4-page Case Study
Posted: 5/1/2012
715
Rate This Evidence:

Hickory Farms Specialty Foods Retailer Simplifies Collaboration with Switch to Office 365

To reduce costs, Hickory Farms adopted a leading cloud-based email and productivity package, but the company experienced several challenges with the service. For example, the Hickory Farms IT department had to spend extra time helping employees and reconciling the service with the company’s existing Microsoft Office 2007 environment. Hickory Farms executives realized that they had to replace the service, and in July 2011, the company adopted the Microsoft Office 365 suite of hosted online messaging and collaboration solutions. As a result, Hickory Farms has delivered familiar tools that its employees can use to collaborate with each other easily and effectively, streamlined its IT management, and developed the flexibility the company needs to efficiently scale its seasonal operations up and down.

*
* With our previous cloud-based email, employees were constantly asking us how to use the system. By adopting Office 365, employees can use Outlook exactly like they’re used to. *

Jeremy Mahler
Director of Technical Operations, Hickory Farms

*

Situation
Hickory Farms is a leading purveyor of specialty foods, such as cheeses, meats, crackers, fruits, nuts, and food gift baskets. The company delivers its products to consumers across North America through its network of seasonal mall stores, the hickoryfarms.com website, department stores, mass merchandisers, and leading supermarkets.

To help reduce costs, the company became interested in replacing part of its IT infrastructure with cloud technology—remote computing resources delivered as services over the Internet. In 2010, when it was time to update its Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 messaging environment, Hickory Farms decided to adopt a leading cloud-based suite of online messaging and productivity services.

“Our Exchange Server environment was aging, and it no longer made financial sense to maintain it,” says Jeremy Mahler, Director of Technical Operations at Hickory Farms. “We were interested in updating our legacy messaging infrastructure, and we selected a leading online platform that was competitively priced and seemed like a good solution.”

When Hickory Farms adopted the service, results were mixed. The company still used Microsoft Office 2007 productivity software along with the email, word processing, and spreadsheet components of the online service, which made it difficult for employees to collaborate and share documents. “We wound up with no single point where people could share work easily,” says Mahler.

As a company committed to the highest quality products and service, Hickory Farms considers the maintenance of its visual brand standards across communication points to be critical. But when employees converted messages, documents, or other materials between Office 2007 and the online service, they encountered varying degrees of format challenges. Graphs, pictures, and other elements would change; type fonts would be switched and colors would not remain true. Sending email messages and calendar invites to customers, retail partners, and vendors also presented compatibility challenges. Many employees preferred to use the Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 messaging and collaboration client, but in order to make it work with the online service, they had to use separate tools and complicated workarounds.

*
* By switching to Office 365, we still had a collaboration environment managed for us in the cloud, and it brought us back to a familiar environment that our users were comfortable with. *

Jeremy Mahler
Director of Technical Operations, Hickory Farms

*
“Trying to use Outlook with the outside connector was ungainly,” says Mahler. “Employees had to go through an extra layer of complexity just to send or download email messages.”

It created extra work for the Hickory Farms IT department to help employees with these kinds of challenges and to make the different technologies interoperate well. Because the online service did not integrate well with the Hickory Farms directory structure, it was difficult and time-consuming to add and delete new email accounts for the company’s seasonal workforce, which can effectively double the size of the company from October to December.

Solution
By the second quarter of 2011, most employees at Hickory Farms had reached a significant level of frustration, and company executives understood that they had to find something more effective. Mahler’s team began to evaluate returning the company to an updated on-premises Exchange Server email environment. It then decided to work with IT partner Bennett Adelson—a member of the Microsoft Partner Network—to evaluate a switch to Microsoft Office 365, a suite of hosted online messaging and collaboration solutions that includes Microsoft Office Professional Plus along with Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft SharePoint Online, and Microsoft Lync Online.

“We had adopted the previous cloud-based tool to cut costs, but it just didn’t work for us,” says Mahler. “By switching to Office 365, we still had a collaboration environment managed for us in the cloud, and it brought us back to a familiar environment that our users were comfortable with.”

After Hickory Farms evaluated a beta version of Office 365 with a short, informal pilot project that included IT staff and a few power users, it then quickly decided to adopt the service. The company’s subscription to the previous online service was due to lapse at the end of July 2011, which gave Hickory Farms approximately 30 days to change to Office 365. “We didn’t have much time, but Bennett Adelson staff evaluated our entire environment and did a phenomenal job of getting us through the migration,” says Mahler. “The expertise, efficiency, and diligence that they displayed were really impressive.”

