The Walsh Group employs more than 5,000 engineers and tradespeople who work on approximately 150 job sites at any given time. To support high standards in project delivery, the IT staff ensures that employees have access to the latest technology and productivity tools. After exploring the benefits of cloud-based services, the firm decided to move to Microsoft Office 365 for hosted email and communications solutions. It also upgraded to Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus, the new client version of Microsoft Office delivered as a service. With this switch in strategy, the Walsh Group reduced the time and costs spent on upgrades and ongoing IT administration. Employees have virtually anywhere access to information and take advantage of the latest productivity capabilities as they are released from Microsoft.
The Walsh Group is a Chicago, Illinois–based general contracting, construction management, and design services firm that builds airports, highways, stadiums, bridges, and other large-scale projects. To help support its mission to set the highest standards in quality, safety, and delivery, the IT staff at the Walsh Group ensures that employees have access to the latest technology and productivity tools. But with more than 5,000 engineers and skilled tradespeople dispersed across a dozen regional offices and an average of 150 job sites at any given time, the IT staff struggled to keep employees up-to-date on the latest software.
The IT staff managed successful deployments of Microsoft Office 2010 and an on-premises infrastructure that included Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, SharePoint Server 2010, and Lync Server 2010. Maintaining a three-year technology refresh cycle meant the firm was set to begin planning for the next upgrade in 2013. Patrick Wirtz, Innovation Manager at the Walsh Group, is responsible for spearheading new IT strategies and projects. He says, “With every major release, we allocated significant time and resources to get the new and improved capabilities into our employees’ hands as quickly as possible. But as a lean organization, we only had a few senior level IT people, and these resources were stretched thin trying to manage upgrades while still maintaining all of our systems.”
As Wirtz and the IT staff planned the upgrade to the next generation of Microsoft products, they decided to explore cloud-based services as a new IT strategy to reduce the ongoing burden of upgrades. In addition, the Walsh Group only had a single point of failure for Exchange and SharePoint, so while it had business continuity, it lacked a true disaster recovery solution. The IT staff investigated to see if a cloud-based solution could be a less expensive way to provide enterprise-class data availability, compared to managing it themselves.
Employees also requested that the company support more mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, so that they could easily access email and project information from a construction site or when working from home. “Project managers view Microsoft Office as a critical business tool to help them in their daily operations,” says Wirtz. “But they often had to go to a trailer or a regional office to access their PC and get things done. We needed a more mobile solution that could help them work on project documents and email while walking the job site.” Because Internet is intermittent at some sites, the IT staff also had to provide both online and offline capabilities.
The Walsh Group had not invested in company email for all field workers due to concerns for added costs and support. Wirtz says, “We wanted to improve communications by providing email to a larger percentage of employees, but we did not want to add more IT resources to manage it.” Wirtz’s team explored whether a cloud-based solution could make it more affordable for the firm to support a company mailbox for most employees, including interns and seasonal workers.
The Walsh Group’s exploration of a cloud solution led it to Microsoft Office 365. Office 365 offers the cloud-based versions of Microsoft Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online as a connected solution with the familiar Office applications in Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus. Office 365 ProPlus is the full client version of Office delivered as a service. It includes applications such as the Microsoft Outlook messaging and collaboration client, Word, PowerPoint presentation graphics program, Excel spreadsheet software, and OneNote note-taking program. Wirtz says, “The more we learned about the reliability and capabilities in Office 365, the more comfortable we became with the idea of our employees using online services and our IT staff taking advantage of a hosted solution.”
In early 2013, the Walsh Group began the transition to Office 365 and deployed Office 365 ProPlus to 450 employees. By June 2013, the company expects to complete the move to Office 365, with approximately 2,400 employees using Office 365 ProPlus, Exchange Online, and Lync Online. The remaining 2,600 employees will receive Exchange Online only, which will be the first time some of these employees will have access to email and calendaring.
