4-page Case Study
Posted: 11/6/2012
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A.P. Eagers Auto Retailer Adopts Office 365 over Google, Boosts Email Availability, Reliability

A.P. Eagers, based in Brisbane, is an automotive retailer that sells 40 brands of cars and trucks through its 100 dealerships across Australia. The company had been growing quickly through acquisitions, and this made it difficult for the IT staff to maintain a consistent and highly available email system across the enterprise. The company decided that a cloud-based email system made more sense for its many geographically distributed locations. After an evaluation of Google Mail revealed some shortcomings, A.P. Eagers chose to deploy Microsoft Exchange Online, part of Microsoft Office 365. With the help of Microsoft Partner Network member InverseCurve, the company implemented an email system that reduces IT administration requirements while providing employees with improved email availability, better remote access, and additional features such as larger user mailboxes.

Situation
A.P. Eagers, with headquarters in Brisbane, Queensland, is an automotive retail business that owns and operates motor vehicle dealerships across Australia. The company represents a total of 28 car brands—including all 12 top-selling brands in the country—plus 12 truck and bus brands, and it also operates a large motor vehicle auction business. A.P. Eagers was founded in 1913, and it currently employs 2,900 people and had annual revenue of approximately AUS$2.4 billion (US$2.42 billion) in 2011.

A.P. Eagers has grown substantially in recent years, primarily through acquisitions, and this has caused some challenges for the business IT group. The largest challenge that the IT group faced was integrating each new acquired company into a corporate email system that now covers nearly 100 physical locations. For the past 10 years, A.P. Eagers has relied on an on-premises deployment of Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 for its email system, and the resources required to maintain and update that installation were increasing rapidly.

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* When we considered the total cost of change, Office 365 was the best choice for us. *

Shane Pearce
Manager of Information Services, A.P. Eagers

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“Our on-premises Exchange Server 2003 deployment was growing to a size that was making it very difficult for us to support with our lean IT team,” says Shane Pearce, Manager of Information Services at A.P. Eagers. “Although we limited user mailbox sizes, we had email databases that had grown to more than a terabyte in size, which meant that recovery times for any type of disaster were greater than 24 hours, so we sometimes couldn’t meet the service agreements we had with the business. As the system grew in scale, it was harder and harder for us to deliver an exceptional level of service to employees at all of our locations.”

The company’s on-premises solution was run primarily out of a single data center, with a second, smaller data center in another state. That additional location did not have on-site personnel with the skill set necessary to deal with email server issues, so IT staff had to fly from Brisbane to Darwin to work on it. Given the geographically dispersed nature of the company’s many business units, A.P. Eagers decided it was time to look to a new paradigm for its email system.

“We wanted to move away from needing internal resources and staffing to keep our email system running,” explains Pearce. “And because of the company’s geographic diversity, we felt that a cloud-based solution probably made more sense at an infrastructure level than an on-premises central server distributed across a wide area network [WAN].”

Solution
In early 2010, A.P. Eagers began an evaluation of Google Mail as a replacement for its on-premises email system. Although the company had a long history with Microsoft Exchange Server, and its employees were accustomed to using Microsoft Outlook as an email client, the company initially felt that Google Mail would be the most cost-effective solution, which was an important consideration for a business that runs on a high sales volume with low profit margins.

Evaluating Google Mail
To evaluate the functionality and performance of Google Mail, A.P. Eagers selected a group of power users as a trial group. This included members of the executive team, corporate administrators, and business unit managers who typically receive 100 to 200 email messages a day, with attachments and other advanced features. The evaluation group also included personal and executive assistants with responsibilities for scheduling.

For three months, the evaluation group worked with both Google Mail and the existing on-premises Exchange Server solution, with the primary focus on Google Mail. Throughout the evaluation period, the test group ran into issues with the Google solution. “There were some trivial concerns, but also others that were real problems for us,” says Pearce. “For example, there were frequent formatting problems with email messages—a message containing a table might show up at the other end as a single sentence or an incorrectly formatted paragraph. There were also spell-check problems with the Australian English dictionary. So Google Mail performed more poorly than expected at some basic email features that we saw as fundamental requirements.”

