Founded in 1925 as a solution to the lack of affordable housing in the area, Abri is a Housing Association with a vision to “build self-contained communities with a good balance of housing and infrastructure.” The company constructs homes across the South and South East of the UK, offering more than 38,000 properties for rent as well as purchase via a Shared Ownership scheme. 

Originally named Swaythling Housing Association, the organisation has merged with a number of others over the years and now has over 1650 employees, making them one of the largest Housing Associations in the South. Most recently named Radian Group, the company changed its name to Abri in 2020 following its merger with Yarlington Housing Group.

The challenge

The union of Radian and Yarlington in November 2019 left the organisation with multiple Office 365 tenants. With different versions of both Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Office in place, the configuration was inconsistent, making it difficult for Abri’s in-house IT department to support the different environments and their end users. The company therefore wanted to consolidate their Office 365 tenants and their licensing arrangements whilst improving security.

Transparity had provided ad hoc consultancy and support for Radian’ s Azure and Office 365 environments in the past, building a good relationship as a trusted partner in the process. To ensure that they were able to consider all options available to them, Abri went to G-Cloud with their requirement – a service from the UK government that allows public sector organisations to procure digital and Cloud-based services – and subsequently invited Transparity to submit a tender.

Transparity were selected due to their demonstrable experience with Microsoft Cloud solutions, as well as a number of inclusive value-adds Abri would receive by moving their systems onto Transparity’s Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) platform. These include in-house support from Transparity’s technical experts, automated server patching, and proactive monitoring to detect and remediate any security threats.

The solution

Based on Transparity’s understanding of Abri’s existing IT estate, a “big bang” migration approach was recommended, migrating the separate tenants into one primary tenant over the course of one weekend. This would commence at Close of Business on a Friday, sync over the weekend, and then be spot checked in case of any issues, leaving time for any last-minute remediation before employees returned to work on Monday morning. The migration was carefully planned to ensure as smooth a transition as possible, with the old tenant to be placed into Read Only mode with restricted login capabilities.

There were several advantages to this “big bang” approach, including a defined cut off point for the Yarlington tenant; there was no need to run both tenants in parallel so once their employees returned to work, the new tenant would already be live. This would simplify the user experience and quickly move colleagues away from the legacy apps. This approach also minimum amount of downtime, ensuring that the valuable service that Abri provides to their customers would not be impacted.

During the migration window, Azure AD Connect was also configured to sync users’ passwords and other attributes into the new tenant, allowing existing Single Sign-On functionality to continue to work in the new tenant. Additionally, Transparity ran several bespoke scripts over the course of the weekend to re-apply various permissions (e.g., shared mailboxes) in the new tenant based on permissions from the legacy Yarlington tenant. Transparity was also on-hand to provide support over the course of the migration window so in the unlikely event of any issues, they could be identified and resolved quickly.

The outcome

Following the successful migration of systems to a single tenant, Abri’s in-house IT team has seen a significant drop in Office 365support requests, and those they do receive have become far quicker and easier to resolve. The organisation has reported a vast increase in productivity and an elevated user experience thanks to leveraging the very latest Microsoft services.

Abri were also able to consolidate their Microsoft licencing, saving on unnecessary expenditure. Security has been greatly improved through the new tenant with a best-practice configuration for all users, and Transparity have subsequently worked with the organisation to deploy additional security measures by implementing a range of features from the Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS) solution, including EndPoint Manager and Azure Information Protection. Additionally, Abri have been able to move forward with Transparity as a trusted technology partner, and the two organisations have worked together on a number of consultancy projects.

“Having to combine two existing Microsoft 365 tenants was a major challenge for the Abri team. Radian were heavily invested across Email, SharePoint and Teams, with Yarlington also having a significant amount of mail and collaboration history.

“Transparity provided a clear approach ratifying the internal teams proposal, and provided high-quality consultancy in the weeks leading up to and during migration, as well as providing support once complete. The internal Abri IT team praised the quality of support and advice given by the Transparity consultants and the task was completed on time, within budget and with very little user disruption; essential as this took place during the first Covid lockdown in April 2020.”

James Haywood, Head of IT at Abri

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