The Wise Group is a social enterprise headquartered in Glasgow, Scotland, that provides job-search and training services, staffing, and community regeneration projects throughout Scotland and the northeast of England. Employees must be in daily contact with customers to inform them about new job openings, training programs, or workers available for hire. To help support employees, The Wise Group implemented a hybrid Microsoft communications and collaboration solution, with some hosted services and some on-premises. It benefitted from reduced administration and improved communication, but it still faced challenges with its aging telephony system, and it needed a more flexible solution to help the company grow. It decided to upgrade its hosted services to Microsoft Office 365. With the flexibility of Office 365, it expects to reduce costs even further, and to increase productivity and innovation.
Founded in 1983, The Wise Group is a social enterprise that increases job and training opportunities for people, contributes to the regeneration of communities, and helps create a fairer and greener society. With headquarters in Glasgow, Scotland, and three additional locations across Scotland and northeast England, The Wise Group has helped more than 30,000 people find a job over the last 28 years. In 2010, more than 18,000 people participated in The Wise Group employment support projects, and more than 5,000 people found a job. As part of its community regeneration programs, it also completed projects like helping to make more than 10,000 homes safer and more secure and installing 2,288 energy efficiency measures in households.
The Wise Group encourages its 500 employees to use technology in interesting and innovative ways to help customers. To provide the latest technology for communications and collaboration, it recently designed an IT infrastructure based entirely on Microsoft technologies and hosted services. For messaging, it migrated from IBM Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange Online, a hosted email service that is part of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite. All of the company’s mailboxes were hosted at the Microsoft data center in Dublin, and employees accessed their email through Microsoft Outlook 2010. In addition, The Wise Group also subscribed to Microsoft Office Communications Online to provide presence and instant messaging capabilities. “From the moment we had presence, it was very clear to people how it worked and how to use it,” says Alan Lee-Bourke, Chief Information Officer at The Wise Group. “They also used instant messaging quite heavily from the beginning. Email is asynchronous, so it can take time to get necessary information; with presence and instant messaging, we were making decisions faster from the beginning.”
To track clients, the company deployed Microsoft Dynamics CRM with fully integrated instant messaging. Employees used the solution to remind customers of upcoming training sessions and interviews, to search for potential jobs, to report on customers’ progress, and to report performance data to the government. The Wise Group also migrated all of its enterprise resource planning systems to Microsoft Dynamics AX to help manage human-resources, payroll, and financial systems.
A critical component for The Wise Group is collaboration. It originally deployed Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 on-premises, and soon after it upgraded to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. “One of the first things we did was to implement a social network through My Sites in SharePoint Server,” says Lee-Bourke. “That way, people could more easily share information about customers, jobs, and community projects with colleagues.”
To help train employees, the IT team set up sites to help employees configure SharePoint Server however they need it. “We wanted people to be self-sufficient in the basics of SharePoint,” says Lee-Bourke. “We wanted them to play and explore so that they feel comfortable with the technology, to learn with a purpose—not just to train them to use features.” It also set up a community site where employees could contribute tips and share knowledge as they learned about SharePoint Server. “Our CEO loves it. We ran a contest where he gave away a box of chocolates to people who put up helpful tips,” Lee-Bourke continues.
Although The Wise Group experienced benefits from its Microsoft communications and collaboration solutions, it still faced some challenges, one of which was its aging private-branch exchange (PBX) telephony system. In addition, the company planned to expand its services throughout Scotland, which meant opening more offices, and it wanted to find a cost-effective, low-maintenance voice solution for new locations, rather than deploying additional PBX systems. “We compete against large, multinational corporations, so we need to be flexible and fast in terms of how quickly we can set up offices and provision new people,” says Lee-Bourke.
||It would cost us about £100,000 [U.S.$162,000] for a new telephony system. By using Lync enterprise voice rather than replacing our aging systems with new PBXs, we save about £350,000 [U.S.$560,000].
