4-page Case Study
Posted: 3/14/2012
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Colonial Williamsburg Historical District Opts for Hosted Services to Reduce Costs and Improve Customer Service

Colonial Williamsburg, the restored eighteenth-century capital of the British Empire’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous outpost, is the world’s largest living history museum. Historians and costumed interpreters tell the story of Williamsburg, Virginia, and the pre-revolutionary challenges it faced. About 1.5 million people visit the attraction annually, so employees require messaging, communications, and collaboration solutions to help ensure that visitors have the best possible experience. Colonial Williamsburg decided to subscribe to Microsoft Office 365, a services offering that combines the familiar functionality of the Office desktop suite with cloud-based versions of next-generation communications and collaboration services. By using Office 365, the museum found it could do a better job of marketing to and providing services for customers, reducing costs by $27,000 annually.

Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum that encompasses a 301-acre district, with buildings dating from 1699 to 1780. Restoration of the historic town began in 1926, and today, the area features 88 original buildings among the 500 buildings that include shops, taverns, and open-air markets. Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg see historical reenactments that demonstrate aspects of daily life in eighteenth-century Williamsburg, showing how people of different classes and races worked, dressed, and talked as they would have in colonial times in America. For visitors more interested in enjoying themselves in the present, Colonial Williamsburg also includes hotels, restaurants, and a golf course.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which manages every aspect of Colonial Williamsburg, operates under the motto “That the future may learn from the past.” Although the mission of Colonial Williamsburg is to teach people about history, it realizes, as an organization operating in the modern world, that technology is critical for providing the best possible service for its visitors. For marketing and education purposes, it has embraced the importance of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to help promote electronic field trips, web-based educational curricula, and other online programs. Internally, about 1,400 of the 4,000 employees at Colonial Williamsburg also rely on technology to be productive at their daily jobs. The IT staff had deployed Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 for email messaging, and employees used Microsoft Office 2007. Some employees used public instant messaging programs to communicate in real time, but no unified communications solution had been deployed to provide presence and instant messaging across the organization.

* We will save about $15,000 a year in hardware and software costs by moving to Office 365—and that is without figuring in our future upgrade costs. *

Sean Maisey
Director of Operations, Colonial Williamsburg

With its messaging solution, Colonial Williamsburg had started to face some challenges. The IT team had set mailbox quotas at 100 megabytes (MB) to limit the growth of the storage system and to help keep costs down, but employees relied so much on email to communicate that they had a difficult time managing their information to stay inside the limit. They used Outlook data (PST) files to archive messages, which limited disk space on file servers. “People simply kept requesting larger mailboxes,” explains Sean Maisey, Director of Operations at Colonial Williamsburg. “We did that for a while, but we faced a situation where we could crash other business critical services due to lack of disk space if we didn’t add new hardware.”

Another challenge was that infrequent but necessary discovery searches were difficult to conduct. Some people stored their PST files on the network, while other people stored them on their computers, and in some cases, the files were lost altogether. “Our information lifecycle management suffered,” says Maisey. “For example, if human resources needed us to conduct a discovery search concerning some employee issue, which happens maybe six times a year, we might not be able to recover everything they needed.”

The IT team also spent a lot of time managing updates, patches, and third-party solutions that it had deployed to help control security and spam. “We get about 1 million email messages a day, and about 95 percent of those messages are spam,” says Maisey. “Spam took up a significant amount of bandwidth, and it was another point of failure that required additional time and resources from our small team.”

Even with those challenges, Colonial Williamsburg was happy with Exchange Server 2007, but its hardware leases were expiring, so it began to look for a new messaging solution. It considered upgrading to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, but the costs to upgrade on-premises—both in terms of money and administrative time—were significant. In addition, the IT team wanted to provide a true unified communications solution, especially so that employees who dealt with visitors directly could stay up to date with program changes or other information that might affect the public.

Colonial Williamsburg decided to consider using a cloud-based messaging service to replace Exchange Server 2007. Doug Marty, Director of IT at Colonial Williamsburg, says, “We were reaching the end of life for the email environment, and so we began to look at other options.” The IT team saw real cost advantages in eliminating its on-premises solution. A big attraction was the ability to eliminate time-consuming migration, disaster recovery, and backup activities from its list of administrative tasks.

