Colliers International is a global leader in commercial real estate, offering comprehensive services to investors, property owners, tenants and developers around the world. Their 13,500 employees embrace a culture of service excellence and continuously strive to deliver the best service experience through both business results and through personal attention to exceed clients’ expectations.

Situation

With over 500 offices around the world, Colliers focuses on strong growth and team collaboration in order to provide clients with deep specialization and local market expertise at a global level.

“We are a very distributed organization around the world with an excess of 15,000 desktops and perhaps double that in other mobile devices that are connected to our environment,” described Veresh Sita, Chief Information Officer, Colliers International.

In addition to managing a highly decentralized IT infrastructure, the company was struggling with an on-premise solution that couldn’t keep up with the amount of storage requirements for email—their number one mission critical application.

In order to manage their enormous reach and support further growth, Colliers needed a highly scalable solution that could keep up with storage requirements, improve efficiencies and enhance their business agility to respond quickly to new opportunities and better serve their clients.

“There were two fundamental approaches to our integration and centralization strategy,” described Sita, “One was consolidating our 40 Exchange Server environments into either internal regional or global nodes which would have been a very time consuming, labor intensive and costly initiative. The second, more obvious approach to accelerate such an outcome was to leverage cloud technologies extensively using Microsoft Office 365.”

The Colliers IT Team started to configure the co-existence of Office 365 and then on-premise Exchange but quickly found that they did not have the expertise in-house to fully prepare for, and execute a mass migration to the cloud. “The cloud really is a new field of technology,” said Sita, “so when we began looking for a partner that understood the core technology stack and would be willing to work with us to figure things out as we moved along, we knew there was no one better than Microsoft.”

“We wanted someone to hold our hand, and we wanted that someone to be the subject matter expert in the Office 365 platform,” added Bede Searchfield, Manager of Infrastructure, IT Services, Colliers International.

In October, 2012, Colliers engaged a Microsoft Cloud Partner to help their North American region smoothly transition to the cloud, enable end-user readiness and obtain maximum value from Microsoft Office 365.

Solution

The team at Colliers was initially concerned and skeptical about the migration as it would be impacting their most mission critical applications. But after sitting down with their Microsoft Partner team for an initial kick-off meeting they were re-assured by the level of support they would receive during the full lifecycle of their transition to the cloud.

“That is what we wanted. We didn’t want to go into the dark by ourselves. We wanted someone to turn the lights on and that is what our Microsoft Partner did for us,” said Searchfield. First and foremost, their Microsoft Partner remediated all of the issues within Colliers’ on-premise system that tied into Office 365.

“After a thorough review of our full environment, including operations, they created a prioritized checklist of everything that needed to be fixed prior to deployment. They were regimented from the beginning to make sure that any outstanding issues were addressed in order to ensure a successful migration,” described Searchfield.

The Microsoft Partner team also stressed the importance of proactively training the Colliers help desk to prepare them for the Office 365 and cloud migration. In the end, this significant knowledge transfer was considered by some to be one of the biggest success factors for the whole project.

Additionally, the upfront diligence and preparation led to a seamless transition of 3,000 mailboxes in just three weeks. Their Microsoft Partner was able to move whole offices at one time, which was above and beyond Colliers’ expectations and led to a very smooth, continuous transition involving shared calendars and controls.

“With Microsoft, everything to do with the migration was extremely well laid out, transparent and clear. We knew exactly what was going on when and where,” said Searchfield. Their Microsoft Partner continued to support Colliers through the entire lifecycle of the project, from the initial vision, architecture and design strategy right through production, post-migration support and sustaining the environment.

Benefits

The Microsoft Partner not only helped Colliers to transition to the cloud but also enabled the company to realize more business value from Office 365 by providing cloud expertise and ongoing collaboration throughout the entire lifecycle.

Leadership and confidence gained through deep expertise on cloud computing and Office 365

Colliers benefited from their Microsoft Partner’s deep expertise and full support throughout the entire lifecycle of the project. The Microsoft Partner provided leadership and direction, starting with training materials, providing guidance to optimize the new IT environment and ensuring IT team readiness to execute on changes needed to support Office 365.

“They were able to share their perspectives on the use of Office 365 and cloud computing—things that we could do in the cloud, things that we could do on premise and how they would work together to provide the greatest benefit,” noted Sita.

This Microsoft Partner support and deep expertise in Microsoft technology helped Colliers to mitigate risk, improve their organizational agility and increase their agility during cloud deployment.

