"We don’t have to think about upgrades; we don’t have to think about infrastructure; and we don’t have to think about support. It’s all done for us."
Ashley Peck, General Manager, ICT, SP AusNet
Energy company SP AusNet supplies approximately one million homes in Victoria with electricity or gas. In late 2010, they needed to upgrade the company’s ageing Lotus Notes-based email platform, which was becoming unreliable and difficult to maintain. They wanted an email system that would be cheaper to support, easier to deploy to new staff, more robust and accessible through smartphones.
Staff considered upgrading Lotus Notes, but saw the additional costs in extra software, servers and licences would be excessive. Instead, SP AusNet staff decided to move to a hosted email platform, using Microsoft® Exchange Online, which is part of Microsoft® Online Services.
SP AusNet staff deployed the new email system in the first half of 2011. Since it is a hosted service, the company has avoided having to make an expensive investment in licences and server infrastructure, saving A$500,000. The hosted Exchange Online service is robust and easy to deploy for new staff members, and can be rapidly provisioned on smartphones so field staff can get maps, drawings and weather forecasts quickly while working onsite.
||“We initially examined an upgrade to the Lotus Notes system, but that appeared to be too expensive, largely because of the additional server and licensing costs.”
Melbourne-based SP AusNet is one of the largest power distributors in Victoria, with approximately 12,800 high-voltage towers and 6,500 kilometres of transmission lines.
“We supply electricity to over 630,000 customers in eastern Victoria, and gas to 530,000 homes in central and western Victoria,” says Ashley Peck, General Manager, ICT, SP AusNet. “Overall, we manage six-and-a-half billion dollars of assets, and our objective is to deliver reliable power to our customers.”
SP AusNet employs between 900 and 1,000 technical staff who work in the power stations, along transmission line routes, up towers and down pipelines. One of their key requirements is efficient communications. However, by mid-2010, the company’s existing email system was becoming unreliable and difficult to maintain.
“We initially examined an upgrade to the Lotus Notes system, but that appeared to be far too expensive, largely because of the additional server and licensing costs,” says Chris Howard, Manager, ICT Services, Information and Communication Technology, SP AusNet.
“It was difficult for us to get Lotus Notes onto smart phones,” adds Howard. “We encountered a lot of failure points getting each phone synchronised with an email account. It took us a great deal of time and required extra software and server licences.”
This was an important issue for SP AusNet staff because technicians frequently encounter unexpected issues while actually up towers or poles, or working on static inverters. “In that case, technical staff need to contact experts for detailed information about the history of what they are working with,” says Howard.
As a result, staff began to look for a replacement email system – one that would be inexpensive to deploy, scalable, robust and accessible by technical staff who work remotely.
One option considered by Howard was a switch to hosted email services. The company CIO had worked with cloud email before and knew that it would reduce capital investment and maintenance costs.
“We wouldn’t need server hardware, we wouldn’t need to patch and we wouldn’t need ongoing mail server maintenance resources,” says Howard. “In addition, we could scale cloud email to our business. For example, if we needed to, we could quickly equip 50 contract staff with mobile email without worrying about additional server hardware or capacity requirements.”
In early 2011, Howard and his staff piloted Microsoft® Exchange Online with a range of staff mobile devices, including Windows® Phone 7 and ruggedised notebooks running the Windows® operating system, as well as iPhones and iPads. After concluding the cloud-based email system was both reliable and flexible, Howard began the deployment. He was helped by the Premier Deployment Services team at Microsoft, whose specific focus is to assist customers migrating their e-mail to the cloud.
In the five months that followed, Howard and his colleagues provisioned Microsoft® Outlook® accounts for every member of staff. Individual migrations occurred overnight, so that when employees logged in the next morning, their inboxes, sent files, and calendar appointments all appeared in the new Outlook format.
||“We can control our IT spend more effectively now. Microsoft manages all the upgrades and all we have to do is pay a monthly per-user fee.”
To ensure staff got the maximum benefits from the new platform, SP AusNet engaged Ogilvy Impact to devise a change management and communication strategy to accompany the roll-out.
“We used an approach called emotional engagement,” says Tam Sandeman, Managing Director, Ogilvy Impact. “This means we looked at the deployment from the employee perspective. By understanding their mindset and asking the question ‘what’s in it for me?’ we were able to give a compelling answer and gain their buy-in to the change.”
By April 2011, all employees had been transitioned to Outlook email using Microsoft® Online Services. The company issued staff with approximately 100 smartphones running Windows Phone 7, as well as 35 Motion Tablet PCs running Windows. In addition, one project team has started to share project management documentation using the online collaboration service Microsoft® SharePoint® Online.
By migrating its email system onto Microsoft Online Services, SP AusNet has reduced IT costs, increased corporate flexibility and enabled field staff to communicate more effectively with Head Office staff and company-wide resources. Howard is confident his team can quickly deploy email to any employee whenever the business requires.
The new Microsoft Exchange-based email system has the potential to save money, improve cost control and simplify email support.
“We could have upgraded our Lotus Notes system, but this option would have cost more to deliver and been less efficient in the long run.” says Howard. “By using Microsoft Online Services, we have reduced the costs of deploying mobile email, and overall we believe we will save A$500,000 in IT costs.”
“We can control our IT spend more effectively now,” he adds. “Microsoft manages all the upgrades and all we have to do is pay a monthly per-user fee. All the information and email is on their servers, so we don’t have to worry as much about security and back-ups.”
Greater corporate flexibility
For Howard, the biggest business benefit is the speed at which his team can deploy email services.
“By moving to Microsoft Online Services, field staff can get access to information anywhere at any time,” says Peck. “Microsoft Online Services allows us to deploy the latest technology – we don’t have to think about upgrades; we don’t have to think about infrastructure; and we don’t have to think about support. It’s all done for us.”
“It’s now very, very easy for us to get smart phones synched so that staff can use email remotely,” says Howard. “So if a new project comes online, I can deploy new email accounts and get them rolled out on laptops, tablets and mobile devices, almost immediately.”
Mobile knowledge sharing
With mobile email, staff are not restricted to receiving information updates through voice or SMS messages. Now, the SP AusNet Control Centre can send detailed pictures, map, weather information and technical drawings to field staff so they can plan their work better and complete it faster.
“With ruggedised Windows-based tablet PCs, remote technical staff can use all the communications they normally use on their desktop, including email and calendaring, as well as share photographs and technical drawings,” says Reuben Jong, Manager, Projects Works Management Group, SP AusNet.
“We can push out new safety policies and procedures, and training material to field staff whenever we want,” adds Peck. “Online Services opens up the ability to look at many different ways to educate our workforce.”
More capable employees
Senior executives believe that the ability to access email and information from anywhere will empower the workforce, and improve productivity.
“Ultimately the people who benefit from Online Services are the workers in the field,” says Peck. “Whether they are in a substation or up a pole – they can access critical content at any time. That’s the power of Online Services.”
Microsoft product that was featured
Microsoft® Online Services is a set of messaging and collaboration tools, delivered as a subscription service, that gives your business rich capabilities without the need to deploy and maintain software and hardware on-premise. These online services are designed to help meet your needs for robust security, all-day every-day reliability, and user productivity.
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services call the sales and information line on 13 20 58 Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm AEST. To find a partner or solution, visit http://www.microsoft.com/australia/findapartner