Girl Scouts of Colorado provides leadership training to girls through a network of staff and volunteers. To help its mentors work more productively on developing programs and coordinating fundraising, the organization needed to update its messaging and collaboration technology; but, with only one IT worker and a hefty server maintenance contract, Girl Scouts of Colorado could not afford to buy and maintain more physical infrastructure. Instead, it subscribed to Microsoft Online Services, avoided U.S.$50,000 in upgrade costs, retired 50 percent of its servers, and saved $21,600 in annual costs by retiring its original webinar service. With a rich, web-based email client, online collaboration capabilities, web conferencing, and instant messaging, Girl Scouts of Colorado personnel are working more productively to make a difference in the lives of nearly 30,000 girls across the state.Situation
Working in urban, suburban, and rural communities, Girl Scouts of Colorado is a nonprofit organization that provides a safe place for girls, ages five to 17, to build confidence as they explore their world. The organization helps girls develop personal leadership skills by focusing on science, technology, the environment, healthy living, anti-bullying, and financial literacy. “What we do on a daily basis is help girls learn what they need to know to be leaders in their communities now and for the rest of their lives,” says Megan Ferland, President and CEO of Girl Scouts of Colorado. “Girl Scouts helps girls discover all they need to know about themselves to really make a difference in their world.”
Soon after taking on her role as CEO, Ferland realized that Girl Scouts of Colorado needed a significant technology overhaul. At the main office, the server hosting Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 messaging and collaboration software was at the end of its life and required rebooting twice a week. Another server hosted a basic collaboration solution based on Windows SharePoint Services; however, this was not used for anything other than storing documents. Meanwhile, the organization had four Windows-based servers running file/print services distributed among six regional offices across the state, with another 12 servers located at the main office in Colorado. With multiple versions of any given document stored at different offices, it was difficult for anyone to know which was the most current.
||I used to say that we were in the Dark Ages with our technology. But what Business Productivity Online has meant for Girl Scouts of Colorado, I can sum up in three words: up-to-date.
President and Chief Executive Officer, Girl Scouts of Colorado
Staff in the regional offices had to maintain the local file/print servers, too, as the organization has only one IT staffer to support people across the entire state. “When I began 10 years ago, my job was to get a computer on every desk in this organization, and that was a great move,” says Linda Mountain, IT Manager for Girl Scouts of Colorado. “But today, it’s one state, one IT person. Because of our out-of-date back-end systems, I’m feeling more pressure supporting the desktop and keeping everyone productive.”
In addition, each office had its own phone system, so placing a call to colleagues around the state incurred long-distance costs. To facilitate intraregional meetings, Girl Scouts of Colorado was paying U.S.$1,800 a month for a third-party web conferencing solution. Also, staff had problems with the organization’s remote access solution. To access files from home, employees had to initiate a virtual private network session and then launch the Microsoft Office Outlook messaging and collaboration client, which was cumbersome and caused confusion.
“It became apparent from my first day that the lack of appropriate, useful, up-to-date technology was literally grounding us,” says Ferland. “We had just reorganized from six regional councils to a single, statewide council, so very quickly we became focused on how do we connect staff from Grand Junction to Yuma, from Trinidad to Fort Collins? How do we facilitate staff being able to work together across functions and on a wide range of complex projects with the technology infrastructure that we had at that point? The quick answer was: we couldn’t.”
The Girl Scouts of Colorado wanted to focus on building great programs for the state’s 2,700 active Girl Scout troops, not on keeping aging technology running. Ferland envisioned a more up-to-date IT platform that would support seamless communications among management and volunteers as they worked to enrich the council’s programs and mentor the girls. Yet, as a nonprofit organization that relies on fundraising drives and cookie sales, Girl Scouts of Colorado had to find a cost-effective way to upgrade its IT systems.
At the same time, most of the staff and volunteers’ level of computing skills dictated that any new solutions would have to be easy to use. Not all the employees had learned how to make use of the existing technology. For example, management staff did not use shared calendars in Office Outlook to organize meetings and would write out their calendars for the receptionist at the front desk each week.
The council was already paying a third-party IT solution provider to maintain its servers, so Girl Scouts of Colorado first turned to this provider for a quote on purchasing new servers and migrating to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010. The bid was more than $50,000. The council decided to get an independent assessment of its IT environment and another opinion about the best way to move forward. “We knew we needed more available, reliable systems to work collaboratively across functions and across the state, but we also knew we needed significant technology support,” says Ferland. “We just needed to find the best solution and the best support at a price point we could afford.” Solution
Girl Scouts of Colorado found the solution to its IT problems after talking to Statera, an IT and business consulting company headquartered in Denver, Colorado, and a Microsoft National System Integrator Partner with Gold certifications in Server Platform, Portals and Collaboration, and Business Intelligence, as well as 14 Silver competencies. The council invited Statera to perform an independent assessment of its IT environment and to suggest a strategy for computing investments going forward.
