Affirma Consulting is a consultancy firm and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner focused on business, technology, and creative services. Its customers are interested in cloud-based solutions, but they need help finding the best options. As the firm assessed the marketplace for solutions that would deliver the best value proposition and user experience, it decided to evaluate Microsoft Office 365 to see how the hosted service could help customers and also improve productivity of its own virtual project teams. It believes Office 365 is a smart choice for businesses because employees can work with familiar products, like Microsoft Office Professional Plus. Affirma Consulting expects its customers to improve employee productivity, boost team communication and collaboration, and save money. Affirma Consulting expects to reduce IT costs by 25 to 30 percent compared to an on-premises solution.Situation
Located in Bellevue, Washington, Affirma Consulting is an award-winning consultancy and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner focused on business, technology, and creative consulting with specialization in mobile, cloud, business intelligence, Microsoft SharePoint, and custom development. Founded in 2001, its 40 consultants have expertise and skills that strategically align with its customers’ needs, which make Affirma Consulting a trusted advisor for its customer base.
Lately, its customers have increasingly expressed interest in moving their IT infrastructure to cloud-based services to reduce costs for hardware and IT administration. Michael Brown, Chief Executive Officer and Cofounder at Affirma Consulting, says, “We hear the CIOs we talk to say that cloud solutions are in the top three things they are considering for their businesses, so a high percentage of our customers want help with their cloud strategy.”
Affirma Consulting decided to explore cloud-based solutions for its own IT infrastructure in order to evaluate how those solutions can provide value for its customers. With consultants working in virtual-based project teams outside the office, the firm wanted to improve its communication and collaboration capabilities so that consultants could continue to exceed customers’ expectations in service. Some consultants used third-party, consumer-focused instant messaging or conferencing tools, but there was no consistency across the organization. In addition, these tools did not integrate with applications that consultants used every day for project execution and team collaboration, such as Microsoft Office and Microsoft SharePoint Server. Brown says, “We believed that a lack of consistency in real-time communication tools that people used made it more difficult for our dispersed team members to get a hold of each other and quickly respond to our customers.”
||We believe businesses will choose to move to Office 365 due to user familiarity, interoperability with Office, and importance to business operations.
Chief Executive Officer, Affirma Consulting
For messaging, Affirma Consulting had already moved to Microsoft Exchange Online, hosted by a third-party provider. The company had lowered its IT costs with hosted Exchange Online, so it wanted to expand this hosted model to its communications and collaboration solutions. It had also grown rapidly in recent years and wanted an easier way to manage licenses. In addition, it wanted a way to provide services to new employees quickly to help boost productivity on customer projects.
Finally, because its IT staff had to support a mix of Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2010, the firm wanted to upgrade all of its consultants to Office 2010. Brown says, “We believe our consultants’ productivity will improve with a standardized desktop experience that includes the latest version of Microsoft Office.”Solution
Affirma Consulting moved to Microsoft Office 365 as a part of its evaluation of hosted productivity solutions. Office 365 brings together Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Lync Online, and Microsoft SharePoint Online with the latest version of the Microsoft Office Professional Plus desktop suite. “We looked at other cloud-based solutions, and many either offer limited functionality or they had a more consumer-based approach to communication or productivity tools,” says Brown. “In our opinion, the Microsoft Office and Microsoft server applications are still the best productivity tools in the marketplace for businesses. With Office 365, Microsoft has expanded these familiar services to the cloud, while Office continues to be the familiar front end. We believe businesses trust Microsoft for their productivity and collaboration solutions. Because the Microsoft cloud strategy is a natural extension of their trust, we believe businesses will choose to move to Office 365 due to user familiarity, interoperability with Office, and importance to business operations.”
For its own move to the cloud, the company joined the Microsoft Rapid Deployment program to get early hands-on experience by moving its IT infrastructure to Office 365. The company decided to transition in phases. Brown says, “As we tell our customers, you can lower the risk of disruption if you move to the cloud in a phased approach.” It moved all employees to Exchange Online, Lync Online, and Office Professional Plus as the first phase so that consultants could take advantage of the messaging and communications capabilities. Next, it will migrate its data in SharePoint Server to SharePoint Online. With the flexibility of Office 365, it can run its IT infrastructure in a hybrid environment, taking advantage of the interoperation between Exchange Online and Lync Online, its on-premises SharePoint Server 2010 solution, and Office Professional Plus on the desktop.
With Office Professional Plus as part of Office 365, consultants can easily download and stay current with product updates, so they can take advantage of the latest capabilities. Consultants also identified several key capabilities made possible with the interoperation between Office Professional Plus and the Office 365 services that will help with communications and team collaboration:
Remote consultants can find team members faster and instantly click to communicate in real time, with presence and instant messaging, conferencing, and desktop sharing capabilities in the Microsoft Lync 2010 client and Lync Online.