Chief Information Officer, The Wise Group
The IT team also wanted to reduce administration even further than it had with its current hosted solutions so that it could focus on helping employees use technology in way that drives business. “Our strategy is to outsource technology as much as possible,” says Lee-Bourke. “Right now, we are constantly focused on managing the infrastructure we have on-premises. We want to focus on helping the business.”
To further its strategy to outsource technology, The Wise Group decided to upgrade its hosted solutions from the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite to Microsoft Office 365, which combines the familiar Office desktop with the next generation of cloud-based communication and collaboration services. To prepare for the transition to Office 365, the company deployed Active Directory Federation Services, to enable single sign on, so that employees could maintain a single set of credentials in Active Directory for Office 365 and other on-premises solutions. To enable employees to connect to Office 365 services, it also deployed an Active Directory Federation Services proxy server.
For messaging, The Wise Group will use the latest version of Microsoft Exchange Online, which is based on Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 technology. With Exchange Online and Outlook 2010, employees can access capabilities such as Conversation View, which groups together messages from a single conversation so that employees can quickly and easily identify their most recent messages, view the chain of responses, and see a preview of each response in a conversation when they open individual messages.
With Microsoft Lync Server 2010 deployed on-premises, The Wise Group will extend additional communications capabilities such as ad hoc collaboration and online meetings, desktop sharing, and application sharing for employees. “We have a lot of mobile employees who can take advantage of the conferencing capabilities in Lync to stay in touch with customers and with the home office,” says Lee-Bourke. “Our CEO also plans to use Lync to record video broadcasts that we can upload to SharePoint Server so people can watch them.”
To replace its aging PBX systems, The Wise Group has implemented Lync enterprise voice. At its headquarters, it deployed voice gateways that connect Lync to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). At branch offices and any new locations, it will use survivable branch appliances (SBAs), which are cost-effective media gateways that host the Microsoft Survivable Branch Appliance software package. The SBA provides a PSTN connection that continues to provide communications capabilities in the event of wide-area network failure. The Wise Group will also use Exchange Online hosted voicemail, so that employees can receive and manage voicemail and email in a unified inbox and access these messages from Outlook 2010, Outlook Web App, mobile phones, and Microsoft Lync 2010.
For collaboration, The Wise Group will transition part of its SharePoint deployment to Microsoft SharePoint Online. It will keep its on-premises solution for business intelligence services, but it will use SharePoint Online to host document libraries, My Sites, and the company’s intranet. With this hybrid solution, the company can remove its servers running Microsoft SQL Server and reduce the amount of storage it needs to use SharePoint Server on-premises. “We have a file server that really is nothing more than a digital landfill,” says Lee-Bourke. “Each My Site can host 250 megabytes of data, so we could move a lot of that data to the cloud, where it would be more accessible to people when they need it, and we can clear out the rest.”
The interoperation between Exchange Online, Lync Server, and SharePoint Online, will also help The Wise Group boost social networking and collaboration, which it believes is critical for employees. With the Rich Contact Card, employees can view organizational information such as people’s managers and direct reports, and employees can choose to display their pictures as well. Employees can use the skill search feature to search for subject-matter experts by skill through the Lync client, SharePoint Server 2010, or SharePoint Online. They can also easily escalate a chat session to an audio conference, video conference, or online meeting with the click of a mouse, whether they are working in Outlook 2010 or a SharePoint site. The company will also upgrade to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, which interoperates with Lync Online to show presence information.
“Our main goal with Office 365 is to evaluate all the creative ways we can use the technology to get the full benefit for our employees and our customers,” says Lee-Bourke. “We can concentrate on the innovation of IT for the business and help people understand how to use it the best way.”Benefits
With Office 365 and Lync Server, The Wise Group can provide a flexible, scalable solution that increases the ways it can service its customers to help them find jobs, get training, or help improve their communities while also learning new skills. It can also extend additional capabilities that work together to enable employees to be more efficient at their jobs.
