ZMI ALPHA:Synergising decision making and project management in the cloud

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ZMI ALPHA:Synergising decision making and project management in the cloud

Architecture firm Klein Architects has been designing the wellness environment in New Zealand since 1991. The award-winning studio, which believes that architectural thinking has the power to change lives for the better through a people-focussed practice, has been delivering transformative design services to government, private businesses and not-for-profit clients throughout New Zealand.

Principal Melanie Mason has been with Klein for almost half the company’s life, adding an operations function in recent years. Klein’s information systems manager and tech lead for their Synergy cloud implementation, Steven Hayes began working with the firm in early 2020.

Total Synergy connected with the Klein team online to discuss life before and after the Synergy implementation.

Commenting on the 40-plus staff in the Klein team, Mason said, “We’re team-oriented, we’re collaborative, and we help each other out. That’s one of our big strengths and a feature of the company not having become too big. Our managing director Rachael Rush has always made a point of being available and approachable. So, if you’ve got a problem, you can go straight to the top, which has huge advantages. We’re really passionate about what we do architecturally in the health space – we really pride ourselves on our skill, experience, and how we respond to our clients’ needs. I think those are the kinds of things that make us.”

The un-synergistic life before Synergy software

Mason and Hayes were quizzed about business and project life before Synergy, and the rising needs that had them looking for a solution like Synergy’s cloud platform. Integration, practice management, agility, and customer service were some of the priority needs identified at Klein.

“From my point of view, we’d fluctuated around 25 staff for a long time, and with that number it’s still relatively easy to manage ideas a bit more casually,” said Mason, “but once you start growing a bit more, you need more structure in place. You need more systems and you need more practice management tools that are more connected.

“We were doing things right, but we had lots of different Excel spreadsheets doing different things in different places. Invoicing was quite separate, time-sheeting was separate, and our forecasting was separate. Everything was quite detached.”

The healthy view of system integration

“Before Synergy, you had to manually try and run those things together to make decisions about the business, or recruiting, or fees or, ‘should we be going for this project or not?’ – all those sort of decision-making choices you have to make day-to-day in the practice,” said Mason.

“They are big decisions, with big impacts – we always wanted everything to be more integrated so we could see things more easily, more cohesively, so that if we made a change in some way over here, we immediately saw that impact elsewhere. Without needing to duplicate those changes in separate spreadsheets manually,” she observed.

“There were some good systems in place before we implemented Synergy, but the problem was the disconnect,” said Hayes.

“Quite a lot of time had been put into developing different areas of the company and how we managed completely separate tasks. Synergy really shone a light on how flawed that system could be. Things like running invoicing separate to our project management software using two different systems that weren’t actually linked. Those separated processes introduced human error, and we had to go back and try to audit previous projects and gather data about how we’ve performed as a company.

“With the old systems, gathering that sort of data wasn’t really possible. That’s something Synergy’s definitely brought us – the ability to dissect every aspect of the business at quite a granular level.”

Into the future and beyond with Synergy features

“We committed really early on to the Enterprise licence because we recognised that to fully take advantage of Synergy, we needed all of the features it offers,” said Hayes.

With the Synergy rollout completed in October 2019, Hayes said, “We did have to learn to crawl before we could walk and started with the basics – project scope, scheduling, and timesheets.

“We’re getting to the point now where we’re doing really fine-tuned resourcing and fee-building directly out of Synergy and that’s really paying dividends and shining light on some really cool things we can achieve with Synergy, I think.

“Obviously from here, we want to continue to roll out as many of the features Synergy has to offer as possible – we’ve got plans to adopt task management and tracking. We’re involved with Synergy in user product review groups, where we get to specify functionality we’d find useful, see some of the coming features and comments on the direction the development team have taken. And we’re pretty grateful to have been part of that.”

Klein as part of Synergy development – software by, with, and for AEC designers

According to Hayes, as they started to use the software, they came up against things that didn’t quite suit them or their workflow as a business. However, each time they raised these issues with Synergy, they were either addressed and actually updated, or Synergy was already working on improvements.

“So, it’s actually really exciting to roll Synergy out as it’s being developed so frequently. It’s not the same product that we chose a year ago. It’s completely different. And that’s for the good – there are some great new features that keep being added, updated, and fine-tuned.”

Mason adds that the software is quite tailored to what Klein does. “I honestly haven’t seen anything in Synergy that makes me think it’s being adapted from something that suits lawyers, or some other type of business – it all supports and affects the way that we work as building, construction, and industry consultants.”

When asked about their interaction with Synergy’s customer success people, Hayes said he’s on a first-name basis with almost all of the support team.

“Possibly the earliest memory we have of Synergy was getting on a call with Scott Osborne (Total Synergy founder and CEO) that was pretty impactful – he was just really ready to meet with a prospective client. We hadn’t committed to anything at that point. We hadn’t paid a cent for it, it was months before we actually rolled it out, and we were still running trials and just looking at it – but the fact that he had the time of day to meet with us and to talk to us about their research, it really blew us away.

“Since then we’ve had maybe one or two occasions where we’ve had particularly urgent cases that needed support to deal with them immediately, and they were dealt with. Quickly and appropriately. Other times it’s just been little odds and ends and stuff, and they’re always handled really, really well. I have not ever dealt with another company in the tech space that handles support like Synergy does.”

“That philosophy of the CEO taking the time out to speak to prospective clients, I think that’s what we’re like here at Klein as well. You know, it’s sort of like there’s a bit of – dare I say it – synergy in the way our companies align, in processes and in the way we run,” said Mason.

Cloud is a must

The Klein team also spoke about the importance of Synergy being a cloud-based platform and the flexibility it enabled in the face of challenges such as the pandemic.

“Certainly, from a convenience perspective, being able to just open the Synergy platform in a browser was super convenient but we’ve always maintained quite a bit of flexibility to work remotely even prior to rolling out Synergy,” said Hayes.

“The fact that it is cloud-based and browser-based actually is a huge, huge call now that I think about it. We would never have gone with something hosted locally. You know, that’s not the direction that the industry’s going so, we wouldn’t have even thought about it,” he added.

“It was seamless in terms of working at home or here in the office,” said Mason.

A trial that won the heart of health architects

Was there a tipping point, some particular feature, a specific functionality that saw Klein settle on the Synergy cloud platform for their business and project management?

Hayes said that they conducted a comparison between Synergy and a competitor, and Synergy won out largely because of the trial they were able to do.

“We could run several trials and actually make a proof-of-concept – put some dummy data in there and actually work with it. The fact that support was so responsive – during the early days, Lauren (Palmer) was really fantastic, helping us get set up with several different trials and just testing different aspects of it. The fact that we knew it would work even before committing to anything, meant it was a no-brainer – there’s no other product that would let us try-before-we-buy to the level that Synergy did,” said Hayes.

“It’s a big commitment to invest in a business and project management system; you have to be sure. If you can’t try-before-you-buy, then it makes it very hard to make that decision. It would’ve taken us a lot longer to get something on board had we not been able to do that. We’d been searching, on and off for five years, for something that would give us a more integrated system. We’d talked about it for a long time, been on the lookout for something that’s more streamlined and gives us the data we need to make decisions more easily for all of us,” said Mason.

And they found it with Synergy. 

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