Case Studies

Ethos Urban Re-Plans its Future as a National Hybrid Workplace

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Responsive support, broad technology domain experience and strategic excellence prove a powerful combination in setting Ethos Urban up to serve its staff and high-profile national clientele.

Ethos Urban is a leading Australian urban development company dedicated to better urban experiences. They help create innovative, resilient, and meaningful places, in our cities, towns, and rural areas, for current and future communities.

Multiple disciplines are needed to make great places: planning, economics, engagement, project advisory and management, social strategy, and design. Ethos Urban houses them all.

The company was originally four different businesses with offices in three states. As Ethos Urban has needed to mature to operate as a truly integrated national business it is now today, its digital capabilities and supporting IT infrastructure also needed to evolve. But considerable operational challenges emerged in bringing the businesses together.

Technology was seen as a key enabler for Ethos Urban’s evolution from functionally separate consultancies to a single unified urban development company. Fit-for-purpose IT could enable cross-sector and services-based collaboration for a holistic urban outcome, allowing staff from different disciplines to focus on providing a collective consultative approach to each client project.

With better collaboration, unnecessary staff travel between office locations could also be reduced or eliminated, lowering the company’s carbon footprint and travel costs.

Through the cracks

Each of Ethos Urban’s regions had inconsistent technologies, processes and platforms: its own devices, networks, applications, domains and file systems, supported by three different managed services providers (MSPs).

Staff could be sitting side-by-side in the same office but on completely different systems. They could not print, access files or connect to all to the office locations wifis without assistance.

This created variable and often unsatisfactory experiences for teams. Technology was a barrier to working effectively rather than an enabler. The potential value of IT as a core pillar of the business strategy was not apparent.

The structure was not conducive to creating and supporting an integrated national team.

“The effort to move to a single managed service provider was a big undertaking as it has significant change management implications throughout the business and requires subject matter expertise to consolidate systems and processes,” says Danny Lau, Head of IT at Ethos Urban.

At a time when Ethos Urban’s growth ambitions were on full show, it was under-supported by IT. Technology, which should have been front-and-centre as an innovation and growth enabler, lagged the business. There was growing cultural misalignment between Ethos Urban and its MSP partners. As a small-to-medium enterprise, Ethos Urban wasn’t considered large enough to command its own dedicated service desk team that felt part of the Ethos Urban team building trust and focused on outcomes. The focus of the MSP partners was purely transactional, built around the consumption and use of commodity services.

Lau both saw and experienced the growing pains and cultural misalignment with the firm’s existing MSP partners firsthand. In the first six months of joining Ethos Urban as its first Head of IT, he needed first to address the loss in confidence of the IT function and to provide a good support experience, as the Service Desk often lacked the understanding - the people, process and technology - to provide a timely resolution.

"Our teams would often have a poor support experience as there were various service providers, with varying scope and coverage, and more often than not would have their request knocked back and be advised to pursue a resolution elsewhere".

The existing approach was untenable and was an employee experience no Head of IT would sanction.

"Ethos Urban needed a holistic end-to-end offering to provide seamless tools and support to do their job effectively and happily,” Lau says.

The dysfunctional support arrangement was symptomatic of broader operational challenges Ethos Urban and Lau, as Head of IT, faced. Ethos Urban needed a true strategic partner by its side, one that would step up and deliver the “big leap” in IT to enable a national hybrid workplace that was needed, but also be there to offer guidance on where to go next.

For Lau and Ethos Urban, it was clearly time to act.

A new strategic technology partner

Ethos Urban went to market and invited proposals from 10 MSP candidates, but initial responses to the process were heavily weighted towards technology-focused solutions rather than improving employee experience and meeting changing business needs, which did not meet Ethos Urban’s most pressing need.

Tecala came in at the tail-end of the market process, but immediately impressed and set itself apart. Lau saw cultural alignment between Tecala and Ethos Urban. Tecala was forward-thinking and strategic; Lau, as the sole IT leader, could only be effective with a team of experts to leverage technology to execute on strategy and "bounce ideas off".

“I can’t know it all, so there’s a need to have a provider where I can leverage their resources and expertise,” he reasons.

Tecala also had an unanticipated third-party endorsement. The quality of its support came recommended to Lau by an end user friend at a different client organisation of Tecala’s.

End user support, reimagined

According to Lau, the difference in support is like ‘night and day’. “We’ve experienced a shift in operating model from a processed focused call centre to a business enabling partnership where the trust, knowledge and perceptions of IT is elevating interaction at all levels across the business. We feel strongly that Tecala is on the journey with us.”
This more strategic engagement has restored internal confidence in end user support. “We improved our staff experience by providing that consistency of support,” says Lau. “At the end of the day, they get resolution much quicker, so they can focus on their work.”

In turn, Lau’s time has been freed up to focus on more strategic initiatives and projects that will help to drive continuous improvement in Ethos Urban’s technology, getting the company to where it needs to be to support its current trajectory and future growth ambitions.

New systems, new reliability, fresh confidence

In addition to new end user support, Ethos Urban expanded the scope of services through Tecala.

It rebuilt its wired and wireless network to suit a hybrid and mobile workforce; started using more cloud-based services, including Azure and Microsoft 365; and also tapped into Netskope Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) technology to ensure staff could work securely from anywhere, both in and outside the office.

“We had a flexible workplace policy prior to COVID-19 but no one took advantage of it, partly because the tech that enabled it wasn't very usable. Something you could do in one hour in the office would take four hours at home. Between our new cloud systems and network architecture, we’ve changed our approach for how we use technology to support flexible working models,” says Lau.
Through its relationship with Tecala, Ethos Urban has also adopted Modern Management, a methodology used by leading organisations to create a more manageable cloud and user-centric IT environment. So far, this has helped improve a number of processes related to application and device management. All IT services can now be delivered to employees in their varying locations, including employee onboarding, as well as secure remote access and unified comms, creating a seamless IT experience for the team.: Lau says that new devices such as laptops used to take three hours to set up and configure, whereas it now takes less than 30 minutes. “We’ve seen huge benefits from Modern Management,” he says.
Danny Lau, Head of IT, Ethos Urban

Danny Lau, Head of IT, Ethos Urban

“We are a market leader in urban planning. We want to see meaningful outcomes for the community and our clients. We also want to deal with someone with similar ethics and market-leading capability in the IT field. Tecala is that company.”