A Move to the Cloud
“We determined that due to the limited IT funds and resources they had to manage systems, a move to cloud-based systems would be beneficial for Girl Scouts of Colorado,” says Sean McNeill, Director of Infrastructure Practice at Statera. “They wanted reliable, low-maintenance, low-cost email and collaboration services for anyone to use anywhere. The Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite was a perfect fit for the Girl Scouts of Colorado.”
||Once the staff harnessed the power of the new tools, they were amazed at how their collaboration and organizational efficiency improved. Now we are hosting more than 50 live meetings a month!
President and Chief Executive Officer, Girl Scouts of Colorado
The Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite is a collection of cloud-based communication and collaboration services from Microsoft Online Services. Because the solution is hosted off-site in Microsoft data centers, Girl Scouts of Colorado can take advantage of a low-cost, per-user, per-month subscription to access Microsoft SharePoint Online; Microsoft Exchange Online, which includes access from Microsoft Office Outlook and browser-based access to email using Microsoft Office Outlook Web Access, and access from mobile devices using the ActiveSync service from Microsoft; Microsoft Office Communications Online; and Microsoft Office Live Meeting hosted conferencing without investing in software licenses or hardware support.
“Statera helped us identify Business Productivity Online as the best way to help us work from a camp property, an office building, or a lodge, from very rural locations with limited connectivity to major urban centers,” says Ferland. “The solution would enable us to have staff in all of those different situations come together and be as productive as they needed to be to support our council across the state. Statera was fantastic about interviewing people to learn what we do and ultimately helping us to understand the value of cloud services and moving towards a whole new way of using technology.”
Statera also discussed the security requirements that Girl Scouts of Colorado had regarding data and email communications. “After we explained about the controls that Microsoft has in place at its data centers, such as adhering to International Organization for Standardization 27002 [an information security management standard], the council felt very comfortable about going with a Microsoft cloud-based solution,” says McNeill. A Simple Migration
In December of 2010, Statera began to migrate Girl Scouts of Colorado from its on-premises installation of Exchange Server 2003 to Exchange Online, which offers 25 gigabytes of email storage per mailbox, a 1,000 percent improvement over its predecessor. Next, the Statera team implemented Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting. Statera also demonstrated to Girl Scouts of Colorado employees how to take advantage of many of the new features available in Office Outlook Web Access and in Office Live Meeting hosted conferencing. Staff quickly became proficient in sharing online calendars and scheduling meetings and meeting rooms, as well as using presence awareness, instant messaging, and computer-to-computer calling capabilities within Office Communications Online.
The second phase of the deployment involved migrating data to SharePoint Online. “We consolidated more than 100 gigabytes of data from the existing Windows SharePoint Services implementation in the Denver office and from the many file servers around the state,” says McNeill. “We worked with Girl Scouts management to create a new taxonomy for their files in SharePoint and to design a topology for the site that made sense for the organization. We built sub-sites around each department, for example cookie sales, human resources, and finance. We also built an intranet site where everyone can go to get information, and, for each employee, we created a site that they could use for their own purposes.”
About two weeks before the go-live date of April 2011, Statera started moving the data, mapping it to different locations in the SharePoint Online environment. The weekend before the go-live date, Statera performed a delta synchronization of all data that had changed since the initial upload and got everything up-to-date so that on Monday morning all the latest files were ready to access through SharePoint Online.
By the end of the project, all 180 Girl Scouts of Colorado employees were enrolled in the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite. “The transition to the cloud was relatively seamless and made a significant impact on our staff’s productivity,” says Ferland. “Once the staff harnessed the power of the new tools, they were amazed at how their collaboration and organizational efficiency improved. Now we are hosting more than 50 live meetings a month!”
When Girl Scouts of Colorado has had a few months to familiarize itself with online computing, Statera plans to introduce the council to Microsoft Office 365, the next generation of Microsoft Online Services. “Office 365 offers a seamless upgrade from Business Productivity Online and has many new features, such as an increased level of control over the Exchange Online environment and external access for outside users to collaborate in the SharePoint Online environment,” says McNeill. “And Lync Online, the next iteration of Office Communications Online, allows federation with instant messaging communities such as MSN, Yahoo!, and AOL.” Benefits
With the move to cloud-based communication and collaboration services from Microsoft, Girl Scouts of Colorado is saving money, improving productivity, and enjoying the benefits of seamless communication and collaboration so that it can focus more on what it does best: making a difference in the lives of girls across the state.
