BD Magazine Article March 2009

This article was published in BD Magazine in March 2009. The article can be found on the BD site here. We have written a commentary on the article that can be found here. Our articles are often related to subjects discussed in our forum events.


Like it or not, IT is at the heart of all business operations. Get it right and it becomes a key strategic asset. Get it wrong and your practice will fight against itself to work efficiently and competitively, not something any business can afford in the current economic climate. Most practices are now engaged in cutting margins to hang onto experienced staff and the knowledge they embody. But when managers review IT, it is all too easy to forget that the "I" in "IT" stands for "Information". Our view of IT is that it is possible to do more with less, particularly if inventive thinking is brought to bear.

Infrastructure: monitoring and measurement

IT infrastructure is like plumbing. It comprises the network, servers and services that run upon them. This is the foundation of IT. As a rule of thumb no practice should experience more than 8 hours of unavailability (across all services) in any 12 month period. Much more than that and there is something badly wrong. Less than that and you have probably over-invested in your infrastructure. It is essential a practice knows how well its infrastructure is performing: how else do you know that you are getting your money's worth? This basic information can quickly tell you if your infrastructure needs further investment or simplification.

Data storage: cheap, fast and shippable

Riding on your practice's IT infrastructure is its key IT asset: data. Data is the intellectual property of your business in digital form. It is usually wise to keep data from old projects easily accessible -- live -- so that tried and tested approaches can be reworked into current schemes. However the quantity of data generated by design offices is rapidly increasing, typically doubling in volume annually. This is largely due to the proliferation of 3D CAD models, walkthrough movies and digital camera image dumps, together with archive data. Few practices seem to be aware that new fast computer disk arrays can provide for 90% of storage needs at less than 30% of the cost of the "enterprise" systems commonly sold. And for little over 100 pounds per terrabyte per month, your data can be shipped offsite nightly over the internet for backup and disaster recovery.

Services: untied from hardware

Another industry-wide issue is the amount of server kit needed to operate the wide range of services practices require, from email and directory services to CAD licence and application functions. Strides have been made in recent years to allow hardware to be "virtualised", allowing services to be aggregated onto fewer physical devices. More interesting still is the ability to turn several computers into a single "virtual" machine, helping keep vital services running despite inevitable hardware failures. Virtualisation can make straight savings in kit, power and cash.

Telephony: VoIP saves over 50% on voice calls

Voice-over IP telephony -- routing calls over the internet rather than over the telephone network -- is a simple means of making immediate and significant cost savings. Stump up for some ISDN server cards, some new handsets and a few how-to manuals and you can run your own VoIP network and reduce your call charges by over 50%. Of the many additional benefits offered by VoIP, such as being able to email voicemail to your mobile phone and route mobile and other calls through your office, the excellent conferencing facilities available can cut your travel costs overnight.

Online apps for management

Online web apps, applications running on the internet, allow directors and management staff to access key information securely from anywhere at any time. Packages are available for management accounts, practice management and, perhaps most usefully, issue and knowledge management. We recommend seeking out the best-in-class online applications to complement your local IT eco-system. By providing an overview of how your practice is performing, these applications can promote greater efficiency and thereby save you money.

People, not licenses

Investing in your IT staff is almost certainly better than paying out license fees. Your IT staff can save you thousands by implementing an open-source VoIP solution, but they can also make savings in many other areas of your business that are currently license-bound. Taking this option may involve your sacrificing some of the features of the commercial version. But in exchange you will be developing a highly capable in-house resource that can ensure that IT is aligned with the needs of your practice, now and in the future.

For more information on the subjects discussed here contact

Rory Campbell-Lange
Campbell-Lange Workshop
or see