The first solution it evaluated was Google Apps. Although the IT team liked the email functionality provided in Google Mail, it wanted to ensure that employees could get the same functionality from Google Apps that they had in Office 2007. “We asked the accounting team to help us by recreating some of the spreadsheets they had in Microsoft Excel in Google Spreadsheets,” explains Maisey. “A lot of the business intelligence modeling [features] in Excel were not available in Google Apps. And for our financial people, those were non-starters. When it came to presentations, Google didn't offer the breadth of functionality our users were used to. We quickly realized Google would not meet our needs, so asking our employees to put up with less functionality was not an option for us.”

Colonial Williamsburg
About 1.5 million people visit Colonial Williamsburg each year to learn about
pre-revolutionary life.
The IT team liked the functionality provided in Exchange Server 2010, and it knew that people were happy using Office and the Microsoft Outlook messaging and collaboration client, so when it learned about Microsoft Office 365, it decided to try it out. Microsoft Office 365 is a services offering that includes Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Lync Online, Microsoft SharePoint Online, and Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010. After completing a pilot, the IT team knew it wanted to use Office 365, so it engaged Liftoff, a Microsoft Silver Certified Partner and Tier 3 Cloud Champion, to help with the migration to the new services. “Liftoff was incredibly valuable to us,” says Maisey. “It helped us quickly resolve any issues we experienced during our transition to Office 365.”

The IT team worked with Liftoff to prepare the Exchange Server data for migration and to set up Active Directory Federation Services to enable single sign on capabilities. After the initial preparations were complete, Colonial Williamsburg migrated 1,400 employee mailboxes to Exchange Online within a three-week period. The IT team also met with employees during the migration to explain the new capabilities. With Exchange Online, employees have 25 gigabytes (GB) of space to store email messages. Employees can also use the personal archive for long-term retention, and IT can easily conduct discovery searches as necessary.

By migrating to Exchange Online, the IT team at Colonial Williamsburg avoided signing leases for new servers to support an on-premises email solution that would have also required a lengthy migration process. With Office 365, Microsoft performs all of the administrative tasks and ensures redundancy and security, so the IT team also eliminated many of the administrative tasks they used to perform—sometimes daily—such as backups, updates, and patches. It also retired the mail gateway for spam.

With Exchange Online in place, the IT team shifted its focus to providing Lync Online for about 150 employees who work primarily in IT, marketing, and customer service. Eventually, it will provide Lync Online for 1,400 employees, so the team can access capabilities such as presence, instant messaging, ad hoc collaboration and online meetings, conferencing, and desktop and application sharing. The IT team has already started using desktop sharing to manage issues when employees contact the help desk. Employees at the visitor center use Lync Online to reach out to the hotel, golf course, exhibits, and other areas to get answers for customers quickly.
After setting up Lync Online, the IT team plans to provide Office Professional Plus and SharePoint Online for employees. By sharing Office documents in SharePoint Online, teams can work together to collaborate interactively, even within the same document. With Office Professional Plus, because of the interoperation with Lync Online, employees can view presence information or start an instant messaging session directly from a Microsoft Word document or an Excel spreadsheet. Through their Office subscriptions, employees will receive new capabilities automatically through regular updates, so they always have the latest functionality on the desktop. The IT team will also work with different teams across the organization to create workspaces in SharePoint Online to make collaboration and sharing easier.

Annual Savings
Colonial Williamsburg expects savings of
$27,000 per year with Microsoft Office 365.

By moving to Office 365, Colonial Williamsburg resolved challenges with its messaging solution and avoided expensive overhead costs. In addition, it found a solution that would enable it to provide a full unified communications and collaboration platform to help employees work more efficiently across all parts of the organization and enhance the customer experience.

Reduce Costs
Colonial Williamsburg reduced costs in several areas by transitioning to Office 365. It no longer has to worry about renewing hardware leases, and it avoids costly software upgrades, because upgrades are part of the Office 365 subscription costs. “We will save about $15,000 a year in hardware and software costs by moving to Office 365—and that is without figuring in our future upgrade costs,” explains Maisey.

