CIO spotlight: On the front line of innovation with BDO

By Belinda Thompson, CIO, BDO

At BDO, we feel it’s not good enough to be just leading edge; you have to be really on that edge to ensure that what you are delivering is relevant and of value to clients and markets. Technology plays a crucial role in delivering upon this aim for BDO, and it’s a big part of how we differentiate ourselves – it’s about the client experience, and ensuring we meet their needs and expectations.

As a provider of audit, tax and advisory services to a range of clients, one way we work to differentiate ourselves at BDO is by delivering tailored services for each user.

Innovation is therefore a key focus for our teams. From a technology point of view, the digital evolution of services, security and mobility are key issues for us. Our priority is not just to deliver IT services, but to be connected to the user experience from both an employee point of view and a client point of view.

Our approach to innovation

When it comes to innovation, we feel we handle it in a very different way to other firms. Our approach is tailored to meeting the needs of our clients which in turn influences key areas of our strategy. IT is a key part of this – and we work with other areas of the business to stimulate ideas, thinking and innovation.

Right now, we have some exciting programs in the digital area – including advancements in document management, scanning, digital signatures, annotation in mobile and tablet form and lots of automation of work scheduling – and our Private Client’s division is working on tailoring e-client solutions.

In terms of strategic IT, one area we have been focusing on for some years is standardisation. This is particularly important as we build business intelligence, document management and practise management systems, and it is adding value to the business in terms of how these are delivered. Adding value in this way means we free our advisers to focus more on the client rather than the process.

Partnering with a cloud provider we trust

The next step is focused on our data centres; moving a lot of that on-premise data into our private cloud and leveraging our investment with Microsoft Azure. In the past, the lack of data centres in Australia has been an issue given the sovereign integrity of data and privacy laws in this country.

As soon as we heard what was happening with Microsoft Azure here, it was clear what BDO needed to do.

As custodians of vital customer data, we have learnt there is an answer clients like to hear when they ask about cloud computing. “The data is with Microsoft and it’s in Australia,” is a response that reassures those who are keen to take advantage of what the cloud offers, but have sovereignty and privacy issues front of mind.

By using the local Microsoft Azure Geo in Victoria and NSW we can reassure our clients their data will be entirely hosted within Australian borders. That comfort factor for clients is really important to our strategy, and one we can’t wait to deliver.

Taking a hybrid approach

Microsoft Azure opens a lot of avenues for us by delivering flexibility in relation to where we store data and what we can do with it. It’s great to offer customers this choice. For example, we have one company with an international arm which is happy to have its data in both America and Australia.

We’re also taking a hybrid approach to cloud because we already have a large investment in infrastructure. However, moving forward we won’t need to keep on upgrading or expanding our infrastructure because we can use Microsoft Azure for storage and compute to scale up and down services as we need. We can start moving workloads straight into the cloud, which will extend the lifecycle and reduce the total cost of ownership of our current infrastructure – delivering better value for us and our customers.

Microsoft Azure also provides another way of doing disaster recovery (DR). We want all our offices to have a DR capability so that if something happens to affect business continuity in one office or its infrastructure, there is a copy sitting in the cloud. Traditionally that has just not been feasible for the smaller offices.

With the current M&A activity in the Australian professional services market, using a hybrid model will allow us to integrate smaller offices rapidly and seamlessly. For example, with Microsoft Azure we ensure they quickly have a DR provision, which is important, but some would never have had one in the past. So its part of our business continuity planning and it’s a very important part of strategy for both our staff and client services.

As part of its expansion into Australia we know Microsoft has expanded its ExpressRoute offering – giving us the option to create private connections between the Azure Geo and infrastructure located on-premise or in colocation environments – via its existing global partnership with data centre and colocation provider, Equinix. This is great news for BDO because we knew that if we could be in the same data centre, or in the same location that Microsoft was locating Azure, then we would be able to leverage off those technologies, thereby driving additional value to the business and ensuring the sovereignty of the data.

Mobility is another focus for us at BDO, and one we’re able to realise with Microsoft Azure and Surface Pro 3, which any staff member will be able to request at the time of refresh. Using the Microsoft offerings, we want to ensure they can use their device wherever they need to be, whenever they need it – annotating, signing and moving through an automated workflow quickly in conjunction with clients. It comes back to choice for staff and clients; our clients will decide how they interact with the firm, be it face to face, or via portals and cloud computing.

BDO transformation on track

I’m a psychologist by trade. I’m not technical – I’ve tried coding and hated it – so I see myself as the voice of the IT team, communicating with the business, translating business requirements and sharing the incredible work done by our IT team.

In contrast, chief technology officer Russ Philips started playing with computers back in the 1970s when he was in the Navy. When he joined BDO in 2000, there were 60 staff and one little server. Now we have 1500 staff and a national network and Russ has had a big hand in delivering that.

Together we are very focused on ensuring IT delivers value for money. Russ had a vision for the BDO IT network going back seven or eight years. Today we have exceeded many of those expectations a couple of times over, both from what we thought we could do as an IT department and from the IT perspective of the firm as a whole.


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