There are few industries where price pressure is greater than the automobile industry. For logistics service providers such as ARS Altmann, this means knowing exactly what their customers want and ensuring smooth communication between customers and contractors. But this is where ARS Altmann had a problem. In 2004, the company opted for an open source strategy. By 2005, the company’s workstations were equipped with OpenOffice.org 2.0. Open-Xchange Server 5 running on SUSE Enterprise Linux 9 served as the collaboration server. However, this caused problems in document sharing with customers who were using Microsoft Office applications. As OpenOffice.org didn’t have an email client, many employees used Microsoft Office Outlook. To synchronize contacts and appointments with the Open-Xchange server, they needed an additional program that turned out to be unreliable. To limit high support overheads and simplify contacts with customers, ARS Altmann moved from open source to Microsoft.Situation
When new cars roll out of the factory, they aren’t driven, but are transported – to dealers, customers, or to another distributor. These moves are the specialty of ARS Altmann AG in Wolnzach, near Ingolstadt in Germany. With more than 400 special semi-trucks and more than 1,300 rail cars, the company’s 19 logistics centers make sure that cars reach their destinations undamaged and on time. The support center in Wolnzach alone moves more than 185,000 vehicles every year.
Standardization is a magical word in the automobile industry. There are few industries where price pressure is so high and competition so fierce. This means that service providers like ARS Altmann need to meet the needs and expectations of their customers if they don’t want to lose a contract. Smooth communication between customers and contractors is absolutely necessary.
||Employees were really annoyed by this point. Many were complaining that they couldn't open documents or needed to constantly reformat them, which cost us in terms of time and energy.
ARS Altmann AG
Yet this was exactly its weak point. The longtime IT Director at ARS Altmann wanted to save licensing costs and gradually moved the entire IT infrastructure to open source products. He promised the company financial advantages. So, in 2005, the IT department began to roll out OpenOffice.org, most recently version 2.0, on the company’s 340 PC workstations.
But implementing OpenOffice.org created compatibility issues. The office suite offered import and export filters for Microsoft Office Word and Excel, but the filters didn’t work perfectly. And after editing Microsoft Office Excel documents in OpenOffice.org, the layout was always skewed and line breaks were out of place. Some documents could not even be sent out anymore.
The sales department, which depended on customer contact, was always reporting problems with formatted files. Worst of all, employees never knew how the converted file would display for the customer. And some customers were already beginning to use the new XML formats from Microsoft Office 2007, which OpenOffice.org could not handle at the time.
This was the state of affairs in 2008 when Sven Landtrachtinger was hired as an IT Manager to analyze the situation and develop a new solution. “Employees were really annoyed by this point,” explains Landtrachtinger. “Many were complaining that they couldn’t open documents or needed to constantly reformat them, which cost us in terms of time and energy.” Many colleagues were asking why others got to work with Microsoft Office and they didn’t.
Landtrachtinger describes the situation when he arrived: “A few employees had taken matters into their own hands and installed Microsoft Office 2000, XP or 2003.” The mixed usage of OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office had greatly delayed the migration to OpenOffice.org. And at the same time, support overhead for the IT department was immense, since they had to deal with so many different office programs.
Vulnerable Mail System
Because OpenOffice.org does not have its own email client, most employees at ARS Altmann were using Microsoft Office Outlook. The company’s open source strategy meant that Open-Xchange Server 5 on SUSE Enterprise Linux 9 was used as the mail server. A third-party application named OXtender for Microsoft Outlook was supposed to synchronize client and server. Unfortunately, it did not work. Every time it needed to synchronize a large appointment or contact list, it crashed.
Open-Xchange itself did not work to the satisfaction of Landtrachtinger and his colleagues. Even though they had brought in an external service provider for support, they couldn’t seem to get a handle on managing the calendar. “With Open-Xchange, it was time-consuming and very complex,” he recalls. “We’d manage to get something configured in one place, and then something wouldn’t work elsewhere.”
Employees who did not have Office Outlook had to resort to the Open-Xchange Web interface. Landtrachtinger characterized it as “completely out-of-date” since it wasn’t interactive and did not support drag and drop. And of the atmosphere in the company, the IT Manager notes, “Even administrators weren’t standing behind their products anymore.”
