FHI 360 is a nonprofit human development organization working to improve lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions. Following an acquisition, half of its employees used Google Apps and the other half used on-premises Microsoft messaging and collaboration solutions. FHI 360 wanted a single, cloud-based suite of business productivity services. It chose Microsoft Office 365 and used a Microsoft Cloud Partner to help the organization transition to the cloud. Employees can easily communicate and collaborate with colleagues, boosting productivity in the field and in the office. IT staff at headquarters gain better tools to manage the cloud environment. Multinational project group members collaborate to share best practices, increasing the impact FHI 360 can bring to its projects around the world.
FHI 360 believes that one of the keys to improving lives is in generating, sharing, and applying knowledge. Its staff includes experts in health, education, economic development, civil society, environment, gender, and youth. The nonprofit organization takes a “360-degree perspective” to addressing complex, human development needs, partnering with governments, the private sector, and communities in more than 60 countries to deliver thoughtful, tailored responses to global human development needs.
In June 2011, the Academy for Educational Development (AED) and FHI came together to form FHI 360 with a combined staff of 4,300. While the organizations had similar mandates, their IT infrastructures were very different. AED employees used Google Docs, Gmail, and the WebEx web conferencing solution from Cisco. Employees at FHI used various versions of on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server messaging and collaboration software and Microsoft Office business productivity applications. FHI had also developed an intranet using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 technologies for workflows and document collaboration. AED had a decentralized IT infrastructure with each office connected directly to the Internet. FHI used wide-area network (WAN) connections for most of its offices.
Following the acquisition, the 80-member corporate IT department faced a significant challenge. “We had two communication and collaboration platforms that split employees into roughly equal Google and Microsoft user groups,” says Douglas Wilkins, Director of IT Infrastructure at FHI 360. “Our challenge was to standardize on a communication and collaboration platform to maximize employee productivity, simplify IT administration, and reduce costs.”
FHI 360 IT leadership decided early on that the new business productivity solution would be cloud based. Moving communication and collaboration technologies to the cloud would simplify the work required to manage divergent IT infrastructures and connectivity options found in more than 150 global offices. Subscribing employees to a standard, cloud-based solution would be the most expedient way to ensure that everyone had the same IT tools to work equally productively.
FHI 360 narrowed its options down to Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, an online service that unites familiar Microsoft Office applications with the power of Microsoft Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online unified communications into one connected solution. Office 365 also comes with upgrade rights to the latest versions of Microsoft Office programs, another goal for the company.
FHI 360 took this opportunity to define exactly what it required from its business productivity tools, so it could make the right decision for the long term. “We were investing in a solution that would empower our employees in their mission to support individuals, families, and communities around the world,” says Michael Mazza, Head of Information Solutions and Services at FHI 360. “It was critically important to choose the one that best answered our needs.”
To begin its evaluation, FHI 360 facilitated employee focus groups and generated more than 150 requirements for email, instant messaging (IM), web conferencing, and document collaboration. Then the company began an in-depth comparative analysis of Google Apps and WebEx on the one hand and Microsoft Office 365 on the other to evaluate how each solution would meet those requirements.
FHI 360 approached Microsoft Services to learn more about Office 365. “Microsoft was interested in understanding our goals right from the start, helping us define how Office 365 would fit our needs,” says Wilkins. “FHI 360 benefitted from early discussions with a Microsoft Cloud Partner to learn how we could transition to Office 365 smoothly and benefit from cloud investments and evergreen IT, whereby we are automatically upgraded to the latest version of Office 365.”
In November 2011, FHI 360 attended a two-day architectural design session at the Microsoft Technology Center in Washington, D.C., to run through the details of migrating Exchange and Gmail users to Exchange Online. “Microsoft also invited us to join the Technology Adoption Program for the newest release of Office 365, which gave us invaluable insight into the product’s evolution,” adds Wilkins. “We liked the new features, such as more support for unified e-discovery across messaging and documents.”
