Emperor Design is a creative agency which helps companies deliver better business by specialising in clear and confident communications. It switched from on-premises production servers to the cloud during the pandemic with the help of IT-managed service provider, Espria. Noel O’Connor, Emperor Founder and Creative Director, explains how LucidLink, a file system specifically built for modern cloud computing environments, has changed the way the company works.
Emperor is one of the UK’s leading employee-owned creative agencies. It specialises in reporting, branding, employee experience and sustainability and is an expert in getting the most from integrated media and channels. Through this knowledge, Emperor enables its clients, including blue-chip brands such as BP, BT, Reckitt Benckiser and the London Stock Exchange, to deliver better business.
Emperor employs more than 200 people across a national and international network in London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Warwick and Dubai.
As part of a broader and on-going strategy to streamline and optimise its services and internal workflows, Emperor investigated migrating its core on-premises production servers to the cloud. The global pandemic accelerated this strategy leading the agency to seek a robust, secure and super-fast cloud network-attached storage (NAS).
The pandemic panicked many companies into committing to temporary sub-optimal solutions, but Emperor had had the foresight to prepare. “While we couldn’t have predicted anything like the impact of a pandemic, we had begun the process of moving to a more agile, cost-effective and time-efficient working environment in the cloud,” explained Noel O’Connor, Emperor Founder and Creative Director. “We ran standalone servers in our office locations, and while we could connect to them, we knew we needed something faster for the long-term.
“Before COVID, we had looked into Microsoft Azure but found the user experience was not a lot different to what we were doing with our Virtual Private Network (VPN), so we shelved the idea. When the pandemic hit, we moved to work from home and continued using the VPN while raising the search for an easy-to-use, high-speed, cloud-based server to the top of the agenda.”
Pre-pandemic, the challenge facing Emperor was to find a faster, seamless solution for access to files across its national and international hubs. With employees working remotely from home the issue was exacerbated.
“We had access to our data, but it could be unacceptably slow, which made it very difficult to perform some tasks,” O’Connor explained. “Our team had to download media locally to work on them efficiently. That’s fine if it’s a word document, but invariably we are exchanging files of several GBs worth of data.”
For the design and publication of marketing and communications materials and annual financial reports, Emperor works predominantly in the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite and, in particular, with large InDesign files. Creating a PDF from InDesign files comprised of multiple high-resolution, high-colour fidelity JPEG, TIFF, PNG and other graphics formats with links typically involving several gigabits of data. Sharing this core asset over VPN, either internally or for client review and approval, proved very challenging.
“To create a PDF proof, you have to have all the links accessible and doing this over VPN was extremely painful,” O’Connor explained. “VPN is really dependent on the available broadband connection, which varies across our teams and can be compromised when working from home by other users sharing the connection.”
The company had a very structured and disciplined set of processes for the studio operation. This was designed to support project teams of half a dozen or more members with access to the same set of assets regardless of whether they were in the UK or in a different time zone.
“Unanimously, we thought LucidLink was really fast and something we could benefit from,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said: “When we moved out of the office, we did so overnight. As well as setting up numerous VPN connections, we also set up workstations on-site that were connected to our network, allowing users to remote into our studio environment and carry out certain workflows as if they were in the office. This solution undoubtedly helped but was still clunky and cumbersome for users.”
The team was also acutely conscious of the potential for file and version management issues and implemented systems and procedures to avoid this as specific files and images had to be worked on locally.
“We operate out of five studios – which at the time was effectively 230 studios, as we were all working from home and had to maintain a tight regime to ensure the integrity of our data and backups. For all these reasons, we needed an overhaul of our basic connectivity,” O’Connor said. “But that seems like a long time ago. It’s amazing how fast you adapt to change, and the team is working so fluently on LucidLink now it’s as if they’ve forgotten how frustrating and time-consuming life was before.”
Emperor tasked its IT partner, Espria, with finding this solution. “Espria presented several concepts to us. LucidLink immediately stood out and gave us an edge on what we already had,” added O’Connor.
O’Connor and his team dived into further research: “We sat in on webinars where Adobe demonstrated collaborative tools for media, and we set up some test accounts internally and tested and tested and tested it.”
Installed and in use since autumn 2020, Espria migrated virtually all of Emperor’s desktop publishing applications and practices to the cloud using LucidLink as the bedrock connectivity.
“It took a while for us all to adapt to working remotely but it took almost no time at all to get up and running with LucidLink,” O’Connor said. “In particular, we needed a solution to work with Adobe InDesign. With our previous solution, creating PDFs remotely was very challenging. The experience working with InDesign has been extremely straightforward. Espria and LucidLink’s solution is undoubtedly a better way of working and what’s most impressive is that it is incredibly fast.
“All the time it was taking to manage and transport data backwards and forwards – well, all those issues have gone away. We now work directly from the cloud server. There should be no situation where people need material on their desktops. When someone else in our team picks up the job, all the assets are in the cloud – the single source of truth.”
In the future, the intention is to streamline workflows further by moving to one centralised set of cloud-based folders for all live projects. Along with countless other businesses, Emperor has returned to work at the office where the future of the workspace itself has been permanently altered.
O’Connor continued: “LucidLink has changed the way we can access our files. Although we all have remote capability, now the experience is like being in the office.”
O’Connor said: “We returned to the office at the beginning of summer 2021 with a hybrid ‘hub and spoke’ model. We continue to lean on the remote working technology and infrastructure from Espria and LucidLink to give us far greater flexibility in terms of how we work as a team and how we liaise with clients.”
For all the frustration and anxiety of the enforced working from home period, it has also proven the benefits of technology in allowing a more balanced working life.
He added: “There are definitely some of our team who prefer not to commute every day, who can be just as, if not more, productive at home as in the office and who can now collaborate with colleagues and clients just as seamlessly from wherever they are.”Click below to share this article