Office Installation and Adoption
To install Office 365 ProPlus, the IT staff surveyed its options and decided to configure its existing Distributed File System (DFS) to work with Click-to-Run, a streaming and virtualization technology built into Office 365 ProPlus. The firm will also use this software distribution method for future Office upgrades and updates. “Office 365 ProPlus and Click-to-Run are a real game changer,” says Wirtz. “Moving forward, we will not have to uninstall and reinstall Office on every upgrade anymore.” With Click-to-Run, the Walsh Group can keep its dispersed employees updated on the latest version with minimal IT effort even as Microsoft switches to annual releases of new and improved Office capabilities.
Click-to-Run also acts as an isolated environment for Office to run on employees’ computers, so they can use the latest version of Office side-by-side with an older version of Office. “When we upgrade, our goal is to standardize on the latest version,” says Wirtz. “But as we go through our deployment cycle, our help-desk employees will use Office side-by-side so that they can reference Office 2010 and the new Office without having to use two separate machines.”
With user-based licensing, employees are able to install Office 365 ProPlus on up to five devices, including their personal computers and tablets. When employees switch devices, they can take advantage of Office roaming settings capabilities to easily access their recently used documents right from the page where they last left off. After the Walsh Group tested the new Office on Windows 8 touch-enabled devices, the company decided to replace older hardware with new devices from Lenovo. These convertible-type devices are laptops that easily convert into mobile tablets. Wirtz says, “Our workers can carry these mobile devices around a job site and take full advantage of the touch-optimized experience in Windows 8 and the new Office.”
Employee feedback about Office 365 ProPlus has been positive, citing new capabilities such as the Flash Fill feature in Excel and the PDF Reflow feature in Word. Flash Fill recognizes patterns and auto-completes the remaining cells so that employees can quickly build the data in their spreadsheets. Employees can use PDF Reflow to convert PDFs into editable Word documents. Wirtz says, “My favorite new capability is SkyDrive Pro, because whether I’m online or offline or on my work device or home PC, it takes my files with me wherever I go.” By using SkyDrive Pro, employees can save and access documents in the cloud with SharePoint Online. Employees can control access and permissions so that they can more securely share files with coworkers and partners outside the company. They can also edit documents offline and synchronize them the next time they are online. “A project manager can bring up a plan or project document while out on a construction site,” says Wirtz. “If changes are made, the files will be synced back to a team site using SkyDrive Pro, ensuring all project team members work from a single version.”
Reliable Email Solution That is Familiar, Easy to Use
By using Exchange Online, the IT staff can now rely on Microsoft to manage its Exchange environment, including premium antispam and antivirus protection, geo-redundant data centers for enterprise-class reliability, and a financially backed 99.9 percent uptime service level agreement. Employees like that they can continue to use the familiar Outlook client or Outlook Web App to manage their mailboxes. The Walsh Group can also take advantage of new capabilities, such as site mailboxes, data loss prevention (DLP) tools, and improved eDiscovery:
- Site mailboxes. Site mailboxes associate an Exchange mailbox with a SharePoint site, so project managers can create a single folder, calendar, and task list for everyone on the project team. When a project member files email or documents using the site mailbox, any project member can then access the content from a single place in Outlook.
- DLP tools. By setting DLP control policies in Exchange, the Walsh Group can warn employees about sensitive content like credit card or social security numbers before an email is sent from Outlook.
- eDiscovery. With advanced search technology, the legal and compliance departments at the Walsh Group can perform unified eDiscovery searches regardless of document type or location, across Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and file shares. Plus, eDiscovery integrates with advanced retention and archiving capabilities, enabling legal holds and case-based projects.
Collaboration Solution for Mobile Workers
By using Lync Online, employees can use high-definition videoconferencing to enhance their virtual meetings. The Lync gallery view makes meetings more interactive by displaying multiple video streams of meeting participants in a gallery format. Employees can also use their laptops, smartphones, and tablets—including Windows, iOS, and Android devices—to participate in a Lync meeting. Wirtz says, “Instead of stopping work and coming to a trailer to report a problem, construction workers can start a videoconference from their mobile device. By displaying a video image of the problem, we can work together to resolve the issue and minimize site disruptions.”