Consultants can manage larger volumes of email from virtually anywhere with capabilities in Exchange Online and Microsoft Outlook 2010 or Microsoft Outlook Web App, such as Conversation View, Schedule Preview, and Ignore Thread.
Consultants can share documents stored in SharePoint Online and even simultaneously co-author customer proposals and designs by using Microsoft Word 2010 and the Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 presentation graphics program. When traveling to customer sites, consultants can work with SharePoint files offline in Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010.
By using the Office 365 administrative web portal, IT staff at Affirma Consulting can easily manage new hires or remove employees who leave. Brown says, “When new employees join the team, we can quickly add them to Office 365 using the Microsoft Online Portal, and they will be working on a consistent platform with everyone else on the team.”
||Microsoft developed a strong value proposition and road map for Office 365. With the familiar user experience and platform of enterprise-ready products, Office 365 makes sense for us and our customers.
Chief Executive Officer, Affirma Consulting
Affirma Consulting looks forward to helping customers transition to Office 365 by offering strategic planning, configuration, and migration services. Brown says, “With our extensive experience with Microsoft server applications, our consultants and our existing service model are aligned to help our customers with a seamless transition from their on-premises solutions to Office 365.” Benefits
As an early adopter of Office 365, Affirma Consulting believes that Office 365 is a smart choice for businesses because employees can continue to work with products they are familiar with, such as Office Professional Plus, as they move to the cloud. Brown says, “Microsoft developed a strong value proposition and road map for Office 365. With the familiar user experience and platform of enterprise-ready products, Office 365 makes sense for us and our customers.” Both Affirma Consulting and its customers can expect to reduce IT costs and administration, improve employee productivity and team communication and collaboration, and better manage licensing complexity.
Improves Customer Service
At Affirma Consulting, consultants now have a consistent communication and collaboration solution, so they can work better together on customer projects. Brown says, “Customer satisfaction and loyalty are the key measures we track to ensure we are meeting customer needs. With Office 365, our consultants all have the latest version of Office Professional Plus and the online services, so they can use the same tools to communicate and collaborate better. This reliable and consistent experience across our team will help us service our customers better.”
Boosts Employee Productivity
Affirma Consulting believes productivity return on investment is hard to measure, but it is huge for businesses, including its own. “When you look at the time employees spend searching for people and information, collaborating with team members, and sharing information, this adds up to a lot of money for businesses,” says Brown. “We believe Microsoft continues to be a leader in the productivity space with Office 365. We have confidence our consultants will be more productive because of the capabilities and interoperability between Office Professional Plus and the Office 365 online services. A single, seamless platform hosted by one vendor—Microsoft—makes a big difference in the employee experience, especially when compared to having separate solutions from multiple vendors.”
As Affirma Consulting targets 40 percent growth this year and its project teams become more virtual, the IT staff can quickly on-board new employees with Office 365 so that they can make an immediate impact when they join the team. Brown says, “To get a new consultant ramped up used to take us days and required IT attention. This has become almost instantaneous with Office 365.”Reduces IT Costs and Administration
By using Office 365, Affirma Consulting believes that its customers can expect to significantly reduce the cost and challenges of managing hardware and other on-premises infrastructure. For its own business, it expects to reduce costs around hardware, licensing, and IT administration, including external IT services. Brown says, “We anticipate a 25 to 30 percent cost savings when we complete our transition to Office 365.”
As part of the Office 365 services, Microsoft supports upgrades to new versions and security updates, with both the online services and Office Professional Plus, which helps businesses stay up-to-date while avoiding costs associated with these IT tasks. Customers also receive a 99.9 percent financially backed service level agreement and can take advantage of high availability, disaster recovery, and backups provided with Office 365. “With the services and reliability of Office 365, our IT staff can spend more time on business operations and less time and money on upkeep of our server and desktop infrastructure,” says Brown. “What kept me up at night was the concern that my servers go offline and I would have to fix them or buy a new piece of hardware. If a server goes down at a Microsoft data center, Microsoft resources address it. Now this scenario no longer directly impacts me or the company’s bottom line.”Reduces Licensing Complexity
Previously, the company had to manage payment for licenses separately to cover its third-party hosted Exchange solution, on-premises SharePoint Server solution, Office desktop suite, and other supporting software. By using Office 365, it can pay for the online services and Office Professional Plus in one easy, per-user subscription. Brown says, “The subscription model not only allows us to consolidate into one easy monthly payment, but it also gives us more control to scale to our business needs, ensuring we pay for only the licenses we need.”
Brown concludes, “We are seen as trusted advisors in this space, so we must be battle tested. Our early adoption of Office 365 helped us better prepare to deliver support to our customers considering a move to cloud-based services. We can reduce costs ourselves by moving to Office 365, but this is secondary to the benefits of having a communication platform that is more reliable and delivers a more consistent experience for our consultants and customers.”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 that guarantees 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
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