New Zealand property experts streamline IT, improve collaboration with cloud-based solution

Property Council New Zealand serves as the national voice of the property industry. Headquartered in Auckland and with branch offices around the country, the organization had an IT infrastructure that made work more difficult—branch employees didn’t have access to a central server, and they lacked an efficient messaging application. On the recommendation of technology partner Softsource, Property Council deployed Microsoft Office 365, and now employees can communicate quickly and efficiently and keep better track of document versions.

In New Zealand, property is big business. Accounting for one-eighth of the national gross domestic product, the property industry has a NZD29.8 billion (USD20.9 billion) impact on the economy annually—making it the country’s single largest industry. Keeping the industry thriving requires a strong voice for organization and advocacy, and Property Council New Zealand fills that role. “We’re a nonprofit advocacy organization for commercial property entities in New Zealand—we have more than 550 member companies representing institutional investors, property trusts, financial organizations, private investors, and developers across the country,” says Simon Thorne, Head of Corporate Services at Property Council New Zealand. “We work with local and national government agencies to advocate for quality urban growth that supports strong national and local economies.”

Over the last five years, the dollar value of the business has doubled, raising the stakes on effective coordination and communication among the Auckland headquarters and branch offices. “As the work of our branch offices has grown, it has become increasingly essential that we can keep up to date with their progress, communicate with them, and easily share information,” says Thorne.

A technology partner with a future-focused vision

As that need for seamless interconnection increased, Property Council found that its IT infrastructure couldn’t stand up to the demands placed on it, and the IT system provider failed to offer the vision and support the organization as needed. “Our IT provider was very reactionary,” says Thorne. “There was no real attempt to be future focused and look at how our technology needs were changing. Workers at branch offices had no access to the national server. We had no central place for file storage, so employees just saved documents locally to their devices.”

Property Council sought a technology partner with strong vision and expertise, and it chose Auckland-based Softsource, a systems integrator offering a wide range of technology solutions and professional services. Softsource recommended that Property Council adopt Microsoft Office 365, including Microsoft SharePoint Online and Skype for Business.

New tools to improve work

Property Council employees very quickly realized the advantages of Office 365. Having a cloud-based solution makes it possible for employees to access their emails and documents from anywhere with internet access on any device. Employees now have access to centrally located copies of documents, which means they no longer have to contend with multiple versions floating around. “The transfer of our data to SharePoint went very well,” says Thorne. “And straight away our people benefited from having everything in the same place—particularly workers in the regional offices who can now update all their information in one place and collaborate on a single version of a file. We made life easier for everybody with SharePoint, which improved our team culture. We can all pull up a file, make changes on the fly, and stay on the same page—instead of constantly sending around different iterations of the file by email.”

Property Council has also found that its employees can communicate more efficiently with Skype for Business. They use the presence indicator to know immediately if a colleague is online and available, and they can get a query quickly answered on the spot, rather than starting what could turn into a chain of several emails. And with cloud-based tools, hiring managers can open up the door to more candidates in different parts of the country. Location is less of a factor in the decision-making process in hiring now that employees can remotely interact with their peers.

Property Council conducts awards evenings for its members that involve a team of judges evaluating certain properties on site. In the past, judges had to manually check out hard copies of application materials, which led to concerns about losing documents. Property Council now gathers all applications in electronic form and shares them out to judges via SharePoint. “All the information is now in one place, and we don’t need to worry about where a submission is or who’s got it. That’s been a real benefit for us, and it saves us days overall.”

A better way to manage staff and plan for the future

As Property Council has grown, the IT administrative burden associated with employees joining and leaving the organization has increased. Property Council has found that it can better manage this fluctuation with Office 365. “It seems like there are always people coming and going now. With Office 365, we can easily add or remove a license right away,” says Thorne. “For new employees, this means they can get up to speed more quickly, access email and Skype for Business, and get down to doing their job.” In addition, IT no longer has to worry about organization-wide updates or migrations. “Everyone is always using the most recent version of the software automatically, without the need for us to conduct a migration. This gives us a consistent user experience and reduces incompatibility problems,” says Thorne.

Property Council is looking at ways it can make its IT ecosystem even more efficient and flexible in the future. “We are talking with Softsource about the roadmap for the next two or three years, and how we can phase out legacy software and move more things to the cloud,” says Thorne. “We have a lot of confidence in what Microsoft is doing in this space, and the security measures that are in place. And we get our solution at a simple monthly fee that helps with budgets and planning.”