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Two workers in safety gear harnessed in high ropes painting a tall building

Higgins paints out its legacy past with cloud modernisation and security lift

Higgins Coatings is Australia’s largest family owned and operated commercial painting contractor. It’s been putting paint on Australian buildings since 1949.

It’s also benefitting from a digital modernisation program that has seen most systems migrate to the cloud where they are accessible from anywhere and more resilient and secure.

Over the last six years, Higgins Coatings have undergone a migration to the Microsoft stack. Today, about 90 per cent of their systems are in the cloud, with more to follow.

Supported by Microsoft partner Arinco, Higgins has rolled out Microsoft 365 on an E5 licence, Windows 10 and Endpoint Manager (also known as Intune), for device management and security – important for a business where 500 people work in the field and need mobile access to systems.

That established cloud foundation meant that when the pandemic struck, and even office staff based in the company’s 19 different locations had to work remotely, Higgins already had the systems in place to support them. They simply picked up their computers and went home, dialling into their work systems over the internet.

Higgins has also implemented Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM, the Power Platform, Teams and Teams Calling. The move to Teams and Teams Calling also ensured that communications weren’t interrupted – calls were automatically routed to the right employee ensuring a seamless experience for customers and suppliers.

Security prioritised

A big focus for Higgins Coatings recently has been the upgrade of security, once again supported by Arinco.

Security is a big part of any organisation at the moment. Higgins had identified that their previous antivirus solution wasn’t really working for us and that we wanted to look towards utilising Defender on our endpoints.

Account Manager, Peter Royal, at Arinco stated “the requirement to work securely from anywhere has been particularly important to the Higgins business and so for us, offering Microsoft-based security solutions was a natural evolution of the relationship.”

Angus Smit, IT Security and Operations Manager, added “Security is a big part of any organisation at the moment. We had identified that our previous antivirus solution wasn’t really working for us and that we wanted to look towards utilising Defender on our endpoints. That helps protect laptops, phones, tablets and also provides an end-to-end picture of who is doing what, where.”

Intune meanwhile helps streamline device management and updates. With Higgins doing a full device refresh, it meant that all 300 staff devices could be configured remotely and efficiently. Whereas, prior to the implementation their small IT department had to build all Windows 10 laptops and distribute them across the country.

Angus says “Now it’s a zero touch deployment for IT- The device gets directly sent to the user, user logs in, their documents are there with OneDrive, all our job documents are on SharePoint, Windows 10 brings across all their information already. Applications are automatically installed and configured everyone’s happy.”

The same with Teams – having moved to Teams and Teams Calling in 2020, it meant that; Employees could collaborate and share documents which has been a “bit of a game changer” in terms of the way people work, according to Smit.

Higgins employee standing on a mechanical lift painting a tall building
Security remains a big priority for Higgins, transforming to modern cloud based digital platforms means that employees are better placed to respond rapidly to changes (Source: Higgins)

By transforming to modern cloud based digital platforms, Higgins Coatings is now better placed to respond rapidly to changes the business or the market require. It’s also streamlined the way reports and workflows are generated – by utlising Power BI reports, Power Apps and Power Automate, they are now able to track opportunities seamlessly in the CRM, which sets off all the permissions within Flow, and has cut the manual process behind it all substantially.

While Higgins does still operate some on premises systems, they are progressively updating and moving more systems to the cloud.

“The plan is to move databases into Azure, because it just makes sense for us that everything lives there. We also really do want to move away from having that hybrid Exchange model as well. With all the zero-day exploits in the wild, having your own Exchange server has been a nightmare and unnecessary.

Angus says that the digital modernisation has, over the last three to four years, transformed the way that Higgins does business.

It’s also opened the company’s eyes to opportunities for more advanced transformations. For example  exploring how HoloLens2 and mixed reality could be used to train staff, many of whom work in challenging environments – abseiling off buildings, 50 floors up in order to complete painting jobs.

“We utilise a lot of booms and different types of machinery that people need to be trained on. Things like that have always had to be done in person and with the equipment around. Maybe there’s ways that we could train people successfully on how to do their job more safely,” Angus said.

Things like that have always had to be done in person and with the equipment around. Maybe there’s ways that we could train people successfully on how to do their job more safely.

“Having the opportunity to work with an iconic, family-run business like Higgins has been a privilege for Arinco. We thoroughly look forward to helping Higgins on their transformation journey into the future,”added Peter Royal, Arinco.