4-page Case Study
Posted: 11/29/2011
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Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation Auto Dealership Drives Efficiency and Saves $34,000 by Using Integrated Technologies

Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation, an auto dealership in Virginia, needed to standardize its technology environment to provide a reliable employee experience, advanced tools to promote efficient communication, and easier manageability for IT staff. The company entered into a Microsoft Enterprise Client Access License (CAL) Suite agreement, which includes software such as Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, and the Microsoft Forefront Protection Suite. Checkered Flag now has a homogeneous environment and sophisticated IT management tools to help IT staff members do more in less time while saving more than U.S.$34,000. IT staff can investigate and deploy other Enterprise CAL technologies without incurring significant costs. Employees use the new solutions to share documents and communicate efficiently, which helps them spend more time focused on customers.

Situation
The economic downturn in the United States has taken its toll on the auto-dealership industry, but Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation has fared better than most. The company—which offers its customers in Virginia and North Carolina vehicles made by Audi, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Porsche, Scion, Toyota, Volkswagen, and MINI, plus a large pre-owned dealership—experienced a downturn in 2008 and was forced to reduce and reorganize. Checkered Flag quickly recovered and has been going strong ever since.

The company attributes its health to its high level of customer service, which sets it apart from its competition. “Checkered Flag has been in the business for nearly 50 years, and our dealership locations are known all over the two-state area as having the best customer service in the industry,” says Guy Watkins, IT Director at Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation.

The Need for Upgraded Technology
Not long ago, however, Checkered Flag was in danger of losing its competitive edge. The company, focused on pleasing customers and boosting sales, had stopped investing in its IT infrastructure. Checkered Flag lacked a regular software or hardware refresh cycle, which had resulted in considerable downtime for employees and maintenance challenges for its three IT staff members. Its desktop computers, which were seven years old, broke often and had to be visited in person by an IT staff member to be fixed. “It took a lot of shoe leather to try to keep everyone up and running,” admits Watkins. “When it came to both hardware and software, the company had operated on the idea that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it—but you can’t do that and remain effective.”

Network security issues and an outdated, heterogeneous software landscape—including three different email systems and operating systems from multiple vendors, which went as far back as Microsoft Windows 3.1—added to the work interruptions. Because they managed such an array of technologies, the company’s IT staff members often lacked the time and resources they needed to respond to problems in a timely manner. For example, one of the company’s email servers and one of its spam servers ran on a Linux operating system. When issues arose, downtime could be extended because only one person on the IT staff knew how to work with Linux. “Not only were there potential productivity opportunities that we were not pursuing, but our environment was actually hampering employees’ efforts to get regular work done,” says Watkins. “For instance, we used to hear from a lot of unhappy coworkers who were frustrated at their inability to open files from each other because the files were created and saved in different versions of a product.”

Checkered Flag moved quickly to change its situation, hiring Watkins in 2005 to address its stagnant technology efforts. He set out to not only get Checkered Flag up to speed on available technology tools and assets, but also to prepare the company to take advantage of future advancements.

Improvement efforts began immediately, with Watkins investigating the latest technology offerings from Microsoft and following best practices to deploy the Active Directory service and migrate all the company’s disparate email accounts to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. “Why wouldn’t we choose to standardize on the industry leader’s technologies?” says Watkins. “We knew they would work in our environment, could quickly stabilize it, and would be comfortable for everyone in our user community, from salespeople to financing specialists.”

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* Thanks to the Enterprise CAL, we have given our employees what they need to work more efficiently and more securely, which gives them more time to devote to our customers and to hone our competitive edge. *

Guy Watkins
IT Director, Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation

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“I actively look for ways to make things as straightforward as possible for my colleagues, particularly those in the Checkered Flag IT department because there are only three of us supporting a workforce of 524,” says Watkins. “We could minimize possible integration issues by choosing to implement compatible Microsoft technologies, and they give IT staff an easy learning curve when it comes to their maintenance.”

The Push for Streamlined Communications
Managers at the various Checkered Flag dealerships stay in close contact, sharing sales numbers, checking inventory, passing on leads, and discussing and reporting management issues. They also require continual access to the company’s centralized accounting resources, as do the Checkered Flag sales representatives, who need instant access to central accounting information while they are working with customers. In the past, employees hand-carried critical information between dealerships or sent faxes. “Our CFO used to have to fax legal and other documents 40 to 50 times a day,” recalls Watkins. “With three different email systems, too much was getting lost, remaining unsent, and so on. It was a nightmare.”