By upgrading its Microsoft communications and collaboration solutions to Lync Server and Office 365, The Wise Group can reduce costs in a number of ways. With Lync enterprise voice, the company can replace at least ten of its PBX systems, which means it can reduce costs for maintenance and administration. In addition, it can expand business faster and more cost-effectively by deploying SBAs at new offices. “It would cost us about £100,000 [U.S.$162,000] for a new telephony system,” says Lee-Bourke. “By using Lync enterprise voice rather than replacing our aging systems with new PBXs, we save about £350,000 [U.S.$560,000].”
||Office 365 is easy to use, easy to navigate, and easy to understand, which is key to adoption, and key to getting the best out of technology.
Director of Strategic Planning, The Wise Group
In its data centers, The Wise Group will retire 50 to 60 physical servers, which will help it to reduce administration, power, and cooling costs. “Energy costs in Britain are among the highest in Europe,” says Lee-Bourke. “We can save a significant amount by outsourcing our solutions to Microsoft because we can retire much of the hardware we no longer need.” It will also no longer need dedicated SQL administrators, which will help it to reduce administration costs. By migrating data from its file shares to SharePoint Online, it can also reduce the need for additional storage, which further helps to reduce costs.
Because employees can access Office 365 services from anywhere and also have enterprise voice, The Wise Group will also seek to reduce travel by up to 30 percent to help reduce travel costs and to reduce carbon emissions to help the environment.Improve Productivity
With the enhanced communications and collaboration capabilities in Office 365, The Wise Group can continue to offer employees solutions that make them more effective at placing customers, staffing employers, and regenerating communities. “Office 365 is easy to use, easy to navigate, and easy to understand, which is key to adoption, and key to getting the best out of technology,” says Diane Greenlees, Director of Strategic Planning at The Wise Group.
Because employees can view presence information, initiate a chat session, or place a quick call through Lync 2010, Outlook 2010, or SharePoint Online, they can get answers and make decisions even faster than they could with presence and instant messaging alone. “Having the right information at the right time to make the right business decisions is critical,” says Greenlees. “With Office 365, we can focus on managing information rather than managing systems, so that we can help employees be more efficient and effective.”
Remote employees can also be productive from any location where they have access to a browser and a broadband connection. “Office 365 enables our employees to be more flexible, to work from different locations and still access corporate systems from wherever they are, and that is absolutely critical,” says Lee-Bourke.
Greenlees adds, “With the ability to access cloud-based services from anywhere, we can improve customer service and make it easier for them to engage with us so that we can help them get back to work.”Create a Scalable, Flexible Solution
The Wise Group can easily provision new employees, because the Office 365 subscription-based service enables them to add—or remove—licenses as needed. With the combination of Microsoft hosted services and Lync enterprise voice, The Wise Group can also more easily establish new office locations. “With Office 365, we will have a more scalable, flexible, reliable solution to help us grow the business and provide more effective services to the community over the next few years,” says Greenlees.
In particular, the organization can expand faster because it can deploy its voice solution quickly by using enterprise voice and SBAs, rather than deploying traditional telephony systems. “Lync gives us the ability to deploy communications in a way that is faster and more efficient than ever,” says Greenlees. “As we grow as a business, we can open new offices and actually have IT and telephony systems available efficiently and at a lower cost than traditional solutions.”Increase Innovation
The Wise Group believes that Office 365 can help it be more innovative in its approach to how it helps customers. “With Office 365 and SharePoint Online, we can create more customer self-service sites, which will help us be more efficient,” says Lee-Bourke. “We can also give customers the tools to help themselves and to become more engaged in the digital economy, and ultimately to get jobs more efficiently and to retain those jobs.”
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.
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For more information about The Wise Group products and services, call 0141 303 3131 or visit the website at: www.thewisegroup.co.uk