“We missed no reporting deadlines and paid everyone on time and in line with guidelines. Overall, Ziptech has helped our Head Office perform fantastically, with staff working from remote locations. We could give ourselves Five Stars.”

Duncan Ross. Group CFO, Maidenhead Aquatics.

Having made the move to the Cloud in 2018, store-based and online pet retailer, Maidenhead Aquatics, was able to achieve a seamless transition to remote working using Azure and Parallels Remote Access Server (RAS) during the 2020 pandemic.  The IT model facilitates secure access to both Cloud and non-Cloud business applications hosted on Cloud servers.  Group CFO Duncan Ross explains how Ziptech’s supported infrastructure allowed the retailer to maintain an all-important ‘business as usual’ finance operation.

Duncan explains, “We are not a technically-minded business and having the help, guidance and reassurance from Ziptech, we experienced no downtime at all when the pandemic forced us to switch to remote working.”

With a long-standing partnership established in 2007, Maidenhead Aquatics and Ziptech have worked together to ensure the business, growing at a rate of 60%, has always benefitted from the right IT at the right stage of growth – a strategy which ensures investment is optimized. In 2018, a decision was taken to move to the Cloud when the existing servers had reached end of life.

Duncan says, “If we hadn’t taken Ziptech’s advice to move onto the Cloud in 2018, March 2020 would have proved very difficult.  As it stands, we were able to continue operating at full capacity.”

Managing the Critical Business Processes.

The business has 160 physical stores, the vast majority of which are hosted within garden centres although staffed by Maidenhead Aquatics’ own employees. The stores communicate with HQ via in-store laptops using MS365 products.  The company EPOS system is hosted externally and HQ is able to access the data via the Ziptech supported systems. There is also an online store (fishkeeper.co.uk),  offering customers a quick and easy way to purchase all the products available in the physical stores (with the exception of livestock) with the convenience of delivery to their door.

For seven weeks during lockdown, only a few of the shops with their own entrance could remain open and all shops associated with garden centres had to be closed under the UK Government’s lockdown guidelines for non-essential retailers.  Although 80% of shop-based employees were furloughed and payments to some suppliers such as landlords had to change, it was critical that the finances were managed correctly and in line with Government guidelines and procedures.

Access to the accounting system was key.

Duncan explains, “We process over 10,000 invoices a month and have a hefty payroll which, under furlough, needed to be adapted to deal with slightly different processes.  Ziptech has implemented a flexible, robust and secure solution which means we were able to adapt quickly with zero business interruption to critical processes.”

The finance team relies heavily on Sage accounting software which is not modelled for the Cloud.  Rather than replacing Sage with a solution built for the Cloud, Ziptech’s Parallels RAS solution helps to solve the problem.  Using Microsoft Azure, Ziptech has been able to move the Head Office business applications onto Cloud-based servers; Parallels provides a secure link for remote access to Cloud and non-Cloud based applications, allowing users to access critical systems from anywhere at any time.

Re-opening Head Office.

With most of its brick and mortar business remaining closed for almost seven weeks, and Head Office staff keeping the business running,  Duncan isn’t sure whether or not the office-based Head Quarters will go back to its old ways of working.  Discussing lessons learned from the pandemic, Duncan says, “Going paperless was a real game-changer, saving us so much processing time, particularly with invoices.  And if you asked me if we need to return to an office-based working model, well, this experience has proved that we could do without it although there are some parts of the business which need to be located centrally, such as the internet retailing.”

Duncan has implemented a shift system so that staff can return to the office in rotation.  New joiners will be onboarded and trained face-to-face while it is safe to do so however Duncan will continue to invest in improving hardware and introduce a plan to replace desktops with laptops for more flexible working options in the longer term.

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