Creating and supporting smoother business processes throughout Checkered Flag was—and continues to be—one of the IT Director’s chief goals. For instance, if the company had to terminate an employee, there was no set way for the human resources (HR) department to find out and take appropriate steps regarding systems access and other measures.

Solution
Perhaps the most significant change that Checkered Flag made was to enter into a Microsoft Enterprise Client Access License (CAL) Suite agreement, which the company signed in May 2011. “We had previously signed a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, but having an Enterprise CAL agreement in place meant that we could upgrade our infrastructure more cost-effectively and also enjoy the benefits of experimenting with the included or bundled technologies without making a significant investment,” explains Watkins.

Virtualization served as one of the key motivators for the company’s adoption of the Enterprise CAL Suite. The company had 10 outdated server computers that needed to be replaced, and it recognized that it would be nearly 50 percent more cost-efficient to virtualize them and purchase licenses for the Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter operating system with Hyper-V technology rather than buy 10 new pieces of hardware. “And by investing in the Enterprise CAL, those Windows Server licenses were included,” says Watkins.

Communications Upgrade
Under its Enterprise CAL agreement, Checkered Flag has upgraded to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 at no expense. “We decided to move to Exchange Server 2010 for the functionality we could gain in multiple areas,” says Watkins. “For instance, we are adding Unified Messaging in Exchange Server 2010 and establishing tighter integration with our Cisco telephony system.” Checkered Flag is deploying wireless networks in its dealerships so that salespeople and other employees can take greater advantage of mobile devices to further improve the speed and quality of their customer interactions.

For help with its upgrade to Exchange Server 2010, Checkered Flag turned to Richmond, Virginia–based SyCom Technologies, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network with a Gold competency in Virtualization and Silver competencies in Desktop, Messaging, Server Platform, and Systems Management. The partner helped the Checkered Flag IT staff make the up-front changes that were necessary for the implementation to be successful. “It’s been a real boon to have SyCom experts assist with all the planning and coordination, transferring their knowledge along to us,” says Watkins. In November 2011, Checkered Flag made a smooth overnight switch of all its users to the new Exchange Server 2010 system.

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* When we compared costs and saw all that we could achieve by standardizing on the Forefront Protection products, we saw no reason not to make the most of our Enterprise CAL and migrate to them. *

Guy Watkins
IT Director, Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation

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Collaboration Capabilities
One of the company’s business goals was to gain control over its documents to improve both their accuracy and employee productivity. Sharing information by using email left Checkered Flag vulnerable to version-control issues because employees could simultaneously change the same spreadsheet, inventory report, and so on. “I used to have to regularly restore documents that had gotten out of control,” recalls Watkins. “Establishing document checkout rules with clear alerts was the only way to achieve and gently enforce a single version of the truth in our documentation.”

To do so, Checkered Flag deployed Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, and now employees use automated workflow processes in the solution for file sharing and data mining and to streamline numerous HR processes, such as new employee hires, transfers, and terminations. All of the company’s policies and procedures are routed, electronically signed, and recorded for compliance using SharePoint Server 2010. The IT department also launched a Checkered Flag company intranet that is based on SharePoint Server 2010. “We introduced our dealerships’ general managers to SharePoint, showing them how to use it as a document repository so that they can easily share information, and a couple of them have surprised us with their enthusiastic adoption of the technology, already building substantial SharePoint sites,” says Watkins. “Employees are adding more documents of all kinds on a daily basis.”

Security and System Management Enhancements
Checkered Flag used Kaspersky Lab software to protect its Exchange Server environment but had encountered numerous difficulties with it. “The integration issues, false positives, and other problems were driving our upper management crazy,” recalls Watkins. “Our interest was piqued by the Microsoft Forefront Protection Suite,” says Watkins. “When we compared costs and saw all that we could achieve by standardizing on the Forefront Protection products, we saw no reason not to make the most of our Enterprise CAL and migrate to them.”

The company also decided to switch from its existing antivirus software to Microsoft Forefront Endpoint Protection 2010. “Although it meant moving away from Kaspersky, our long-time antivirus solution provider, bringing in Forefront Endpoint Protection 2010 was one of the best things we’ve ever done,” says Watkins. ”We live and die by email these days. Our five dealership campuses need to be able to communicate with each other within seconds.”

