Shifting the Focus to Long-term, Value-add Projects With a Cloud Environment 

 
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BRE Properties Inc. develops, acquires and manages multifamily apartment communities throughout Arizona, California, Colorado and Washington, USA. In 2004, BRE’s IT group was focusing most of its resources on infrastructure support, leaving minimal time for the development and implementation of business intelligence systems and applications.

“We spent 70 percent of our time on short-term issues like email outages, network attacks, virus clean-up, user support and slow network performance,” said Steve Jensen, BRE’s vice president of information technology. “We wanted to shift our focus to long-term, value-add projects like business intelligence, applications and enhancements.”

To shift that focus, BRE needed a robust IT environment as a backbone. It would need to deliver high availability and uptime, be flexible enough to support the company’s continued growth, and offer reliable access to help improve productivity among 800 employees working in various locations throughout four states.

Additionally, the company also wanted weekend and after-hours support. While BRE had three employees who spent a large part of their day answering tech-support questions, it was not enough to handle the service calls that would ultimately arise outside traditional business hours because a significant percentage of the company’s employees worked weekends and evenings in remote locations.

As the company planned to move its headquarters, BRE’s executives believed the time was right to embark on an upgrade of its technology and processes. The first decision they had to make was whether they could achieve their goals with in-house IT staff and resources. They quickly realized that would not be possible with the approximately 15 IT employees the company had at the time. To build, deploy and maintain the infrastructure that the publicly held company now required, BRE knew it would incur significant capital expenditures and it would have to hire external consultants to develop and build the solution. This process could take several months, and BRE wanted to move more quickly. In addition, to achieve a solution with the redundancy and high availability it desired, it would need deep network and server expertise, as well as proactive management and 24/7 monitoring capabilities.

“Although our IT environment would be supporting mission-critical tasks, we decided that we wanted to outsource the development and management of it in order to focus our attention on business growth,” said Jensen. “Partnering with an expert cloud service provider made much more sense than assigning more resources to build the infrastructure and support users in-house.”

After a thorough review of cloud computing and hosted IT service providers, BRE chose CenterBeam Inc., whose hosted IT services model allowed BRE to access the resources, expertise and tools to deliver and manage the enterprise-class solution it required, and continue to stay up-to-date with the latest technology—all from the cloud.

BRE needed a solution that could easily scale to meet the company’s future growth without significant capital expenditure (CAPEX) investment. It also required a robust IT design for business continuity and disaster recovery, which included its hosted collaboration suite, network and server management and monitoring, server backup, endpoint security, and 24/7 end-user support. The solution covered more than 100 network devices and 770 endpoint devices under management at 44 sites in four US states. It provided services to more than 800 employees—700 of whom received end-user support from CenterBeam—and encompassed more than 850 email boxes and 150 mobile devices/smartphones.

The Results: Savings, Security, Support, Simplicity and Strategy

It took only a matter of weeks to re-architect the real estate company’s network and implement the new hosted IT solution. The fast deployment timeline enabled BRE to start seeing the results almost immediately (figure 1):

Figure 1

  • Savings—By outsourcing in a cloud environment, rather than building an in-house support infrastructure, Jensen believes that the company achieved a significant savings, offsetting operational costs of hardware, software and design; eliminating software and hardware maintenance contracts; maintaining storage and network capacity; and not needing to purchase expendable supplies, such as backup tapes.

    In addition to the financial savings, BRE’s IT staff and employees saved valuable time. Instead of spending time trying to react to network outages or attacks, or answering other employees’ tech support questions, the IT staff could focus on its core mission of developing and supporting business intelligence and applications.

    BRE’s employees at its headquarters and those working from its several remote locations also experienced time savings and improvements in efficiency with the cloud solution. With 24/7 support available, there was virtually no wait if they needed assistance with a technical issue or had a question about how an application worked. In addition, because the service provider is continually updating its solution, BRE employees have access to the most current productivity applications to help them do their jobs with ease.
  • Security—Using the cloud significantly enhanced BRE’s network security through continual updates to security software and constant monitoring of network resources and endpoints. When a virus affects the entire company, the service provider works quickly with BRE to eradicate the threat.

    The improved endpoint security is of particular importance to BRE because its employees are highly reliant on mobile devices to work while on the go or at apartment sites. With this solution pushing out updates and inspecting security policies, all of BRE’s devices—from servers and desktop computers to smartphones—are equally protected from security breaches.
  • Support—BRE now has access to 24/7 live help desk and customer-care support, which accommodates all levels of users, answering questions that range from routine ones asked by less tech-savvy employees to complex queries from power users. Additionally, response time has significantly improved. Calls are answered within 60 seconds, and if online diagnostic tests will take more than 10 minutes, the service provider offers the option of logging back onto employees’ computers after they have left for the day, so worker productivity is not impacted.
  • Simplicity—As BRE continues to add apartment leasing offices across the western United States, its service provider has simplified the IT installations by bringing in staff to help set up each new office.
  • Strategy—Jensen acknowledges that it was hard to imagine how BRE’s 12-person IT staff could have been expected to cover the full spectrum of IT needs—from the base layer architecture to the sophisticated business intelligence and executive dashboard reporting solutions. “We really benefited from a technology partner…to fill in the pieces and provide the expertise that keeps us up to date with fast-moving technological advancements,” Jensen said.

    Now, the time the IT staff spends on infrastructure support has significantly decreased from its previous 70 percent to 30 percent. Jensen said that 70 percent of the IT staff’s time is focused on business intelligence and applications that directly impact the company’s bottom line, instead of dealing with email and virus issues. “Leveraging cloud computing and hosted IT services has allowed us to put the IT focus into a higher value-added arena, and that is huge for us,” he added.

The ability to monitor the health of all of BRE’s network devices and proactively address any problems through the cloud is another valuable service improvement for BRE. “If we do have an outage on a router, our provider is aware of it before we are,” said Jensen. “In the past, we often had to wait for our employees to alert us that they were not getting email, or could not get online, which often lengthened the duration of the outage.”

BRE continues to evolve over time, most recently in 2010, redesigning its network for the second time to help address multiple challenges, such as use of link filtering and endpoint and mobile device management.

Shahin Pirooz, MCP, MCP+I, MCSE, has nearly two decades of experience in operations management, account leadership, project management and customer relationship management. He serves as chief security officer and chief technical officer of CenterBeam. Pirooz has held critical leadership roles with leading organizations, including EDS, with responsibilities for key clients including Palm, Philips, VLSI, Netigy and others. He offers deep technology expertise covering areas such as IT architecture (development, design, planning and implementation), as well as core tools, operating systems and programming languages.


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