A.P. Eagers also had concerns about the ongoing availability of some of the features that the test group was using. In order to obtain all of the functionality the company was looking for in an enterprise email system, test users relied on a number of Google Mail Labs, which are experimental new features that Google engineers are working on. While the Labs provided needed features, there was no guarantee that those features would be available in the future. “When we looked at the support agreement, it covered only the base product, with no support for any of the Labs, or any guarantee they would be maintained, and we were using a number of them. So from a purely contractual standpoint, the product itself was below the standard that we required. This reduced our confidence in the solution.”

There were additional support concerns as well. The Google Mail solution was designed to be totally supported through a Google partner, rather than by Google itself, and A.P. Eagers saw that as a problem. “With Google Mail, we were totally dependent on the partner and therefore limited by their abilities. We would have to rely on them to provide us tools to do things like user administration and account changes,” says Pearce. “Initially, there was not even an administrator portal to allow our IT team and help-desk operators to perform basic tasks—we would need the partner to develop one. That was a major limitation.”

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* Google Mail performed more poorly than expected at some basic email features that we saw as fundamental requirements. *

Shane Pearce
Manager of Information Services, A.P. Eagers

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A.P. Eagers was also worried about the change management requirements to get all of its employees working successfully on Google Mail, at the productivity levels that they had with the existing Exchange Server 2003 system. The company recognized that this would require extensive hands-on training from the partner and from Google. Some members of the evaluation team required more than a day of one-on-one training, and when A.P. Eagers calculated the effort required to train the rest of the business, they saw that the requirements would be massive in terms of time and resources.

Evaluating Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Exchange Online
“For many years, our employees have seen Microsoft Outlook as synonymous with email,” says Pearce. “So even in our Google Mail test group, some employees were relying on Outlook as their client for Google Mail. When they did that, they lost some of the features of Office Outlook, so what they ended up with was a watered-down Outlook, compared to what we had with Exchange Server 2003. In the end, we had a less-capable version of email than we had with our on-premises solution.”

With that in mind, A.P. Eagers began working with the local Microsoft office on an alternative solution. Microsoft offered the company an early beta version of Microsoft Office 365 with Microsoft Exchange Online—a welcomed contrast to the Google Mail trial, which the company was required to pay for. For organizations of all sizes, Microsoft Office 365 unites familiar Microsoft Office applications with the power of Microsoft Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online into one connected, online solution. The A.P. Eagers IT staff members were also able to engage directly with the Microsoft team, which gave them a confidence in the Office 365 solution that they didn’t have with Google Mail. “In our business, cost is the number one driver for IT,” notes Pearce. “When we considered the total cost of change, Office 365 was the best choice for us.”

A.P. Eagers joined the Early Adoption Program for Office 365 and began testing Exchange Online as a replacement for the on-premises Exchange 2003 deployment. As a starting point, the IT team began by looking at the same list of criteria they had for Google Mail, and it discovered that Office 365 offered the functionality that had prevented the company from moving forward with Google Mail. In addition, one big advantage would be the more seamless migration to Office 365 and the ease of adoption—employees were already familiar with the Outlook client.

“We migrated 1,100 people to Office 365 in about seven weeks and hit our target date for the end of 2011,” says Pearce. “And that included migrating 1.3 terabytes of email. Each business unit has its own domain name—there are about 50 in total—and we migrated them over, one domain at a time, and it went very smoothly. This was another advantage of Office 365. With Google Mail, multiple domain management was a bit painful. In general, I’d say the transition was pretty seamless from our employees’ point of view, with no major problems. Whether they access email through Outlook or through Outlook Web App, employees are happy with the new features and their 25-gigabyte mailboxes. With the prior system, they were limited to 4 gigabytes.”

In addition to working with the local Microsoft team, A.P. Eagers enlisted the help of InverseCurve, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network with Gold competencies that is based in Wooloongabba, Queensland. “An important difference between our Google Mail experience and our Office 365 experience was the professionalism and knowledge of the partner we were working with,” says Pearce. “InverseCurve was an important reason for the success of the project. They were, and still are today, a very good resource for us.”

Future Plans
Given the success of its Exchange Online solution, A.P. Eagers is planning to take advantage of the other components available in Office 365. “Our investigations so far have focused solely on the benefits of a cloud email solution versus on-premises, but we know that one of the advantages of Office 365 is the additional licenses we now own for Microsoft SharePoint Online and Microsoft Lync Online. We are reviewing Lync Online as a communications solution and SharePoint Online as a collaboration platform. We currently have no collaboration technologies in place, but there is a demand from our business units. We are encouraged that SharePoint Online will be the correct solution for us at a low-cost, because it’s already included with the email solution that we’ve deployed.”