In June 2012, FHI 360 made the decision to standardize on Office 365 and purchased 4,300 licenses. “Eventually, it came down to a fairly simple set of factors,” says Agustin Fiorito, Project Manager, Business Solutions, at FHI 360. “Office 365 best met our needs, and we were impressed by the superior capabilities of the Microsoft team.”
“Microsoft offered us a more appropriate level of support for an enterprise of our size,” adds Wilkins. “The company brought many resources to the table, including a Cloud Vantage Services Cloud Delivery Executive who helped with internal communication strategies to prepare our users for the migration.”
Additionally, FHI 360 contracted with a Microsoft Partner to provide extra resources for the actual migration. “Microsoft and the Partner made sure we had the right tools to do the migrations, and their technical and project experience was invaluable,” says Wilkins.
Other key factors in the decision to migrate to Office 365 hinged on the solution’s ability to meet top FHI 360 requirements. First, the company looked at how Office 365 and Google Apps would improve employee productivity through the following capabilities: These include:
* Ability to work offline. With limited Internet access and power supplies in some international FHI 360 offices, the company needed a solution that employees could use offline. “People need to read email, compose replies, and work on documents while there is no connection, and then be able to seamlessly reconnect with the rest of the world, with no negative effect on their productivity,” says Fiorito. “Office 365 gives us that ability.”
* Support for mobile users. “Employees want their email and documents to sync between their mobile devices and their computers,” says Wilkins. “Unlike Google, Office 365 has native support for the Exchange ActiveSync technology that works on the different mobile devices we have in the organization. Employees can be as productive outside the office as they are at their desk.”
* Robust calendaring. For a global organization, the ability to easily share calendars and arrange meetings is important.
* Seamless communications. FHI 360 did not want to inconvenience its donors and partners with file format issues that would have occurred if the organization standardized on Google Apps. “We received requests from outside parties for documentation in Microsoft Word and the last thing we wanted was to force donors and partners to spend time on formatting issues,” says Wilkins.
* Multilingual support. With locations around the world, FHI 360 found that Office 365 offered more comprehensive multilingual support and capabilities than Google Apps did.
The IT department at FHI 360 had its own set of criteria. IT staff wanted to migrate to a solution that would satisfy the company’s IT policies including:
* Appropriate privacy policies. FHI 360 works on public health and education issues and performs clinical trials so it has to comply with US Code of Federal Regulations Title 22 (22 CFR) Part 11 regulations regarding electronic records and signatures. “We also have to comply with privacy regulations related to contracts with the US federal government,” says Wilkins. “Office 365 had privacy features that were in line with our requirements.”
* High level of data security and control. It is important for FHI 360 to have control over where its data is located so that it is not subject to regulations in countries where the organization does not have a presence. “With Office 365 we know where our data is stored, and we can set roles-based security models for our IT administrators,” says Wilkins. “This was not possible with Google.”
* Potential for hybrid deployments. FHI 360 took advantage of Office 365 support for hybrid deployments and installed on-premises Exchange Server infrastructures in countries where Exchange Online is not available.
FHI 360 also needed to solve its email storage issues. “By the time of the merger, our email storage had ballooned,” says Fiorito. “Google Apps offers 25 gigabytes of storage; however Exchange Online offers 25 gigabytes of mailbox storage, plus unlimited storage for employees’ personal archives.”
Another reason for choosing Office 365 was that it shares the same underlying technology as the Windows-based back-end systems at FHI 360. This meant the organization could take advantage of existing IT expertise and avoid the deployment delays.
FHI 360 also chose Office 365 because it offered the organization a cost-effective, straightforward method of standardizing on Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus. “With a subscription instead of licenses, we have more control over how we introduce Office versions to employees across diverse environments, from Nigeria to Thailand to the United States,” says Wilkins.
Choosing a cloud-based suite of business tools was an important strategic decision for the future of FHI 360. “The Office 365 Technology Adoption Program revealed new features and functionality that we can’t wait to take advantage of,” says Wilkins.
FHI 360 worked with Microsoft and their partner to migrate everyone to Exchange Online. The teams had to plan a migration schedule for users in 64 countries. Also, the teams had to move more than 5 terabytes of email data from Gmail and Exchange Server mailboxes to Exchange Online, and ensure a seamless coexistence of environments during the process.
