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Posted: 3/10/2010
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Rexel Electrical Distributor Picks Proven Microsoft Messaging Technology over Google Apps

Rexel, a leading distributor of electrical supplies with an international distribution network, wanted to cut costs and enhance communication by centralizing its messaging environment in a single managed service. After evaluating Gmail from Google, Rexel deployed Microsoft Exchange Online from Microsoft Online Services. Now the company is providing opportunities for global collaboration and reducing costs by an anticipated 30 percent.

Business Needs

Rexel delivers low-voltage electrical components used by hardware manufacturers, industrial users, and electrical contractors in residential, commercial, and industrial markets throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. With a distribution network of 2,400 outlets in 34 countries and 30,000 employees worldwide, the Paris-based Rexel earned more than €13.7 billion (U.S.$19.6 billion) in 2008.

(play video)
Tom Huber
Global Collaboration Leader,

Between 2004 and 2008, Rexel more than doubled in size through acquisition. A byproduct of that growth has been a disparity of IT systems across the organization. For instance, the company had to manage 42 separate messaging systems using a mix of hosted and on-premises environments, including Microsoft Exchange Server and IBM Lotus Notes. The disparity created unnecessary costs and increased the company’s IT management burden.

The company wanted to consolidate its many independent e-mail systems into a centralized environment that would help reduce those costs and simplify its IT infrastructure. Furthermore, as Rexel evolves into a globally integrated enterprise, it needs to maintain high flexibility. To help it scale up and down rapidly as business conditions change, the company wanted to centralize its messaging environment in a single managed service. “We had a limited appetite for developing an internal solution,” says Olivier Baldassari, Chief Information Officer at Rexel. “We don’t see a need to invest in new competencies or infrastructure when we can buy them on demand as services.”

(play video)
Tom Huber
Global Collaboration Leader,

Rexel soon recognized that what started as a cost-cutting initiative was also an opportunity to make it easier for Rexel employees to communicate and collaborate effectively across business units and throughout the company’s international distribution network. “We work increasingly in groups that are scattered across the globe,” says Baldassari. “We wanted people to share expertise and bring the company to a higher level of collaboration.”


As Rexel looked at different hosted messaging systems, it became more interested in “cloud computing” solutions, computing resources and services hosted on the Internet through large external data centers. The company evaluated several solutions, including Gmail from Google, a component of the hosted communication and productivity suite called Google Apps. 

* We are a company that likes to avoid unnecessary pain, and we wanted a robust, proven technology. With Exchange Online, we knew that we were not taking major risks. *

Olivier Baldassari
Chief Information Officer,

However, after comparing Google Apps with Microsoft Exchange Online, part of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite offered by Microsoft Online Services, Rexel decided to consolidate its messaging environments with Exchange Online. Rexel felt that Microsoft had more experience supporting enterprise customers, and it wanted to stay with the e-mail, calendaring, and contact-management technologies its IT department trusted and that its employees were already using. “We are a company that likes to avoid unnecessary pain, and we wanted a robust, proven technology,” says Baldassari. “With Exchange Online, we knew that we were not taking major risks. Google has less experience in the corporate world, and I don’t think it makes sense to take risks that you can avoid.”

According to Baldassari, while Google marketed very aggressively on price, the Exchange Online pricing was very competitive and the overall value higher. “The price difference was minor,” he says. “Frankly, the Google value proposition is cost based, and once you take that away, what’s left?”

After an initial deployment in a small Swiss subsidiary, Rexel began a large Exchange Online deployment in two subsidiaries in the United States with a total of 8,000 users. The company anticipates migrating to the Exchange Online environment in the rest of the enterprise over the next 18 months.


With Exchange Online, Rexel has reduced costs, improved communication within the enterprise, and increased its business agility. Also, by choosing Exchange Online over Google Apps, the company can provide its employees with a familiar messaging environment and reap the benefits of working with an experienced service provider.

“Microsoft has more experience dealing with corporate customers,” says Baldassari. “The availability, proactivity, and support we get from Microsoft are great; every time we need help, we get help.”

Reduced cost, better connections. With Exchange Online, Rexel can provide all the e-mail features its employees need to increase connections between business units, while dramatically reducing operating costs.

“The company officially estimates we will save 30 percent using Exchange Online,” says Baldassari. “I would say that’s a comfortable objective and I think we will beat it.”

Easy deployment, simplified management. Now Rexel is going to have a single messaging environment that is simple to deploy and easy to manage. The Swiss subsidiary described a painless, essentially invisible transition to Exchange Online. It reported that employees now experience fewer spam messages, without IT staff having to select or manage a spam filter because it can leave those management details to Microsoft Online Services.

Familiar user experience. Because most Rexel employees were already familiar with the Exchange Server environment, Exchange Online behaves like they expect, with the functionalities they need and want. “People who were Exchange users before don’t see any difference,” says Baldassari. “The transition is very smooth.”

Enhanced flexibility. Using Exchange Online, Rexel has developed a foundation for greater business agility and competitiveness. “A common messaging system is the first step toward working more flexibly and providing opportunities for managers and information workers to collaborate globally,” says Baldassari. “I have no doubt that with Exchange Online we will accelerate the transformation of our business.”

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