Now that Girl Scouts of Colorado has a single platform for online collaboration that offers a central document repository, everyone knows where to find the latest version of a file. Just being able to quickly find an up-to-date document in the SharePoint Online environment is a benefit that is repeated daily for employees, who also no longer need to log on through a virtual private network.
||We used to spend $21,600 a year on our webinar service. With Live Meeting, we could retire our old webinar service, save that expense, and expand our online services all at once.
Director of Business Systems, Girl Scouts of Colorado
Ferland gives a typical example. “Because we have staff from across the state working on different functions, there are a lot of dispersed people who need to know whether or not we have a troop at a particular school. It used to be that everyone sent email messages around of their own version of the document that listed which troops were located in which schools. Now that we are using SharePoint Online, we have one, up-to-date document that everybody can access regardless of where they are. We’re more productive because we are all working off the same page.”
The online collaboration solution also helps a cadre of dedicated volunteers across the state to plan events and manage fundraising programs. “Before we moved to Business Productivity Online, volunteers either had to try and make it all work on the phone, or they would have to physically get together,” says Ferland. “In Colorado, the weather can be difficult, so being able to have those volunteers get together via Live Meeting to work out the details of their programs is a huge step forward. People are a lot happier now, because they do not have to drive through blinding snowstorms to plan an event.”
Thanks to the rich calendaring and meeting organization capabilities in Office Outlook and Office Live Meeting, employees are no longer wasting time writing out their schedules for other people to check. “Business Productivity Online has really helped us with being able to open up Outlook and share calendars with anyone else in the organization,” says Mountain. “Anyone can look at a calendar and find a meeting room without involving the receptionist.”Reduces Costs
By choosing a Microsoft cloud-based solution instead of building up its on-premises IT infrastructure, the Girl Scouts of Colorado avoided upgrade costs of $50,000. It has also retired almost 50 percent of its server hardware. This has saved hardware replacement costs and reduced the server maintenance contracted with the third-party provider. “We used to have them come in about 10 to 15 hours per week, and we now only require about four to six hours per week for server and help-desk issues,” says Nichole Franko, Director of Business Systems at the Girl Scouts of Colorado.”
Additionally, increased use of computer-to-computer calling among staff at regional offices has reduced telephone costs. Girl Scouts of Colorado has retired its third-party web conferencing solution because now employees are using Office Live Meeting to conduct online meetings and train volunteers. “We used to spend $21,600 a year on our webinar service,” says Franko. “With Live Meeting, we could retire our old webinar service, save that expense, and expand our online services all at once.”
Adds McNeill, “The cost savings from cancelling the contract for their previous web conferencing service covers the monthly cost of the whole Business Productivity Online contract.”Reduces IT Maintenance
Today, Girl Scouts of Colorado employees are happy to let Microsoft take care of managing the servers required to run their communication and collaboration services. Less involvement in daily IT tasks means more time to devote to their work.
“With the move to Business Productivity Online, we have been able to take the staff, who used to spend way too much time trying to keep servers running, and have those very talented people dedicate themselves to supporting our teams working together across the state,” says Ferland. “It has been a huge improvement for us in terms of productivity and morale across the council.”Improves Desktop Support
Equipped with improved communication tools, Mountain can be much more productive in her role providing desktop support to remote users, reducing downtime and frustration for council staff. “Once we moved onto Microsoft cloud services, we decommissioned the Exchange server, the SharePoint server, and the file servers,” says Mountain. “This has freed up a lot of my time to be able to go out and do patches on computers and keep up with desktop support, instead of spending most of my time with the servers. To fix a problem on a computer on the other side of the state, I can instant message the user. And if we can’t solve the problem through instant messaging, I can audio conference [with] them. And if we can’t figure it out through audio conferencing, then we can start an online meeting, and I can share their desktop. Basically, I’ve got any type of communication I need to solve an issue on a computer.”
“I used to say that we were in the Dark Ages with our technology,” Ferland concludes. “But what Business Productivity Online has meant for Girl Scouts of Colorado, I can sum up in three words: up-to-date.” Microsoft Online Services
Microsoft Online Services are business-class communication and collaboration solutions delivered as a subscription service and hosted by Microsoft. With these offerings, customers can cost-effectively access the most up-to-date technologies and immediately benefit from streamlined communications, simplified management, and business-class reliability and security features. For IT staffers, Microsoft Online Services are backed by strong service level agreements and help reduce the burden of performing routine IT management, freeing up time to focus on core business initiatives.
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