By moving to the new Office applications in Office 365 ProPlus and the online services in Office 365, the Walsh Group can take advantage of the latest capabilities, while reducing the burden on IT staff to manage upgrades and ongoing administration. It also improved the mobility of its construction site workers with virtually anywhere access to email and documents across multiple devices.
Better Support for a Mobile Workforce
Employees dispersed across job sites can now access the same version of Office on up to five devices, enabling online and offline access to email and project documents from virtually anywhere. Wirtz says, “We believe the new touch-enabled Windows 8 devices with Office 365 ProPlus will help our employees be more productive on our construction sites, instead of spending time in the trailer or at the office.”
Employees can use Lync Online to join meetings and participate in videoconferences from their smartphones or tablets. By using SkyDrive Pro, employees can share and access up-to-date documents no matter where they are working. Wirtz adds, “With anywhere access to information, our employees can save time completing tasks on a job site, which is critical in the construction business.”
Simplifies Future Deployments
By subscribing to Office 365 and taking advantage of new deployment capabilities like Click-to-Run, the Walsh Group expects to drastically reduce the time spent on future software upgrades. “With each successive release of Office since Office 2007, we have cut our deployment times in half. Office 365 ProPlus also took half the time compared to Office Professional Plus 2010, due to the capabilities of the Click-to-Run technology,” says Wirtz. “With Office 365, we have become more nimble. Instead of budgeting for major upgrades every three years, our IT staff can rely on Microsoft to upgrade these services, including Office. We also ensure that our employees benefit from the latest capabilities as soon as they are made available by Microsoft.” The IT staff believes smaller and more frequent updates from Microsoft make it easier for employees to adopt new capabilities, compared to previous releases where massive changes were introduced all at once.
Reduces IT Administration
With Office 365, Microsoft takes care of the servers and software administration, including common tasks like security updates and server upgrades. As a result, the Walsh Group can redirect the IT staff to more strategic IT initiatives. “With Office 365, we feel as if we have a dedicated person assigned to our Microsoft environment,” says Wirtz. “Microsoft knows the software better than we do and can provide services like back-up and recovery, geo-redundant data centers, and daily server maintenance cheaper than we could do it ourselves.”
Avoids IT Costs
The Walsh Group will avoid future costs allocated to server hardware, deployments, and support for added services like back-ups and disaster recovery. With low-priced subscription plans available for Office 365, the Walsh Group was also able to provide a company mailbox to some employees for the first time. With a monthly subscription, the firm can easily scale up or scale down its license costs as interns and seasonal employees come and go.
With user-based licensing for Office 365 ProPlus, the Walsh Group can better support its “bring your own device” policy. Employees are given one company device, but with Office 365 ProPlus, employees are allowed to install Office on their personal devices, which is viewed as a company perk. This potentially adds up to US$960,000 in cost savings for its 2,400 employees if they install the new Office on at least one personal device. Wirtz says, “We believe user-based licensing makes more financial sense for us in the long term, and it also acts as a personal benefit for our employees who want to access Office when at home or really anywhere.”
In addition, by using the PDF Reflow feature in Word, the Walsh Group can save an estimated $230 per user per year by eliminating third-party PDF conversion tools.
Reduces Travel and Communication Costs
The Walsh Group employees will be able to travel less frequently due to the improved collaboration capabilities in Lync Online, and the company can avoid buying videoconferencing devices for each of its job sites. With an average of 150 job sites, the company expects to save about $750,000. “Instead of relying on dedicated videoconferencing hardware, our project managers can now participate in a Lync videoconference from their laptops, smartphones, or tablet devices,” says Wirtz.
Once Lync Online is fully deployed, the Walsh Group plans to stop buying new phone systems for each job site and instead use a hybrid environment that includes Lync and an integrated third-party provider for its communications. With this move, it will avoid spending approximately $15,000 per job site on phone hardware and setup. The company estimates the cost savings to be about $2.3 million a year, not including the savings for phone service.
Wirtz concludes, “Office 365 is more conducive to the way we work.”