C&I Engineering provides engineering services to the nuclear industry. With employees working at several customer locations, C&I needed better ways to communicate and collaborate. By using Microsoft Office 365, a set of cloud-based communications services, C&I has saved time by automating common tasks and sharing documents on a collaboration portal. C&I has also gained capabilities that benefit its customers, all at a cost it can afford.
C&I Engineering provides a range of engineering services to nuclear power plants. The firm has 25 employees, most of whom work at customer sites all over the United States. Because employees are geographically scattered, the firm relied heavily on email messaging (the Google Mail (Gmail) service) to stay in touch. However, C&I generates and exchanges thousands of engineering and project management documents with customers, which meant that using email was not an efficient way to move and manage documents. Also, Gmail mailbox size was insufficient for the firm’s needs, and the service did not offer shared calendaring.
“When I came on board in early 2010, the company was sorely lacking in IT solutions,” says Jared Walther, Business Development Manager and Engineer at C&I Engineering. “We had one file server and a few workstations. We had little document version control. This was a potential problem because we deal with engineering documents for nuclear power plants. We cannot get confused and send a customer the wrong file.”
For a while, C&I used a hosted Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 solution to try to solve the document version control problem, but the hosting company’s servers failed on three different occasions, forcing C&I to rebuild its SharePoint sites.
||Whatever problem the business faces, Office 365 gives me a complete set of tools for solving it.
Business Development Manager and Engineer, C&I Engineering
“It was like losing our whole business when those sites went down, so we dropped that provider and were hesitant to try another hosted solution,” says Walther. “However, we couldn’t afford to create an on-premises SharePoint implementation; we didn’t have the money for the servers and software or the resources to take care of it.”Solution
In early 2011, Microsoft invited C&I Engineering to be a beta tester for Microsoft Office 365 for professionals and small businesses, a group of cloud-based email, calendaring, collaboration, and conferencing services combined with web-based versions of the popular Microsoft Office programs. “I’d been hearing a lot about cloud computing and really liked what I saw in Office 365,” Walther says.
Walther and three colleagues tested Office 365 from August 2010 to April 2011. By using Microsoft Exchange Online and Microsoft Office 2010 on their desktop computers, they have the latest email functionality, expanded mailbox capacity, shared calendars, and remote access to email messages and contacts from their smartphones.
C&I is getting the most benefit out of Microsoft SharePoint Online. To date, the firm has put about 200 documents in SharePoint sites, and it plans to create a team site for every project. “All documents, notes, calendars, and conversations related to a project will live on Office 365,” Walther says. “Ultimately, we plan to give our customers access to these sites so that they can access documents directly, whenever they want.”
Walther used Microsoft Access 2010, a database program included in Microsoft Office 2010, to build an automated proposal processing application. For one major customer, C&I receives up to 10 proposal requests each day, and Walther spent hours responding to them. By using Access 2010, he built an automated email response application that fills in subcontractor information, resumes, fees, and other data and generates a finished proposal. By using Microsoft Access Services C&I Engineering can publish the application in SharePoint Online, where it is accessible from any web browser. Any time Walther makes a change to a proposal, the change is updated on the SharePoint site.
Walther has also used Microsoft Lync Online, part of Office 365, to share computer screens and place video calls. “I plan to use Lync Online as our business grows so that we have a shared office experience regardless of location,” Walther says. “Having a face-to-face conversation will be instrumental in showing our clients our commitment to excellence and adding a personal touch to our interactions. With this technology, we demonstrate that we are cutting-edge professionals who are on top of our game.”Benefits
To increase productivity, manage documents, improve customer service, and lower costs, C&I Engineering plans to license Office 365 for all 25 employees.
Time Saved, Problems Solved
With Office 365, C&I will have a tool set that it can use to help all departments work more efficiently. “I don’t know how various departments will use Office 365, but the possibilities are endless,” Walther says. “If there’s something to be automated, I can automate it. If there’s something to be shared, I can share it. Whatever problem the business faces, Office 365 gives me a complete set of tools for solving it.”
The automatic proposal processing application alone saves Walther about 80 minutes a day. “Over a four-month period, I estimate that this application will save me two to three weeks,” he says. “That’s time I can use to take care of other business. Plus, it helps me get proposals in sooner, which improves our appearance as a solution provider.”Better Customer Service
C&I can also offer enhanced services to customers. “Once we have all our documents in Office 365, we’ll eliminate version-control problems,” Walther says. “It will be so much easier to communicate with customers, because I won’t have to email files back and forth. Plus, adopting Office 365 shows customers that we have our act together and have invested in professional tools that help us respond to their needs.”
Fewer Worries, Great Value
C&I finds great value in having the Office 365 applications running in Microsoft data centers. “It’s huge that Office 365 is hosted in the cloud and Microsoft is taking care of it all for just a few dollars a month per user,” says Walther. “It allows me to do my job instead of getting up to speed on something that is not my job. I don’t have the time, patience, or money to build an Exchange Server or SharePoint Server setup for our office.”
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