Given just six weeks’ notice of an impending merger and complete consolidation of IT infrastructures, the IT team at national law firm Gilbert + Tobin (G+T) had their work cut out for them.
The firm merged with Perth-based law firm, Blakiston Crabb in July, bringing the company’s staff count up to about 500. Both firms ran separate Autonomy iManage WorkSite systems, used primarily for document management, and needed to consolidate the systems into one.
G+T’s former chief information officer, Andrew Mitchell, said the main challenge for his 15-strong IT team was the lack of time, as a project of such size would normally take about three months.
“I had to get as many hands on deck as I could… It was like a war room, we had to map out what needed to be done, with the biggest issue being the telecommunications,” Mitchell said.
“We had the know-how that [the merger] was likely to happen but we hadn’t been given any green light so we had to pre-empt a couple of things and take the risk; if the merger didn’t occur, the firm was going to be up for a bit of money.”
He made the call in March to get the ball rolling for communications. “Otherwise we never wouldn’t have been able to do it because Telstra don’t move that quickly.”
Mitchell brought in UK-based software IT and business consultant firm, Phoenix, to offer support during the consolidation. The company made the move into Australia last year and the firm’s knowledge and support and UK backing were driving factors in the partnership, according to Mitchell.
“Documents are a client’s intellectual property, so we had to integrate the Perth database with ours and we had to do it over just a weekend,” he said. “It was also the most sensitive; we couldn’t do things without client’s authority, which was quite time consuming.”
The team set up a test database at the Sydney and Melbourne sites. For its part, Phoenix set up a consolidated WorkSite system in parallel to each firm’s separate systems which was updated with a ‘delta content migration’ from both systems each day. The parallel system enabled full system testing before the rollout and reduced the risk.
Phoenix used its own workspace management platform, Workspace Assist, to manage security requirements associated with the project, including sensitive customer information. Consolidation involved just eight hours of system downtime.
“It was intense,” Mitchell said. “There were no hiccups because as soon as we knew from the business that [the merger] was happening, we had everybody on board internally and with the vendors.”
Mitchell’s hard won advice? Plan and plan well.
“Think of all the various scenarios that could arise,” he said. “We mapped out everything we needed to do from the network side to the infrastructure side, from financials to contracts with vendors and, within the team of 15, everybody was given a specific role and responsibilities.
“We would then regularly meet up to make sure things were moving along, and if not, work out the barriers that needed to be broken down.”
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.