“We had excellent support from our Cloud Delivery Executive who was our point of contact for the Microsoft team,” says Fiorito. “The principal consultant from our partner was fantastic: he managed the practical aspects of the deployment and worked out a compacted migration schedule that overlapped time zones, countries, and local bandwidth scenarios to maximize throughput. To migrate 4,300 users around the world from two diverse platforms to an Office 365 environment in less than 22 weeks would not have been possible without the support of Microsoft and our Partner.”
FHI 360 first migrated the Google users to Exchange Online, followed by the Exchange Server on-premises users. The teams used a two-stage process to migrate the Exchange mailboxes. “One of the attractions of the Office 365 environment was that we could stream data, achieving 95 percent of the migration without affecting the user,” says Wilkins. “Google would have forced us to migrate the entire mailbox at once, incurring service outages of up to eight hours.”
The Exchange Online migration was completed by November 2012. By that time, FHI 360 enabled My Sites—personal document storage and social networking sites available in SharePoint Online—to former Google Docs users and will extend My Sites to the rest of its employees in the second quarter of 2013. “We are looking forward to migrating our workflows and project management capabilities from SharePoint Server to SharePoint Online when the next version is released,” says Wilkins. “We have also enabled Lync Online, and a lot of our users have utilized the self-service capabilities to download the Microsoft Lync client themselves to take advantage of IM and presence information.”
By choosing Office 365, FHI 360 gained a feature-rich suite of productivity-enhancing tools that offer the cost savings of a cloud-based solution. “Using Microsoft Office 365, we are a more cohesive, efficient organization,” says Mazza. “Empowered with tools that work the way we work, FHI 360 can achieve a greater impact on human development around the world.”
Improves Information Exchange
FHI 360 employees are already using IM and presence awareness capabilities in Lync Online to find each other and collaborate across the globe. People are beginning to populate My Sites with their documents and personal profiles. “Now it’s easy to find a colleague with the right expertise to help with a new project or just answer a question,” says Wilkins. “IM is a huge hit: many of our projects are multinational in nature. We have real-time communications to erase the geographical distances that we have to work with.”
Now that information exchange is less of a challenge, FHI 360 employees can easily share best practices and improve services across the globe. “With Office 365, we can scale knowledge transfer from an office-bound environment to an international environment, a great advantage,” says Wilkins. “Lessons learned in Nigeria can be transferred to a project in Vietnam. Everyone will benefit.”
Because Office 365 is a subscription-based service, FHI 360 can provision new employees quickly, boosting agility and responsiveness when setting up projects in the field. “The faster we can get health-strengthening projects up and running, the better,” says Wilkins. “Right now we have a project with 170 new employees. Before it would have taken from two to eight weeks, depending on the location, to provision servers and deploy software, but with Office 365 it’s a matter of a couple of hours. A side benefit is that now IT staff can spend more time working on strategic projects.”
Reduces IT Costs
FHI 360 plans to retire third-party solutions and decommission aging servers to simplify IT management and reduce costs. With web conferencing functionality included in Lync Online, the organization no longer requires WebEx and expects to save approximately US$20,000 annually in web conferencing costs. With its storage area network (SAN) solution reaching capacity, FHI 360 can avoid the costs of upgrading its SAN environment thanks to the generous email storage available with Office 365.
“In the last month, we have decommissioned 16 Exchange servers and we are on track to decommission 16 more in the next two weeks,” says Wilkins. “The licensing costs are minimal because we run our Exchange solution in a virtual environment, but we have simplified our IT environment substantially and that saves IT labor costs.”
Now FHI 360 can put an exact number to the cost of supporting an employee. This is a great benefit for a nonprofit organization that relies on funders and grants because it enables more predictable costs. “With Office 365, we don’t require large outlays of capital for physical infrastructure,” says Wilkins. “We can also plan and estimate our project costs more accurately. Choosing Office 365 for our cloud-based business productivity services was the right decision for FHI 360.”