How Technology Enabled ERM’s Employees to Work from Anywhere

A remote-first workforce presents challenges for IT. It’s one thing to download a file using the office network. It’s an entirely different experience when trying to download that same file from halfway around the world. Ian Trueman, Director of IT Operations at ERM, faced exactly that situation as more end-users began working from home.

This ONUG Fall 2020 session presents how ERM addressed the increased demand on its distributed network. Alison Hubbard, VP of Product Marketing for Riverbed, joined Ian Trueman to discuss how Riverbed contributed to ERM’s improved network and application performance. They began the session with an introduction to both Riverbed and ERM.

Riverbed

Headquartered in San Francisco, Riverbed offers hardware and software focused on network and application performance. Their solutions include WAN optimization, application acceleration, software-defined WANs, and network performance management. The company helps businesses address the unique opportunities of delivering quality performance even through the last mile.

Its products operate across cloud providers, networks, and applications. Riverbed can help with the cloud-based implementation of applications such as Microsoft Office 365 or Salesforce. The goal is to ensure network and application performance.

ERM

Environmental Resources Management (ERM) provides environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services to a global market. ERM also offers sustainability-related services to the world’s leading organizations. As a consultancy firm, they deliver solutions to help companies understand and manage their sustainability challenges.

ERM operates in more than 40 countries with 5,500 individuals at more than 160 offices. Their locations range from major metropolitan areas such as Sydney, London, and Houston to less industrialized nations such as Myanmar and Mozambique.

The Way It Was

Before 2017, ERM’s IT infrastructure mirrored its business model. Consultants worked in local offices, some of which would be considered remote. However, no employees really worked from home. Data was decentralized, with much of it being held at local offices throughout the world. 

Decentralized Data

Since much of ERM’s deliverables were extensive environmental or safety reports, the final documents were quite large. Many of the reports included pictures, graphs, and charts, which increased the size of the document file. However, there was no easy way to transfer large data files to a centralized location. Networks were not designed to carry such large files from locations half-way around the world.

Local offices were responsible for backing up data to tape and forwarding it to a central location. The process was time-consuming and labor-intensive. It created significant overhead for IT. Personnel had to remind offices to back up data and to make sure it went to a central location. 

Duplicate Data

When the number of offices in the United Kingdom, for example, grew from four to ten, it was difficult to know which office had the most current data for a given project. As employees struggled to determine which office had the latest information, IT was tasked with helping to determine the most recent copies based on file dates. The situation created confusion and slowed down critical timelines.

The lack of a single source of truth within the network disrupted business operations. Multiple offices could be involved, and hours spent trying to reconcile data. It was a frustrating mode of operation.

The Way It Is

In 2017, ERM began its process to centralize its data and improve office performance. Using Riverbed’s Steelhead solution, ERM was able to improve office-to-office performance. With improved performance, they began the process of moving files to a central location. Even the more remote offices were able to see improvements in performance.

The process of moving files from 160 offices to London’s central location did not happen overnight. Once data was centralized, the significant overhead placed on IT operations was reduced. With the accelerated network performance among offices, the process of backing up company-wide data became a manageable task.

2020

When the world began to shut down in early 2020, companies were faced with the need to support employees who were required to work from home. Like many companies, ERM was able to support people working from home, even if the connection was slow. As the year progressed, people realized that working from home was going to last more than a few weeks. Soon that slow connection became more frustrating and lowered productivity.

ERM experienced the same performance issues but at a much larger scale. People worked in their local offices. No one routinely worked from home, although everyone had laptops. Most laptops were set up for VPN access, but despite 10,000 connections, end-users had trouble connecting. It didn’t take long for users to begin to complain. 

The company had about 900 licenses for Riverbed’s client accelerator, which they deployed to end-users. ERM purchased another 1500 licenses to meet the demand for faster performance. That number of licenses is currently addressing the performance issues.

Ian indicated that with the accelerator, a 30 MB file could be downloaded in seconds. Without it, the same file averaged two minutes per download. A further calculation determined that the time saved with the accelerator solution was the equivalent of 17 additional employees. At present, ERM is operating its remote workforce without loss of performance.

In 2017, ERM began its data consolidation, which enabled IT to operate in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. When the pandemic hit, ERM was well-positioned to support a remote-first workforce. With the help of Riverbed’s accelerator products, ERM was able to deliver network and client-level performance. Today, their consultants are able to work remotely without delays.

Remote-First 

Not all organizations are positioned to move as quickly as ERM when it comes to delivering technology to end-users. However, companies need to assess their current network capabilities because the world is not going back to office-only workplaces. IT departments need the ability to create a digital ecosystem that lets employees work from anywhere without sacrificing productivity or performance. 

Be sure to join us at ONUG Spring 2021, May 5-6, where we will continue these discussions. You can learn more about ONUG and other events by clicking here.

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