Lodestone is a management consultancy that ensures a lean operational structure by selectively outsourcing its IT functions. However, Lodestone was dissatisfied with the services of the company that it contracted to host Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. The same hoster maintained a file server that housed corporate documents, but it was difficult for consultants to access this data over a slow virtual private network. Lodestone wanted to provide better communication and collaboration tools for its consultants to access information and connect with one another, without high investments in its own infrastructure. The company subscribed to Microsoft Online Services to gain access to a suite of integrated, hosted communication and collaboration software. Now Lodestone consultants can take advantage of corporate knowledge stores and more efficiently collaborate on projects.
Lodestone is a global management consultancy, committed to designing and delivering solutions that enable international companies to thrive in today’s complex business environment. Lodestone helps its clients to define measurable business benefits that will be achieved together, using teams of client-focused consultants, who combine a passion for excellence with strong process and SAP skills and deep experience of transformational change in their industry.
Since its inception, Lodestone embraced the software-plus-services technology acquisition paradigm. It made sense that a small, startup company with global aspirations wanted to invest in providing services for its mobile consultants, rather than building an on-premises IT infrastructure at headquarters, where only 30 people work permanently.
“At Lodestone we operate as a truly global organization with local consultants in the key markets of our clients,” says Reto Alberini, Head of Information Technology at Lodestone. “At the outset, we avoided hardware investments to mitigate risk, but as we grew, it became clear that outsourcing IT services kept our operations costs down and our company agile and flexible.”
Difficulty Accessing Corporate Data
To provide e-mail service for its employees, Lodestone contracted with a local company that provides hosting services for Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. The same company hosted a file server for Lodestone. The file server was intended to be a central repository of corporate information for project-based data. In reality, the majority of client relationship and project data, as well as corporate best practices, remained locked inside individual consultant’s PCs. This represented a large amount of consultant expertise that was not readily available to other employees.
And as a simple storage repository, the file server offered consultants no information management capabilities. Members of virtual teams who wanted to collaborate on authoring a document had to send versions as e-mail attachments to their colleagues, making it difficult to track edits and determine which draft was the most up-to-date.
Consultants also had trouble keeping in touch with one another. Playing telephone tag over long distances and different time zones was frustrating, so many consultants used Skype for instant messaging and rudimentary presence awareness. To provide Web conferencing capabilities, Lodestone had a few Microsoft Office Live Meeting licenses, but these were reserved for higher management.
Lodestone consultants sometimes remain at the client’s site for months, or even years. Sometimes consultants work on clients’ PCs and are embedded within their infrastructure. Working behind a client’s firewall makes access to the Internet difficult. Consultants had to wait until they returned to their hotel or home to check company e-mail and communicate with colleagues in different parts of the world. “We had complaints from employees about the cumbersome process for accessing the file server,” says Alberini. “We used Citrix to connect to the file server through our virtual private network, but you had to log in more than once and we had only a limited number of concurrent connections.”
Looking for a New Hosting Partner
As Lodestone grew it became dissatisfied with the reliability and availability of the services provided by its hosting partner. “We operate in Australia, Asia, the United States, and across Europe, but our provider only proactively maintained our e-mail service during European business hours,” says Alberini.
Lodestone was at a crossroads. The company wanted to continue its steady growth. At the same time, Lodestone was determined to maintain its lean approach to its IT infrastructure and organization at headquarters. “Reduced capacity for communication, collaboration, and corporate information access threatened the dedicated, efficient client service that we are known for,” says Alberini. “We needed to move beyond simple, hosted e-mail and file servers. We wanted a trustworthy, hosted solution that was rich in features and priced competitively.”
In mid-2009, when Lodestone Management Consultants heard about the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, the company was immediately interested. Part of Microsoft Online Services, the suite aligns with the software-plus-services approach that Lodestone favors, while offering a hosted option for business-critical applications.
The Business Productivity Online Standard Suite consists of Microsoft Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online. This suite offers interoperable, pay-as-you-go services that include desktop and mobile e-mail, calendaring and contacts, instant messaging and presence, shared workspaces, and a live Web-conferencing application.
||Our consultants drive our business, not our infrastructure. With Microsoft Online Services, we can invest in our people and let Microsoft worry about the servers. It’s a perfect fit for Lodestone.
Head of Information Technology,
Lodestone Management Consultants
At the time, Microsoft Online Services had recently been released in Switzerland. Lacking any references, the Microsoft team employed a step-by-step process called “Customer Journey to Online Services” that gave Lodestone, as an early adopter, confidence in the new hosted services. After joint, in-depth feasibility and education workshops, the next step for Lodestone was to select a qualified partner. Microsoft recommended several Swiss partners to perform the e-mail migration and design and to build a SharePoint Online environment. Lodestone selected Paninfo, a Microsoft Gold Partner based in Zurich.
“We chose Paninfo because of its demonstrated capabilities with SharePoint technologies,” says Alberini. “We tasked Paninfo with quite a challenge: to migrate 550 e-mail clients from the hosted Exchange Server 2003 to Microsoft Exchange Online, with e-mail coexistence and without losing any data—in one weekend. Then we wanted them to help develop and deploy a SharePoint Online environment that would serve as our intranet. In the end, they executed everything perfectly.”
Before Paninfo could migrate employee e-mail accounts to Exchange Online, it had to set up Active Directory Domain Services, which provides central management of, and authentication for, Lodestone employees and enables single sign on to all services in the suite. Paninfo used the Microsoft Online Services Directory Synchronization tool to synchronize the users in groups from the local Active Directory service to the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite environment. The domain controller server was the only concession that Lodestone made in terms of in-house hardware.
