Allovus Design provides graphic design, user interface design, software development, and project management for businesses of all sizes. Its 70 employees generally work from customer sites or from home and rarely come into the office. Several years ago, Allovus subscribed to a hosted messaging service to help employees communicate, and it deployed collaboration software on-premises to help them manage projects. As the company added employees, it realized it needed a communications and collaboration solution to bring its dispersed workforce together and give them better insight into projects. Allovus subscribed to Microsoft Office 365, which combines the familiar Microsoft Office desktop suite with cloud-based communications and collaboration services. With Office 365, it can reduce costs and administration, improve productivity, and help the business expand.
Located in Gig Harbor, Washington, Allovus Design provides graphic and interactive design services; website and user interface development; software development; and program and project management for businesses of all sizes in various industries. Most of its 70 employees work from customer sites or from home, and they rarely visit the office. Project teams vary in size anywhere from three to ten members, so Allovus relies heavily on email and the phone to communicate. Projects can last anywhere from one week to a year and team members manage a large amount of data across several projects simultaneously.
As a small business, Allovus wanted to avoid the overhead costs and administration requirements that accompany on-premises solutions, but it wanted to provide a standardized messaging and collaboration platform for employees. Allovus subscribed to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, online versions of communications and collaboration services, to provide email services through Microsoft Exchange Online. To help project managers hold regular status meetings with development teams and customers, or for internal meetings, Allovus used web and video conferencing services through Microsoft Office Live Meeting.
For collaboration, document management, and development, Allovus deployed Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 on-premises, and later upgraded to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. “We wanted SharePoint Server onsite because we needed something secure and available that would allow us to work in one common place and that we could back up on a regular basis,” explains Rob Nichols, Director of Cloud Services and Development at Allovus Design. The company uses SharePoint Server to track projects internally and externally, and it provides customization and site development for customers who also use SharePoint Server.
To manage user accounts, Allovus had deployed two instances of Active Directory: one for its Microsoft Exchange Online and Office Live Meeting accounts and another for its SharePoint Server accounts. “Managing two Active Directory servers was fine when we started a few years ago,” says Nichols. “But in the last two years, we have grown from two to more than seventy people, so it was starting to be more of a burden.” Employees also disliked having two separate user accounts.
Allovus also realized it needed a standardized solution that would help people communicate better in real time as the number of employees increased and more people were distributed across customer sites and home offices. Even though team members could track and share up-to-date information through SharePoint Server, they still had to use email, the phone, or Office Live Meeting to conduct a large part of their day-to-day business.
||SharePoint Online is the backbone of our business, and it is where we see our future.
Director of Cloud Services and Development, Allovus Design
Allovus was eager to centralize its messaging and collaboration solutions without additional administrative overhead and increased costs. “Our workforce is so distributed and our projects are so complex—we handle more than 10,000 pieces of data per client—that we needed a solution that people could access from anywhere at any time,” says Nichols.
As a subscriber to Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, Allovus decided to join the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program to pilot test Microsoft Office 365, the latest cloud-based services solution that brings together trusted business productivity, collaboration, and communications products. With Office 365, Allovus can continue to enjoy business-class messaging services through Exchange Online, which include the latest features of the Exchange Server platform. In addition, it can provide a more robust collaboration platform that employees can easily access from anywhere through Microsoft SharePoint Online. Finally, the company can also provide a real-time communications solution for employees with Microsoft Lync Online, which offers presence, instant messaging (IM), desktop sharing, and ad hoc collaboration and online meetings.
To eliminate one of its Active Directory servers, Allovus will create online accounts and transition services for all 70 employees to Office 365. Allovus will maintain the other Active Directory server for employees who need access to Team Foundation Server and SharePoint Server 2010, which it plans to maintain as a test server environment. As the company grows, it will consider implementing Active Directory Federation Services to tie together its online services with its on-premises solutions, so that employees can maintain a single set of credentials in Active Directory for Office 365 and other on-premises solutions.A Communication Network That Brings People Together
With Lync Online, Allovus can provide a highly secure, real-time communications solution that employees can access from any computer with a broadband network connection. One of the biggest surprises for Allovus was how Lync Online transformed communication between employees. “Everyone uses Lync Online to connect now,” says Nichols. “It is essentially the company’s nervous system.”
Because they can see each other’s presence information, employees can start an IM session, phone call, or an online meeting when they see someone is available. They can also send files instantly, or share an application or desktop to view information.
Employees have been using Lync optimized devices for their voice communications to ensure high audio quality. They especially like using the Jabra Go 6470 headset. Hayley Nichols, the CEO at Allovus says, “With the Jabra Go headset, setup was easy and it had great sound quality. It’s so comfortable that I forgot I had it on after awhile.”