Benefits
By adopting Microsoft Office 365 and moving from an on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 implementation to the cloud-based Microsoft Exchange Online, A.P. Eagers has made it easier for its IT staff to manage a communication system that integrates 100 geographically disparate offices. The company’s employees can reliably access email, either through the company’s computers or remotely, through laptops or mobile devices. And because Microsoft and its partner network are well-established and focused on core productivity technologies, A.P. Eagers is confident that it chose the right team to help the company move its technology infrastructure forward.

Simplified Email Integration and Administration
The switch to a remotely hosted and administered email system has provided significant benefits for the A.P. Eagers IT team members, who now spend less time each week dealing with email issues and more time working on other important business projects.

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* Because of the reliability and availability of Exchange Online and the security and disaster recovery capabilities of Microsoft data centers, we can provide a much better level of service. *

Shane Pearce
Manager of Information Services, A.P. Eagers

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“The time and effort required to maintain 1,100 employee email accounts and the associated hardware has gone down notably, since we’re no longer concerned with administering, maintaining, and backing up our Exchange Server,” says Pearce. “That has halved our backup requirement in the data center, eliminated hours of email administration each week, and our general service to employees has improved. Our system engineers are happier that their stress levels have definitely declined. I see that as an important benefit!

“In addition, Microsoft Office 365 and Exchange Online make it easy for us to deliver a consistent enterprise-level email solution to all of our locations cheaply, no matter how remote they are,” adds Pearce. “The cost of email is now a predictable operational cost rather than a capital expense, and it will be much easier for us to incorporate new acquisitions into our corporate email network.”

Improved Employee Access and Communication
Email is a key form of communication for A.P. Eagers, both within the company and with its customers. The company’s investment in Exchange Online is improving the IT team’s ability to deliver a highly available and feature-rich system. “In the past, when we had hardware outages, we discovered that access to email is more important to our employees than access to the enterprise resource planning system,” says Pearce. “Because of the reliability and availability of Exchange Online and the security and disaster recovery capabilities of Microsoft data centers, we can provide a much better level of service.”

Using a cloud-based system also provides more options for employees who want to access email remotely, from their homes or through a portable device. “The ability to access Exchange Online from any location with an Internet connection is an important advantage,” says Pearce. "Our on-premises solution required a private, secure WAN to distribute to multiple locations. But now we have a highly secure system where employees can access email seamlessly from almost anywhere. That gives us maximum flexibility, and it makes it easier to keep all of our employees in contact with each other, which has improved communication within the company.”

Solid Partners for Future Growth
An important part of the success of the Exchange Online migration was the connection A.P. Eagers made with its local Microsoft team and its technology partner, InverseCurve. A.P. Eagers found both partners to be helpful, responsive, and attuned to the company’s specific needs.

“InverseCurve was there for us every step of the way, and we expect to continue working with them as we investigate the other Office 365 services,” says Pearce. “And we felt confident about moving our data offsite, because we know that Microsoft understands data security and privacy concerns on an international level. Beyond that, products like Exchange Online are part of Microsoft’s core business, so we trust that the solution will provide our company with the most up-to-date email technology for a long time.”

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:
www.office365.com

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 InverseCurve products and services, visit the website at:
www.inversecurve.com.au

For more information about A.P. Eagers products and services, call (07) 3248 9455 or visit the website at:
www.apeagers.com.au

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 2900 employees

Organization Profile

A.P. Eagers, based in Brisbane, Australia, is an automotive retailer with 100 dealerships across Australia, a successful auto auction business, and a large real estate portfolio.


Business Situation

A.P. Eagers wanted to move from an on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 email system to a cloud-based solution.


Solution

After an extensive evaluation of Google Mail and Microsoft Exchange Online, a component of Microsoft Office 365, A.P. Eagers decided to migrate the entire company to Exchange Online in seven weeks.


Benefits

  • Simplified email integration and administration
  • Improved employee email access and communication
  • Established solid partnerships for future growth

Software and Services
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Exchange Online
  • Microsoft Office Web Apps

Vertical Industries
Motor Vehicle Parts Dealers

Country/Region
Australia

Business Need
  • Cloud & Server Platform
  • Business Productivity

IT Issue
Cloud Services

Languages
English

Partner(s)
InverseCurve

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