Planning the Migration
Early on, Paninfo and Lodestone communicated the company’s migration plan to consultants, with a strict directive to reduce the amount of data in their e-mail files well before the planned migration date. This was necessary if the company was to achieve the migration in a single weekend. “We got the consultants to reduce overall data from 600 gigabytes to 200 gigabytes,” says Lars Zängerle, Teamleader Solutions at Paninfo. “The next challenge was to transition from a partner-hosted Exchange Server 2003 environment to a Microsoft-hosted Exchange Server 2007 environment.”
Paninfo consultants accomplished this by loading a Microsoft migration tool called the Transporter Suite onto five portable computers. The project team then installed the computers in the local environment of the hosting company. That way, Paninfo and the Lodestone team could perform the migration as if it were a simple migration from local Exchange to hosted Exchange. The migration went as planned during the weekend of December 4, 2009.
“In the end, Paninfo accomplished the migration faster than we expected, in less than two days,” says Michael Amann, Technical Project Lead at Lodestone Management Consultants. “The e-mail coexistence worked so well that we didn’t lose a single piece of data.”
Designing an Intranet
Meanwhile, Lodestone, together with Paninfo, began devising an intranet concept that would serve the needs of the staff at headquarters and the mobile consultants. The teams developed a navigational structure for the intranet and implemented a look and feel that mirrors Lodestone’s corporate design themes.
“We took this opportunity to develop an information architectural design that reflected the three pillars of our company: the clients, the people, and the firm,” says Alberini. “So when we migrated our data from the file server into SharePoint Online according to these three categories the file structure resonated with our employees.”
Paninfo trained the Lodestone staff at headquarters to work in the SharePoint Online environment in December 2009.
Then, in early 2010, Lodestone and Paninfo turned their attention to building out the SharePoint Online environment for the consultants. The teams created an intuitive structure to store client and project-based information and implemented templates for team and project sites. Consultants were asked to migrate project and client documentation from their computers onto the SharePoint Online environment. “We completed the client folder structure and have entered approximately 500 clients’ data and their projects into the SharePoint Online environment,” says Amann. “Our consultants are tech savvy, and our first experiences show that they are adapting to the new paradigm easily. We are planning some projects where our consultants can collaborate with clients within our SharePoint Online environment.”
To augment the SharePoint Online intranet, Paninfo built an employee phonebook with an interface to Office Communications Online. The team developed a SharePoint list that uses custom search capabilities to return a person’s name, photo, contact information, and presence. “We are only just beginning to use the Office Communications Online functionality. Initial feedback from our consultants about the ability to improve connectivity with their colleagues all over the world is quite positive,” says Alberini.
For Lodestone Management Consultants, the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite provides a highly flexible IT solution that serves the needs of its mobile information workers. Today, Lodestone employees are enjoying the productivity enhancing benefits of a suite of interconnected technologies that support the collaborative nature of their work as globally dispersed, highly skilled virtual teams. Without having to heavily invest in hardware and software licenses, Lodestone uses the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite to get by with a lean support management team, while providing the services it needs for its consultants.
“Our consultants drive our business, not our infrastructure,” says Alberini. “With Microsoft Online Services, we can invest in our people and let Microsoft worry about the servers. It’s a perfect fit for Lodestone.”
||In the end, Paninfo accomplished the migration faster than we expected, in less than two days. The e-mail coexistence worked so well that we didn’t lose a single piece of data.
Technical Project Lead,
Lodestone Management Consultants
Improves Consultants’ Productivity
Lodestone consultants take advantage of the integrated communication capabilities within Microsoft Online Services to forge better connections with colleagues. Consultants can start from an e-mail exchange and switch to instant messaging and then move to a Web conference, all within the same solution.
“We have heard back from consultants about how they like the interconnectivity of the services,” says Alberini. “Starting a Live Meeting out of an e-mail session and then seeing if a person is available for an instant message chat while on a SharePoint site seems to have become very popular. People spend less time trying to find one another and more time working together.”
And instead of a handful of upper management employees having access to Office Live Meeting, this tool is available to everyone in the company. “Making these services available to all consultants around the clock, no matter where they are working, is a boon to productivity,” continues Alberini. “Easy access to the communication and collaboration tools is key for our consultants, now it’s a fact of life.”
Enhances Knowledge-Sharing Among Employees
Previously, corporate knowledge resided in a single file server that most consultants could not access. Much of the company’s client and project information remained locked inside individual consultant’s computers. Today, with SharePoint Online, Lodestone can make this wealth of knowledge easily available to the entire organization. In addition, SharePoint collaborative sites offer rich document versioning capabilities, so consultants can co-author documents more efficiently and eliminate version-control errors.
“It’s important for us to share information and knowledge to showcase our consultants’ expertise within the company,” says Alberini. “Consulting is a people business, and that begins with our own people. The more we know about our colleagues’ experience and expertise, the better teams we can put together to serve our clients.”
Increases Business Agility at Low Cost
With a Microsoft-hosted solution, Lodestone enjoys the benefit of paying only for the services it consumes. Paying for hosted services per user and per month means that the company can more accurately budget for new projects and quickly furnish new hires with the services they need to work productively.
“We will never waste money on under-used IT solutions, and we will never waste time administering long-term contracts and the depreciation of assets over years,” says Alberini.
Supports Future Business Goals
Although still new to Microsoft Online Services, Lodestone is already looking forward to future enhancements in the suite. “We plan to build an archiving solution in the Exchange Online environment,” Alberini says. “I can see some product improvements that would make an IT organization’s life easier. I am looking forward to the next Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite release announced for the middle of 2010.”
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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For More Information
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