation operations take place at the server level. This has enabled us to invest more in laptops, with no increase in budget. Finally, we no longer have to concern ourselves with new versions of software, as these are available automatically via Systemat's Cloud."
- Comparison between the London Olympics and those in Beijing:
- Facilitated data access - "to all data, from everywhere"
- Easier information-sharing
- Gains in terms of time & convenience
Points for attention:
- Need for support from an experienced partner
- Anticipation of and good preparation for the launch phase
- Reassurance of users via a training session
- Making full use of Assist-Line to resolve day-to-day problems