Bradshaw & Weil sought a cloud-based solution to reduce its internal IT burden. The insurance agency initially selected Google Apps Standard Edition, but after experiencing difficulties with reliability, usability, and interoperability with email and wireless devices, it switched to the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite from Microsoft Online Services. Now, the company spends 50 percent less time on IT management and is in the process of implementing much richer document, communications, and workflow capabilities. Business Needs
Founded in 1867, Bradshaw & Weil is one of the oldest businesses in Paducah, Kentucky. The company’s longevity is due in large part to making the best use of its employees’ talents. It is not uncommon for workers at the firm to adopt multiple responsibilities. Jared Morgan, Insurance Agent and Chief Technology Officer at Bradshaw & Weil, says, “I was hired in 2004 as a sales agent, but I was also asked to take care of our server. At that time, there was no systematic backup procedure, so when someone’s computer failed, they’d lose all their email. I didn’t have the resources to fully support our office server and PCs.”
To address the firm’s IT needs, Morgan advocated switching to cloud-based and software-as-a-service (SaaS) technologies. He recognized that this would effectively outsource the need to back up data and recover from failure, and reduce the need for on-site software, hardware, and management. Also, Morgan wanted to switch from Post Office Protocol (POP3) to Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) email, and to take advantage of push technology and over-the-air synchronization between the Microsoft Office Outlook messaging and collaboration client and wireless devices.
In 2006, Bradshaw & Weil started using the free Google Apps Standard Edition, but found that its technology capabilities were limited. “We were unable to do a two-way sync between employees’ mobile devices and Google Apps, and we only had limited syncing with IMAP in Office Outlook,” says Morgan. “There were compatibility problems between Microsoft Office Word documents and Google Docs and difficulties getting contacts onto different phones.” Morgan felt that the lack of technical support from Google was also an issue. He adds, “I made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Google for help. We spent 18 months trying to make Google Apps work with our existing Microsoft technology. This ‘free’ Google service was hardly free in terms of time and frustration.”Solution
Despite the company’s experience with Google Apps, Morgan was still convinced that SaaS or a hosted approach was the right long-term strategy to support the firm’s limited IT resources. After a few months of additional research, Bradshaw & Weil decided to try the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite from Microsoft Online Services. The suite includes Microsoft Exchange Online,
||Switching to Microsoft Online Services, with its SLAs and easy interoperability with Microsoft Office, has avoided a lot of problems. It just works, versus the time-intensive workarounds Google Apps required.
Insurance Agent and Chief Technology Officer, Bradshaw & Weil
Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, and Microsoft Office Communications Online. “At first, we were just looking at Exchange Online as a way to solve difficulties between Office Outlook and Gmail and other Google Apps,” says Morgan. “But we soon realized that we could use the suite to gain a rich set of communications, collaboration, and document management features, for only a little more money.”
After only a few days of testing, Bradshaw & Weil was convinced that Microsoft Online Services was the firm’s solution. Morgan says, “It was so easy. We set up the Exchange Online account, we logged onto the website, and all the functionality we were looking for was just there. We didn’t have to sort through the various views and tags that came with Google Apps. Plus, we had the confidence of knowing that the same company that created this reliable back-end system also created the Microsoft Office applications we use every day.”Benefits
By deploying the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite from Microsoft Online Services, Bradshaw & Weil gains the following benefits:
Extensive Features, Lower Costs
Although Google Apps Standard Edition is without cost, Morgan sees the switch to Microsoft Online Services as saving money in the long term, especially considering the rich feature set that the suite offers. “For only about [U.S.]$100 a month, we’ve solved all the initial problems we had with Google Apps, and we’re adding extensive instant messaging, document sharing and storage, workflow, and conferencing capabilities. To get this kind of technology using traditional on-site technology would cost us at least $15,000. We wouldn’t drop Business Productivity Online for anything now.”
Minimal IT Requirements, High Reliability
The new solution offers Bradshaw & Weil high reliability and financially-backed service-level agreements (SLAs), so Morgan can spend his time generating revenue instead of providing IT support. “In the past, maybe twice a week, I’d have to solve the various problems our employees experienced when they tried to make Google Apps work with their day-to-day tasks.” Morgan notes that he now spends half the time for IT support that he did in the past. “Also, there were a few times when Google upgrades knocked out our email completely. Switching to Microsoft Online Services, with its SLAs and easy interoperability with Microsoft Office, has avoided a lot of problems. It just works, versus the time-intensive workarounds Google Apps required.”
Rapid Solution Adoption and Preservation of Institutional Knowledge
Bradshaw & Weil employees required no special training after the transition to Microsoft Online Services, and because “everything just works,” as Morgan reports, they’ve begun using many new features rapidly and without prompting. For example, he says, “We never had much success in getting employees to use Google Chat, but they adopted Microsoft Office Communicator right away.” Morgan adds, “We’re now getting fewer complaints from less tech-savvy workers because the troubles they were having with Google Apps don’t exist anymore.” He also reports that the company has reduced by at least six months the time required to train new employees to become productive agents.
The company is reevaulating its business processes to take advantage of workflows in SharePoint Online. Morgan also believes that he can use SharePoint Online to create new ways to promote the business. “Before this project, I didn’t recognize that document sharing and storage technologies could play a key role in capturing the institutional expertise held by long-term employees,” he says.
Morgan concludes, “Thanks to the Microsoft Online Services, Bradshaw & Weil has the potential to expand to support a whole new branch office, while incurring almost zero IT support costs.”
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