The Walsh Group is responsible for some of the largest construction projects in the world, including air traffic control towers, highways, bridges, stadiums, casinos, wastewater treatment plants, rapid transit systems, universities, and correctional facilities.
Although Walsh depends on modern IT systems to run its business, management wants every possible penny of its capital budget to go to the job-site equipment that supports its core business rather than to servers, storage, and network cabling. In 2010, to trim IT costs and also keep up with rapid business growth, Walsh used Microsoft cloud software to transform its virtualized datacenter into a private cloud environment. This reduced the company’s physical server count by 20 percent and datacenter management costs by $150,000 annually.
Walsh knew that the next step in its innovation progression was to incorporate public cloud services into its datacenter strategy. The challenge was finding the right cloud partner and also finding a way to authenticate and authorize users in the cloud.
The Walsh Group took its first step into public cloud computing in 2013 by subscribing to Microsoft Office 365, which provides Microsoft Office desktop applications and cloud-based business email, videoconferencing, and file sharing from Microsoft datacenters. This move helped Walsh cost-effectively provide communications and productivity applications to not only its 2,800 office workers, but also to its 2,600 construction employees who had never had a Walsh email address before.
Walsh had also experimented with using Microsoft Azure, the Microsoft public cloud platform, for development and test environments, giving each of its developers a Microsoft Azure subscription as a development “sandbox.”
Walsh was eager to explore Microsoft Azure Active Directory, a comprehensive identity and access management cloud solution that can be used to manage cloud-service user accounts, synchronize with on-premises directories, and gain single sign-on across Microsoft Azure services, Office 365, and popular software-as-a-service applications such as Salesforce, DocuSign, Google Apps, and Dropbox.
Patrick Wirtz, Innovation Manager for The Walsh Group brought in 10th Magnitude, a Chicago-based cloud services provider and Certified Microsoft Azure partner, to help his team create a proof of concept around Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium, which provides a robust set of capabilities for enterprises with more demanding needs. Their idea: digitize a Walsh basketball court scheduling system. Walsh loves basketball. The game epitomizes the teamwork that defines the company.
The application demonstrated to Walsh that Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium could support its mobile application strategy, and it quickly began working with 10th Magnitude to put the technology to work on real mobile business applications. One was a punch list application used by job-site inspectors. Nearly 1,000 Walsh employees now use Windows 8 or Windows RT–based Surface tablets and a stylus—instead of clipboards—to perform these inspections. They can take photos with the Surface to add to their reports and immediately share the information with contractors. All the data is stored in Microsoft Azure SQL Database, and Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium performs user authentication and authorization. Ultimately, 3,500 people will use this application. Walsh is using Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium in other applications, particularly other mobile applications that automate paper processes.
With Microsoft Azure, Walsh can avoid overprovisioning job-site infrastructure at the start of jobs and can instead deploy precisely the resources needed at the time, scaling at the click of a button and saving a lot of time and money. And by using Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium, the IT team provides easier application access for employees and higher data security for Walsh. “The single sign-on capability in Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium really simplifies life for employees, who are in and out of multiple Walsh applications throughout the day, and for customers and partners, who also use our applications,” Wirtz says. “If an employee leaves Walsh, we can centrally and immediately cut off their access to all of our services at the same time, no matter where these applications are running.”
Also, with Microsoft Azure Active Directory Premium, Wirtz’s staff doesn’t have to manage the authentication and authorization layer. As the company takes on more government contracts that require higher levels of sign-on security, Microsoft Azure Active Directory and Multi-Factor Authentication will become even more important, as it both reduces the company’s on-premises malware attack surface and relieves the Walsh IT staff of monitoring the company firewall around the clock.
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