In addition to Forefront Endpoint Protection, Checkered Flag also is using Microsoft Forefront Protection 2010 for Exchange Server, Forefront Online Protection for Exchange, and Forefront Protection 2010 for SharePoint, which together provide centrally managed endpoint protection to safeguard nearly every aspect of the business.

To manage the Forefront solutions, deploy software updates, and handle other management tasks, the Checkered Flag IT staff relies on Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007. The company also uses Microsoft System Center Service Manager 2010 and System Center Data Protection Manager 2010, which helps back up the company’s data and which replaced its existing system from Symantec. “I think System Center Data Protection Manager is the top method available for backing up a server farm,” says Watkins. “It is by far the easiest to configure and to learn how to use.”

Future Plans
Checkered Flag is testing Microsoft Lync Server 2010, which can provide an additional communications mechanism for employees. The company also is working to establish off-site disaster-recovery capabilities with a storage area network in a colocation facility. “Disaster recovery is of paramount importance to us,” says Watkins. “Although we’re not yet where we want to be, we’re a lot better off now than we were a few years ago, partly due to the opportunities afforded by our Enterprise CAL agreement.”

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* Without taking advantage of the Enterprise CAL, we never could have accomplished all that we have so far with such a small IT staff. *

Guy Watkins
IT Director, Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation

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Benefits
Now that its technology environment is back on track, Checkered Flag is poised to build on its successes. The company has improved its IT management capabilities, which means that IT staff members can devote more time to strategic projects. Other employees now take advantage of up-to-date technology tools to enhance their efficiency, which gives them more time to focus on serving customers. “My life is made so much easier by the Enterprise CAL because it keeps track of licensing for all our major software assets, the solutions we have implemented work closely with each other, and our dealership managers, salespeople, and other employees are actively using the tools we give them,” says Watkins.

Cost Savings of $34,000
Checkered Flag saves in both software and hardware costs when it takes advantage of its Enterprise CAL agreement. For example, the company is saving U.S.$25,000 over three years by replacing its former Kaspersky Lab system with Forefront Endpoint Protection 2010, and it is avoiding the cost of a new server, for a total of $34,000 in savings.

“We also implemented virtualized servers running on the Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter operating system at half of what it would have cost to replace our old servers,” says Watkins. “Plus, we now have the flexibility to quickly add new servers whenever the need arises. Cost savings like these are especially critical in such a tight economic climate.”

Efficiency Gains of 20 Percent for IT Staff
Checkered Flag has found that using solutions such as System Center Configuration Manager 2007 helps its small IT team take on new projects while continuing to serve so many coworkers—without the need for additional staff members. “Anything that we can do to streamline management of the company’s IT assets is welcome, in part because it gives us back so much time to tackle more strategic work,” says Watkins. “We used to spend 30 percent of our time handling PC updates, fixes, and modifications and undoing alterations that employees had made to their computers. Now we can control PCs companywide and only spend 10 percent of our time on software management. We do a lot more software version changes, security updates for all our systems, and other management tasks now that we have System Center—and we can do all of it without leaving the office.”

With each IT staff member supporting so many users, the department cannot afford for one of them to devote large amounts of time to learning complex new software systems. Each IT staff member must handle multiple systems and responsibilities, so being nimble and having a cohesive IT environment is essential. “Without taking advantage of the Enterprise CAL, we never could have accomplished all that we have so far with such a small IT staff,” says Watkins. “The relatively flat learning curve for Microsoft technologies is helpful, too. Even if something is new to us, such as Unified Messaging, it’s still based on a familiar Microsoft look and feel and comes with great documentation, technical support, and an active user community, all of which make it more doable.”

On the rare occasions when Checkered Flag needs support, the company can take advantage of Microsoft Software Assurance, which comes with the Enterprise CAL agreement and includes access to educational courses to help the company’s IT staff learn more about a technology solution. Also, those courses can be swapped for implementation resources. Either way, that benefit lends agility to the company’s lean IT staff, enhancing its ability to make the most of their time and their software solutions. “Those freedoms help us get a lot more accomplished, considering the size of our IT staff,” says Watkins.