Reduce Costs With Standards
For Landtrachtinger, the first line of attack was to standardize IT at ARS Altmann. IT needed to become more efficient and support costs reduced. The mail system needed to be stable again, and the Office application file sharing problems needed to be eliminated. “I want to change IT to routine operations and not always be chasing after problems,” explains the IT Manager. But with resistance from his superiors, who had adopted an open source strategy to save on licensing costs, Landtrachtinger could not make many changes.
||Because Microsoft products follow a standard, we were able to turn our IT department around ourselves quickly and efficiently.
ARS Altmann AG
In addition, the operating system base needed to be unified. The clients already had Microsoft Windows XP Professional installed. Landtrachtinger wanted to move servers from Linux to Windows, and ARS Altmann wanted to replace the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) with Active Directory, which offered better integration between Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange Server.
But because these plans would completely alter the IT strategy, Landtrachtinger needed support. This he got from the Microsoft CPM Team East (Corporate Program Managed) under the direction of Ümit Aytekin and from Bechtle in Munich. Peter Dejakum, the account manager there, recalls, “The IT Director at ARS Altmann at that time was very proud of his open source environment.” There was a certain amount of resistance to a policy of implementing standard software. Solution
The CPM team and systems contractor Bechtle organized several visits with the IT Department at ARS Altmann in the Executive Briefing Center at Microsoft Germany in Unterschleißheim. Landtrachtinger and his superiors saw how Microsoft approached the subject of collaboration, and how Microsoft Office could be integrated into a Microsoft Server environment. Even the board member responsible for IT at ARS Altmann participated in a few meetings.
Microsoft and its partner Bechtle were able to demonstrate to IT management that moving to Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange Server could add considerable value. Especially compelling were improvements in interoperability and collaboration. The impasse was broken, and IT management, which for years defended an open source strategy, began to have confidence in the arguments. ARS Altmann decided to change direction.
After deciding on this new IT strategy for ARS Altmann, things proceeded very quickly. Within seven months, the project was completed. Under an enterprise agreement contract, ARS Altmann purchased 12 licenses for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard Edition, together with an additional 24 Windows Server licenses that were acquired with the corresponding hardware. Landtrachtinger and his colleagues used them to install Active Directory, build a Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, migrate data from the current Open-Xchange server and set up desktop workstations with Microsoft Office 2007 Standard Edition.
ARS Altmann was able to handle the majority of the changeover from open source to Microsoft products themselves. “From our perspective, that’s another plus for the products,” says Landtrachtinger. “Yes, they are complex. But with the aid of the documentation, and with support from the manufacturer and other information sources like the Internet and books, we were able to manage the migration quickly and efficiently – and cost-effectively – ourselves.”Benefits
Winning Over Employees
The response from employees is completely positive. And not just because they have finally seen an end to problems with exchanging data with clients and vendors. But also because all employees are now working on a standardized desktop platform, the same for one and all. It’s now easier for them to help each other when questions about a program arise.
Many use Microsoft Office 2007 at home as well, so they are familiar with the software.
And unlike OpenOffice.org, every license for Microsoft Office with Office Outlook contains a mail client. With Outlook Web Access, part of Microsoft Exchange by default, employees can also check their mails from home or on the road. This saves time, makes employees more flexible and allows for mobile working.
“Introducing Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 has actually given our communications a boost,” observes Landtrachtinger happily. Employees quickly recognized the possibilities offered by the system. Since its introduction, they have offered numerous suggestions for using Microsoft Exchange to simplify organization within departments and even manage conference rooms. “Our users are starting to actively participate,” notes the IT Manager. “Sometimes I even need to put the brakes on some people.” Actively engaged users instead of frustrated ones – that alone makes the IT changeover at ARS Altmann completely worth it.Microsoft Office System
The Microsoft Office system is the business world’s chosen environment for information work, providing the programs, servers, and services that help you succeed by transforming information into impact.
For more information about the Microsoft Office system, go to:
www.microsoft.com/officeFor More Information
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