“Our Microsoft Partner team also gave me peace of mind. I felt that I had the power team behind me to give me confidence. I don’t know if I would have been that confident going into this without the Microsoft expertise,” added Searchfield.

Fast, seamless deployment with zero downtime

The whole cloud migration process, from initial kick-off meeting to migration, took just six weeks. Following diligent upfront planning and a thorough review of the existing IT infrastructure, the Microsoft Partner led Colliers through a proven deployment process that enabled IT readiness and a smooth operational transition.

“Microsoft thought of gaps prior to the migration that may have been an oversight had we done the migration in-house,” noted Bede. Colliers benefited from a very quick and seamless transition to the cloud which resulted in no loss of productivity and no loss of data.

“The data migration supported by the Microsoft Partner was a lot quicker than we expected. The whole transition of 3,000 mailboxes was just three weeks—which was big for us considering we probably would have taken six months if we had done it ourselves,” said Searchfield.

The high number of users was migrated very rapidly utilizing a migration factory, which allowed for a faster time to market resulting in increased revenues for the business.

Knowledge transfer through collaboration

The Microsoft Partner delivered additional business value to the Colliers IT team through their proven, collaborative approach to transferring knowledge from Microsoft development teams. This included training during delivery from readiness-related assessments and workshops, to Office 365 deployment.

“There was a very high degree of interaction and collaboration,” noted Sita. “I felt that they understood our business and our objectives, and that we always had direct access to any of the resources we needed.”

The collaborative engagement model increased Colliers’ IT agility and enabled them to get up to speed on cloud practices and principles very quickly.

Ten times more storage and seamless functionality with Office 365

Colliers recognizes that email is their number one mission critical application and thus one of their highest priorities when moving to the cloud was to provide end-users with larger mailboxes. Using Office 365 on the cloud, Colliers employees now have 25GB of storage—over ten times more than their previous mailboxes.

“If we hadn’t gone through Office 365 and the cloud, and were to purchase mail servers to create that kind of storage ability and capacity for thousands of staff around the globe, we would be talking about an investment in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, just for hardware and software alone,” described Durgesh Sharma, Vice President of Global IT Shared Services, Colliers International.

Through careful planning and diligence, their Microsoft Partner enabled a seamless transition to Office 365 for end-users. As a direct result of this, Colliers’ IT team has also noticed a large reduction in the amount of time and effort needed to manage the highly available Exchange infrastructure since deployment.

Using Office 365 going forward, combined with the elasticity of the cloud, gives Colliers the ability to expand the Microsoft stack to include any upgrades or additions, such as mobile integration, which they are now considering.

Reduced costs and IT support time by up to 60%

Sita is confident that there will be dramatic cost reductions noticed over a five year TCO; noting the savings will come from the variable costs associated with future growth, in addition to a reduction in staff and administration costs to support and manage users on the single platform as opposed to multiple platforms.

“From an IT support perspective, we’ve slashed the time that was associated with these activities by at least 60%,” said Sita.

Expertise in Change Management enables smoothest IT Implementation

The Microsoft Partner partnered with Colliers on how to address change management and on developing a communication plan ahead of deployment, to better prepare end-users and ensure a seamless transition.

“The feedback we got from staff, including our CEO, was that this was the smoothest IT implementation we have ever had,” said Sita. The smooth transition, facilitated by theri Microsoft Partner, helped better establish and build credibility for the Colliers IT team.

“We cannot put a value on the trust that we have gained from the company as a result of this project,” added Searchfield.

Accelerated Deployment enabled immediate benefits

As an acquisition driven organization, the migration to the cloud is now enabling Colliers to be more efficient as a global organization—based on the current users today, but also future users who can now be integrated within a few days.

“We are able to share information almost immediately. That is the real benefit, as we can start to see the cross-functional revenue generating activities,” noted Sita. “Just bringing everyone onto a common global platform makes us a powerful organization from a global knowledge sharing perspective, and that is a huge part of our business strategy. We win when we are able to take local knowledge in every market and leverage it on a global scale. Cloud is accelerating that.”

Moving forward

“We have this system now that it is so scalable and highly available that we don’t have any problems selling it to our partners. I believe there is a mandate to start moving more and more of our partner offices into the cloud,” noted Searchfield.

“For some, Office 365 is a piece of a larger, big data picture longer term. For us it is a building block. It is a foundational layer,” said Sita.