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* My world has been made a whole lot easier by the Enterprise CAL. We have no licensing worries throughout the year—we just true up the numbers on an annual basis. That gives us a lot more agility to make changes when we need to. *

Guy Watkins
IT Director, Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation

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Endless Flexibility
Watkins particularly appreciates the ability to “test drive” new solutions without making a significant financial investment. “I’m really pleased that I can thoroughly evaluate whether a solution is the right fit for our environment. Because so many technologies are covered by our Enterprise CAL agreement, I can do a lot of experimenting without having to present a proposal to upper management until I know exactly what I need, and often, what I need requires no major financial output because it falls within our existing licensing agreement,” says Watkins. “Other software vendors offer free 30-day trials of their products, but often that is not a big enough window for our three-person IT operation to find the time to conduct the kind of thorough testing we like to do prior to making a purchase. With the freedom of the Enterprise CAL and the option to quickly set up virtual servers, we can get all the way to testing user adoption without spending a dime.”

The company also recognizes the convenience of having a single license that covers so many technology areas. “My world has been made a whole lot easier by the Enterprise CAL. We have no licensing worries throughout the year—we just true up the numbers on an annual basis,” notes Watkins. “That gives us a lot more agility to make changes when we need to.”

Increased Employee Productivity for Better Customer Service
Checkered Flag employees now can make the most of their time because the company has a reliable, cohesive, up-to-date technology environment. “Employees can work so much better together now because they all use the same versions of the same powerful solutions, everything gets routinely upgraded throughout the company, and updates take place right when they need to happen,” says Watkins.

Additionally, the company now provides employees with mechanisms to foster communications, helping managers share information among the dealerships and empowering employees. “In the automotive sales business, a document’s data can change by the minute,” says Watkins. “By keeping our spreadsheets, sales information, inventory data, policies, and procedures accurate and readily accessible on our intranet, the company can run more efficiently. Employees have to check documents in and out, sign off that they have read important wikis, and so on. Thanks to our new capabilities, we’ve been able to establish more sophisticated ways of doing business throughout the company, and that enhanced professionalism makes our upper managers happy,” says Watkins.

Having a more comprehensive system for document management also pleases the company’s auditors. Although it is not a publicly held company, Checkered Flag regularly conducts audits, and its most recent one went extremely well. “The auditors definitely liked seeing the SharePoint Server 2010 functionality we’ve put in place, such as invoice controls, HR practices, and other automated workflow processes,” says Watkins.

All those efficiencies mean that Checkered Flag employees can focus more on customers, helping the company maintain its status as offering the best customer service. “Thanks to the Enterprise CAL, we have given our employees what they need to work more efficiently and more securely, which in turn gives them more time to devote to our customers and to hone our competitive edge,” says Watkins.

Microsoft Infrastructure Optimization
With infrastructure optimization, you can build a secure, well-managed, and dynamic core IT infrastructure that can reduce overall IT costs, make better use of resources, and become a strategic asset for the business. The Infrastructure Optimization model—with basic, standardized, rationalized, and dynamic levels—was developed by Microsoft using industry best practices and Microsoft’s own experiences with enterprise customers. The Infrastructure Optimization model provides a maturity framework that is flexible and easily used as a benchmark for technical capability and business value.

For more information about Microsoft infrastructure optimization, go to:
www.microsoft.com/businessproductivity

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about SyCom Technologies products and services, call (804) 262-7100 or visit the website at:
www.sycomtech.com

For more information about Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation products and services, call (757) 490-1111 or visit the website at:
www.checkeredflag.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 524 employees

Organization Profile

Virginia Beach, Virginia–based Checkered Flag Motor Car Corporation is a family-owned auto-dealership group with 524 employees and five campuses, serving regions in Virginia and North Carolina.


Business Situation

The company sought to maintain its high level of customer service, but the unreliability of the disparate technologies in its outdated environment strained IT staff and hampered employees’ overall efficiency.


Solution

Checkered Flag invested in a Microsoft Enterprise Client Access License Suite agreement, through which it cost-effectively implemented productivity-enhancing technologies such as the Microsoft Forefront Protection Suite.


Benefits

  • Cost savings of U.S.$34,000
  • 20 percent greater IT staff efficiency
  • Endless flexibility
  • Increased employee productivity


Software and Services
  • Microsoft Enterprise CAL Suite
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2010
  • Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
  • Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007
  • Microsoft System Center Service Manager 2010
  • Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2010
  • Microsoft Forefront Endpoint Protection 2010
  • Microsoft Forefront Protection 2010 For Exchange Server
  • Microsoft Forefront Online Protection For Exchange
  • Microsoft Forefront Protection 2010 For Sharepoint
  • Microsoft Hyper-V

Vertical Industries
Motor Vehicle Parts Dealers

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
  • Cost Containment
  • Unified Communications

Languages
English

Partner(s)
SyCom Technologies

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