CIF uses IBM Lotus Notes in its Paris headquarters. However, its 3,500 employees in 300 branch offices used many different e-mail solutions. CIF wanted to provide a single, secure, consistent e-mail solution for its branches, though extending its corporate network and Notes infrastructure would be costly and time-consuming. CIF officials believed they could achieve their goals faster and at lower cost by engaging an online service provider to deliver the messaging support they needed.
Finding the right online solution was the challenge. CIF officials knew they needed a solution that would be reliable, available, and secure. Moreover, given the company’s productivity goals, CIF officials knew they needed a solution that their 3,500 users could embrace quickly, with minimal training or change management.
In 2008, CIF Director of IT Production & Integration Laurent Debes looked at Google Apps to see if it could to fulfill the company’s requirements. His early trial of the solution, however, gave way to insurmountable concerns. The interface was unfamiliar and took too long to accomplish necessary tasks. Furthermore, looking around, Debes saw no evidence that any enterprises comparable to CIF had deployed the solution.
“In my judgment,” says Debes, “Google Apps is not an enterprise-class solution. It’s a consumer solution, and we did not want to risk our business on it.”
While he was looking at Google Apps, Microsoft and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Exakis introduced Debes to the Business Productivity Online Suite from Microsoft Online Services.
The Business Productivity Online Suite from Microsoft Online Services would enable employees in the CIF branches to gain access to a range of enterprise-class services—including desktop and mobile e-mail, calendaring and contacts, instant messaging, presence, audio/video conferencing, Web conferencing, collaboration tools and shared workspaces, workflow, and more. At the same time, the applications supporting these services—including Microsoft SharePoint® Online, Microsoft Exchange Online, Office Live Meeting, and Microsoft Office Communications Online—run on servers residing in state-of-the-art Microsoft data centers, so CIF would not have to invest in any on-premises infrastructure to take advantage of these services.
Microsoft and Exakis explained that Microsoft hosts and maintains the servers with its own staff of hardware and software experts, supplies patches and security updates in real time, and guarantees 99.9 percent uptime with a financially-backed service level agreement (SLA), so CIF branch users would always have the latest, most up-to-date versions of these applications. Moreover, the cost of these applications would really be no more than the cost of Google Apps. CIF could subscribe to the Business Productivity Online Suite on a per-user, per month basis, paying only for the services to which it subscribed at any time.
Finally, they showed Debes the Deskless Worker version of the Business Productivity Online Suite. This offering provides a streamlined experience of the standard online applications and would be suitable for CIF employees who do not need access to all the Business Productivity Online Suite services. The Microsoft Exchange Online Deskless Worker offering, for example, would provide an employee with online storage and access a subset of the Microsoft Exchange Online services using Microsoft Outlook® Web Access.
For Debes, choosing to deploy the Business Productivity Online Suite over Google Apps was not a difficult decision. CIF would be able to provide its branch users with access to services that were already proven to be enterprise-grade and whose client interfaces were already familiar to the majority of users. Pricing was predictable and affordable, and Exakis could get the branch users up and running on this new solution rapidly.
- Enterprise-class services Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Microsoft Office Communications Online have already been tested and proven as enterprise-class services.
- Familiar client interfaces “Microsoft Office Outlook has a familiar user interface,” says Debes, “and for us that is very important. Most of our users already know how Outlook works. With Google Apps, that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t an interface most people found intuitive or familiar, and we could see that that was going to create change management issues for us that could be significant. With the Business Productivity Online Suite, we don’t have to worry about that.”
- Predictable short- and long-term costs Microsoft Online Services offers the Business Productivity Online Suite on a per-user, per-month subscription basis, so costs are predictable and CIF pays only for the services to which it subscribes. “Compared to Google Apps, we’re paying the same amount for the Business Productivity Online Suite,” says Debes.
- Rapid Deployment Bringing branch users into the Business Productivity Online Suite is largely a matter of Exakis provisioning their accounts, which can be done in a matter of hours, if not minutes. There are no servers to size or configure, no client licenses to purchase, so the 300 CIF branches can gain access to an enterprise mail solution far faster than they could if CIF had to build out the network and extend Lotus Notes to each of the branches.
“Working with Exakis and Microsoft Online Services has been our first practical experience with software as a service,” says Debes. “Strategically, we really wanted that to work for us, and so far we’re very happy with the way it’s going.”