For Total Synergy client Cera Stribley Architects, moving into the cloud has become an opportunity to grow, learn and evolve each day.

The name ‘Cera Stribley’ comes from the names of managing principals Dom Cerantonio and Chris Stribley; it also reflects the creative and collaborative spirit within the practice. An emerging practice based in Melbourne, Australia, the business was set up just five years ago with four staff members – a number that has now increased to 39, reflecting the studio’s significant growth in such a short time.

Kat Lethbridge, the studio operations manager for Cera Stribley Architects (CSA), who’s been with the company for a little over a year, spoke to Total Synergy about their transition to the cloud. Having worked in studio management positions across diverse design disciplines from health architecture to interior design, Lethbridge was hired by CSA to help support the company’s long-term plans.

When CSA began operations five years ago, the projects were predominately residential renovations, and the processes were largely informal. The exponential growth, which saw the typology makeup of CSA’s projects changing into high-end multi-residential and major commercial jobs, meant that these processes had to be formalised.

“In the last three-to-six months we’ve really nailed what the business should look like,” says Lethbridge. It has become important to ensure that they perfect the balance between staff numbers and the bottom line. With these newly formed teams, CSA has been able to ramp up the processes around how they report, resource and relay their message across the team.

Pre-Synergy cloud approach to systems

CSA was initially using Synergy Practice Management (Total Synergy’s older desktop version) when they set the practice up. It remained manageable until the team grew, forcing Cerantonio and Stribley to look for a more flexible way to do timesheets. They started using a generic timesheet software, but it couldn’t really give a lot of insight beyond timesheets.

The firm continued invoicing in Synergy Practice Management (desktop) because that’s where the historical financial data was, and the timesheets were done in the timesheet system. When it came to the end of the month, a total invoice was pushed into Xero, so there was record of cost and invoicing.

CSA had moved from invoicing and recording all financial data in Synergy (desktop), to separating their timesheet records — but this software lacked the Xero integration required.

In September of 2018, Cerantonio and Stribley attended the Synergy product roadshow where they were introduced to the new product development that seemed an exciting leap forward for the software in the way it could assist processes to be managed. CSA’s migration process to Synergy Cloud had begun in early August of that year, just before Lethbridge commenced employment with the company.

In an arduous task, the administration team worked tirelessly to move 18 months of data from the generic timesheet software across to Synergy Cloud.

So, what is the advice Kat would offer to other practices making the change?

“You don’t know, what you don’t know,” she says. “You have to make sure you ask the question ‘what do I want to do?’ but just as importantly, ‘and what are the implications of those actions?’. There’re so many moving parts in Synergy that it’s a lot to get your head around initially.”

Cloud software adoption

CSA is currently about 60% of the way through implementing the full offering of Synergy’s features, which they are doing in a staged, systematic way.

“Nail one component, and then move on to the next,” Lethbridge says. Simplifying the training process to one topic at a time has made the adoption of Synergy more successful.

“I’m in and out of Synergy every day, so while it might seem quite familiar to me, for the senior architects, project leads, etc., it can seem like a really big, daunting task — there’s no point throwing training on the whole system at them, so we’ve just been trying to do it piece by piece.”

When CSA does monthly invoicing, they use Synergy’s WIP reports; these bi-monthly WIP reports help the business manage productivity. Synergy’s earned value management (EVM) features will be rolled out soon, according to Lethbridge.

“EVM is going to be really great for our senior leaders to have a realistic figure to measure their team and project performance against,” she explained.

Although Lethbridge is proud of her resource and planning spreadsheets, she admits that CSA hopes to move this data into Synergy. Once the Synergy planning board for forecasting and resource planning takes over from that spreadsheet, it will enable the resourcing and forecasting data to be accessed much more easily by everyone, and automatically calculate availability, and all those things that are currently calculated manually. The potential time savings for CSA are huge.

The CSA team is exploring Synergy’s new features while managing the firm’s exciting growth. They are building a growing team and continually developing staff’s knowledge around processes and procedures so as to maximise the gains from Synergy.

“That’s why it’s really important to us that everything is centralised — in one place, where everyone can access it. So that we can make both those things as quick and as easy as possible,” Lethbridge concluded.