In addition, Colonial Williamsburg expects significant cost savings for its wide-area network (WAN) due to the reduction in spam traffic coming across the network. “Because Microsoft manages the gateway, we have reduced our Internet bandwidth from 18 MB to 16 MB, and we have reduced our T3 utilization by about 15 percent,” says Maisey. “That saves us $1,000 a month in WAN costs.” The bandwidth, hardware, and software cost savings add up to $27,000 a year.

Reduce Administration
If Colonial Williamsburg had upgraded to Exchange Server 2010 on-premises, two of its IT staff members would have spent about 60 percent of their time for six months to plan and manage the migration. Instead, by moving to Office 365, the IT staff saved about a third of that time to provide the same functionality. Now that the migration is complete, IT staff can focus on projects that support the business. “We have seen a definite reduction in our workload by using Office 365, because we no longer have to deal with backups, patches, and upgrades,” says Maisey. “With Office 365, we are basically doing one final upgrade of our email system.”

The IT team also spends less time troubleshooting issues because it no longer has to manage its email gateway. “Any time you have mail flow issues, you have to go back and check every possible point of failure,” explains James King, Systems Engineering Analyst at Colonial Williamsburg. “Because Microsoft manages the mail gateway, it eliminates an additional point of failure and saves us a lot of troubleshooting time so we can focus on other projects.”

* We quickly realized Google would not meet our needs, so asking our employees to put up with less functionality was not an option for us. *

Sean Maisey
Director of Operations, Colonial Williamsburg

Enhance Customer Experience

With the communication and collaboration tools that are available in Office 365, Colonial Williamsburg sees new opportunities to improve the visitor experience. The marketing team plans to use Excel in combination with SharePoint Online to collect and review data about customer behavior, so that it understands and can provide the kind of programs and services that visitors want.

The director of the Visitor’s Center also plans to use Lync Online to stay in constant contact with the marketing department, so Visitor Center employees always have the latest information about special promotions or programs for visitors. “The director of the Visitor’s Center has found Lync Online to be indispensable for employees who have a customer with a question in front of them,” explains Maisey. “They can send a quick message to someone in marketing to see what time a special exhibit starts, or if one of the hotels is offering the buffet for lunch, or if the pool is open.”

Improve Productivity
Employees at Colonial Williamsburg are experiencing many benefits from moving to Office 365. Because they have 25 GB mailboxes, they no longer have to spend as much time managing email. With Lync Online, they can easily send instant messages to available colleagues to get quick answers. “When the IT team started using Lync Online, we quickly became dependent upon it,” says Maisey. “We use conferencing and desktop sharing to help resolve issues for employees.” By using desktop sharing in Lync Online and interactive collaborative tools in Office Professional Plus, employees can also work together more effectively to create new programs or improve operations.

The IT team expects to see even more productivity gains when employees have access to Office Professional Plus and SharePoint Online. “We expect the SharePoint Online sites to be very popular,” says Maisey. “Teams can control what they want to share with other people, but they can keep everything in one place.”

By using Office 365, Colonial Williamsburg can use next-generation cloud-based services to continue its mission, “That the future may learn from the past.”

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
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:

For more information about Liftoff products and services, call (410) 419-1591 or visit the website at:

For more information about Colonial Williamsburg products and services, call (757) 229-1000 or visit the website at:
Solution Overview

Organization Size: 4000 employees

Organization Profile
Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum. Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, it welcomes over 1.5 million visitors each year and employs 4,000 people.

Business Situation
Colonial Williamsburg wanted to replace its existing on-premises email solution with a hosted messaging service to help reduce costs and administration.

Colonial Williamsburg decided to move to Microsoft Office 365 to provide messaging, collaboration, communications, and business productivity solutions without additional overhead costs and administration.

  • Reduce costs by $27,000 annually
  • Reduce administration
  • Enhance customer experience
  • Improve productivity

Software and Services
Microsoft Office 365

Vertical Industries
Hospitality & Travel

United States

IT Issue
Data Migrations