4-page Case Study
Posted: 6/25/2012
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Christchurch Women's Refuge Women's Refuge in Christchurch Finds Resilience, Disaster-Proof Solution with Cloud-Based Email

Office 365 enables our organisation to outsource email and concentrate our efforts on our purpose.

Christine Wallace, Office Manager, Christchurch Women’s Refuge

Christchurch Women's Refuge is a non-profit that was founded in 1973 as New Zealand’s first refuge service for women and children affected by family violence. It has since grown to support more than 12,000 women and children to become safe. The agency serves an area representing 436,000 people, covering the Christchurch, North Canterbury, Selwyn, and Banks Peninsula districts.

Due to a series of earthquakes, the agency found itself in need of an email solution that would not rely on an on-premise server, and that would allow staff to better collaborate and work remotely, while reducing costs. “We had a sense that our communications and records might need additional off-site back-up, but we didn’t realise just to what extent they were in jeopardy until the earthquakes that began in September 2010,” says Christine Wallace, Office Manager of the Christchurch Women’s Refuge.


With 16 full-time and 7 part-time staff, Christchurch Women’s Refuge supports more than 1,100 clients every year through a variety of residential and community programmes and services.

Being a non-profit accustomed to making do with limited resources, it was getting by with ad-hoc IT support, shared email accounts, and a lack of calendaring functionality. As a result, people and resources were often double-booked, and many employees waited to confer in person, which wasn’t efficient. Through a series of earthquakes, the agency found itself forced to re-evaluate its email solution.

* Like all non-profits, we have one eye on funding and a tight fist approach to overheads, with our focus on delivering services to families. Office 365 enables our organisation to outsource email and concentrate our efforts on our purpose. *

Christine Wallace
Office Manager
Christchurch Women’s Refuge

The initial earthquake required Christchurch Women’s Refuge to locate temporarily from its office to their safe house. Fortunately, the organisation was able to remove the server, some computer equipment, and files needed to keep things moving temporarily until they could move back to their office two weeks later. Then, a significant aftershock did further damage that led to the agency’s building being condemned. Once again they retrieved the server, computers, and essential files and settled into the safe house a second time, waiting to relocate to a new building. The agency realised it would have to review its risk exposure and reassess its approach to IT in order to upgrade the business tools it was using. “What we knew was we wouldn’t be accessing our old premises, so would have to make do with what we had. We survived nature’s events but realised that we needed to review our risk exposure. We knew we had been lucky this time,” said Wallace.

The organisation had gotten through the earthquakes and aftershocks while providing continued support to clients, providing vital services at a time of acute need. This compelled them to ensure that they would be equally as resilient in the future, and have systems in place that would enable business continuity under any circumstances.


Because of the agency’s need for a solution that would improve the ability to communicate with staff, view calendars, and work remotely, its IT advisor suggested Microsoft Office 365, an online service which unites familiar Microsoft Office applications with email, calendaring, collaboration, and communication solutions.

Creating individual email addresses allowed the agency to know that all staff received and read email, not just the first user of a shared account. The ability to set ‘out of office’ notifications and view calendars was also important. Before the migration, says Wallace, “Sometimes a client would call in and would want to talk to a particular staff member, and we would have no visibility into their schedule. With Office 365 and Exchange Online, we can offer a more professional response to phone enquiries by identifying when a staff member is away, or when they’ll be back in the office.”

Staff members can now check their email from home, which has been greatly appreciated, particularly by shift workers who aren’t in the office every day and now feel part of the office team, due to the ability to access their email when it’s convenient for them.

Investing in Microsoft Exchange Online allows more effective management of email, both internally and externally. Paying for the service monthly, by user, rather than up front fits their business model much better. Email is automatically backed up, and the system is also more secure from viruses and hackers.

Staff members are also discovering a new level of productivity by being able to synchronise their calendar, contacts, and email to their mobile phones. The team can now communicate more easily, and has found that sharing and accessing information are easier especially for those working from multiple locations.


With Office 365, the agency improved its employees’ tools for collaboration, while reducing IT expenditures and improving productivity, reliability, and security, even in the face of natural disasters.

Improved customer service and team collaboration

Individual email accounts, calendaring, and working remotely have provided great business value. When a staff member is ill, their manager can handle their meetings or reschedule them on their behalf. During a recent snow storm, the team was able to work collaboratively from their homes without interrupting client service.

Reduced IT costs

Upgrading the agency’s solution would have meant incurring costs for hardware, software, support, and training. With IT as a service, support and maintenance are included in the monthly fee, so the team can focus its IT budget on training as well as implementing new services, such as data plans for accessing email on mobile phones.

“Like all non-profits, we have one eye on funding and a tight fist approach to overheads, with our focus on delivering services to families. Office 365 enables our organisation to outsource email and concentrate our efforts on our purpose,” commented Wallace.

Manual backup methods relied on external hardware, creating additional risk should anything happen to the backup hardware or if the data were to become corrupted; automatic email backups eliminate this.

Increased productivity

Employees save time due to the ability to access email and calendars remotely, even on mobile phones; Wallace estimates the savings at 30 minutes per week, at minimum.

“Technology is continually evolving and we are keen to utilise more features of Office 365. We are committed to reducing our reliance on paper through the use of electronic diaries and encouraging entry online, and we are looking into SharePoint Online to expand collaboration and data sharing to include partner organisations. We are also moving to a wireless environment, which will give us even greater flexibility within the office environment,” Wallace said.

Microsoft Office 365

Microsoft Office 365 brings together cloud versions of our most trusted communications and collaboration products—Microsoft SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online—with the latest version of our Office desktop suite and companion web applications for businesses of all sizes.

Office 365 helps save time and money, and it frees up valued resources. Simple to use and easy to administer, it is financially backed by a service level agreement guaranteeing 99 percent reliability. Office 365 features robust security, IT-level phone support, geo-redundancy, disaster recovery, and the business-class privacy controls and standards that you expect from a world-class service provider.

For more information about Microsoft Office 365, go to:


For more information about Christchurch Women’s Refuge, visit the website at:


This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview

Organization Size: 23 employees

Organization Profile

Christchurch Women’s Refuge supports families in New Zealand to overcome family violence through a variety of services targeted at reaching their vision of a family violence-free society.

Business Situation

After a series of earthquakes nearly interrupted service, the agency realised that their aging on premise email server needed to be replaced by a reliable solution that would not require hardware.


The agency implemented Office 365 and Exchange Online to add reliable email, calendaring, and the ability to work remotely or on mobile phones, plus increased security.


  • Improved collaboration
  • Reduced IT costs
  • Increased productivity

Software and Services
  • Exchange Online
  • Microsoft Office 365

Vertical Industries

New Zealand