The migration was successfully completed with a week to spare. Hickory Farms adopted Office 365 subscriptions for every employee at the company’s headquarters and at two other locations, and for its permanent field employees. The company manages its email accounts with Exchange Online and uses Lync Online for instant messaging. It plans to use SharePoint Online to share documents and manage workflows, and it anticipates using Microsoft Office Professional Plus through Office 365, when its Office 2007 licenses begin to expire in 2012.

*
* Before we adopted Office 365, we had to manage an entirely separate set of email accounts. But now, we can integrate our email identities directly with our Active Directory. *

Jeremy Mahler
Director of Technical Operations, Hickory Farms

*
Because Office 365 interoperates with the company’s Active Directory Federated Services, employees can automatically log on to Office 365 when they enter their corporate password. With this single sign-on capability, the user experience for all Hickory Farms employees is simple and transparent, and remote users don’t have to sign on to a separate virtual private network to access email. In addition, IT administrators at Hickory Farms can manage the company’s collaboration environment easily and efficiently.

“Before we adopted Office 365, we had to manage an entirely separate set of email accounts,” says Mahler. “But now, we can integrate our email identities directly with our Active Directory.”

Benefits
By migrating its messaging and collaboration environment to Microsoft Office 365, Hickory Farms has provided its employees with familiar tools that they can use to collaborate easily and more effectively with their colleagues inside and outside the company. It has also streamlined IT management, avoided some IT costs, and provided the flexibility the company needs to scale its seasonal operations up and down efficiently and cost-effectively.

Familiar Environment, Better Collaboration
Because Office 365 works with the Microsoft tools that Hickory Farms employees are familiar with, the company did not have to train its employees to use the service. Now employees can again easily collaborate and share work without compromising the formatting of their documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, which helps the company maintain a consistent brand identity. It can send email messages and meeting invitations to colleagues and partners inside and outside the company, confident that recipients can open and read them.

“With our previous cloud-based email, employees were constantly asking us how to use the system,” says Mahler. “By adopting Office 365, employees can use Outlook exactly like they’re used to.”

Streamlined IT Management
By adopting Office 365, Hickory Farms avoided the cost of purchasing, installing, and maintaining an on-premises messaging and collaboration infrastructure. “I like that we do not have to directly manage the Exchange Server environment,” says Mahler. “It's one thing that we don't have to worry about.”

The Hickory Farms IT department is also saving time by no longer having to remediate problems with email messages or document conversions or reconcile two separate messaging and collaboration environments. “Managing the previous service added time to every user administration task we had to do,” says Mahler. “Now we can use the management console in Office 365 to streamline routine management or even hand off complicated tasks or emergency remediation to Bennett Adelson. We definitely like that.”

Easy Scalability
Every October through December, Hickory Farms more than doubles the size of its workforce to staff more than 750 shopping mall kiosks and stores across North America. With an on-premises collaboration infrastructure, the company had to develop that capacity, and then it would end up underutilizing it for more than eight months a year. With the previous online messaging and collaboration service, the IT department had to manually add new accounts for each temporary field employee and then reconcile it with the company’s directory—often up to 60 new accounts a day. Now IT administrators at Hickory Farms can add new Office 365 accounts that are automatically integrated with the company’s Active Directory environment, a process that takes seconds.

In addition, Hickory Farms can more flexibly and easily scale its use of Office 365, adding only the number of subscriptions it needs when it needs them. “We used to have to take a block of licenses—say 200—and we either used them all or we didn't, but if we need 175 Office 365 licenses this month and 186 next month, we only pay for 175 this month and 186 next month,” says Mahler. “That is a benefit for us in terms of billing efficiency, and it will likely end up saving us money.”

Microsoft Online Services
Microsoft Online Services are business-class communication and collaboration solutions delivered as a subscription service and hosted by Microsoft. With these offerings, customers can cost-effectively access the most up-to-date technologies and immediately benefit from streamlined communications, simplified management, and business-class reliability and security features.

For more information, visit:
www.microsoft.com/online

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 Bennett Adelson products and services, visit the website at:
www.bennettadelson.com

For more information about Hickory Farms products and services, visit the website at:
www.hickoryfarms.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 100 employees

Organization Profile
Hickory Farms delivers specialty food products to consumers across North America through multichannel marketing. The company has 100 employees and is based in Maumee, Ohio.

Business Situation
Hickory Farms adopted a popular cloud-based email system but experienced challenges with the online collaboration service. It needed to find a more effective solution.

Solution
Hickory Farms moved from the service to Microsoft Office 365, a suite of hosted online messaging and collaboration solutions.

Benefits
  • Familiar environment, better collaboration
  • Streamlined IT management
  • Easy scalability

Software and Services
Microsoft Office 365

Vertical Industries
Retail and Consumer Goods

Country/Region
United States

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Bennett Adelson

RSS