The small IT team is also able to take advantage of desktop sharing capabilities with Lync Online to help the company’s dispersed workforce. “Before we had Lync Online, our support guys had to drive a lot to help people, but with desktop sharing they can troubleshoot issues effectively from wherever they are,” says Nichols.A Robust Collaboration Experience to Help Expand Business
Allovus plans to transition from its current on-premises SharePoint Server to SharePoint Online, both to develop solutions and services for customers and to track projects internally. “SharePoint Online is the backbone of our business, and it is where we see our future,” explains Nichols.
For customers, Allovus will use SharePoint Online to continue development projects such as building web parts, workflows, and site customizations, and to provide consulting services. However, it also sees an opportunity to expand its services by helping other businesses to define the services and applications they want to provide and helping them to transition into the cloud. “With Microsoft managing the infrastructure, we can continue to develop applications on top of SharePoint Online and manage the service for our customers,” explains Nichols.
||With Office 365, the importance of having a communication tool like Lync Online has become more obvious to us. When people sign on and see their team members online, they feel more connected.
Director of Cloud Services and Development, Allovus Design
For project management, employees can use the co-authoring feature to collaborate on documents simultaneously. They can also work offline with Microsoft SharePoint Workspace, and any edited documents or notes are automatically synchronized the next time they sign on to Office 365. More importantly, SharePoint Online interoperates with Lync Online, so employees can see presence information and start IM sessions or meetings from directly within the SharePoint Online interface.
A Familiar Messaging Experience with Extended Capabilities
Allovus believes that with Exchange Online in Office 365 it can ensure the same level of service that employees currently experience. “We have had Exchange Online for two years, so we are completely confident in Microsoft to manage our Exchange environment,” explains Nichols. For the Allovus IT team, the latest version of Exchange Online offers several capabilities that help ease the administration burden without sacrificing security. With the Role-Based Access Control feature, the IT team can manage user accounts and access, and delegate tasks such as creating distribution lists to employees. IT can also automate repetitive maintenance tasks and reporting through the Windows PowerShell command line interface. Another advantage Allovus sees in the latest version is support for Microsoft Outlook for Mac 2011 for employees who use Macintosh computers.
With Office 365, Allovus can centralize its messaging, collaboration, and communications services without sacrificing stability and security. It can consolidate its on-premises solutions to reduce costs and administration, and it can also provide a more scalable solution that brings employees together and helps it to expand the business.
Expands the Business
Allovus sees that SharePoint Online will help its employees to expand its services to customers. In addition to building websites and workspaces for customers, it has the opportunity to develop applications and manage services for small businesses that need support. “We can extend the capabilities of SharePoint Online to help our customers be more productive,” says Nichols. Allovus can also provide more effective project management, because it can collaborate and communicate project status in real time.
Enables Communication from Anywhere at Anytime
With Lync Online, employees have a way to communicate with each other in real time, no matter where they are located. “With Office 365, the importance of having a communication tool like Lync Online has become more obvious to us,” says Nichols. “When people sign on and see their team members online, they feel more connected.”
With the interoperability between Lync Online and SharePoint Online, employees can also more easily start conversations and discuss projects, because they can see each other’s presence information. “We do not have to worry about firewalls and other barriers to communication with Office 365,” Nichols explains. “So people do not have to wonder if someone is available or wait until a colleague can return a call or email.”Reduces Costs
Allovus expects to reduce costs in several areas by transitioning to Office 365 cloud-based services. With Microsoft Office Professional Plus included in its Office 365 subscription, Allovus can avoid a large upfront cost to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2010. It will also consider dropping several of the IP leases it currently uses for its on-premises SharePoint Server 2007 sites. Instead, it can transition those sites to SharePoint Online, and keep its on-premises deployment for testing. Allovus also avoided the cost of upgrades for its SharePoint Server deployment.
The company can also reduce travel costs. “We have one person on our IT team who travels wherever people are to provide support,” says Nichols. “Now he can use Lync Online to troubleshoot issues instead of driving from one location to another.”Reduces IT Administration
The last thing Allovus wanted to do was increase its IT administration effort. By transitioning to Office 365 cloud-based services, it can focus on increasing user productivity, while relying on Microsoft to manage the infrastructure and ensure reliable service. "With all of the accounts in the cloud, we minimize our Active Directory deployment and spend less time managing accounts,” explains Nichols.
“With Office 365, we get the same tools and service as an enterprise business, but in a way that meets our needs as a small company,” says Nichols.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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