Home cinema specialist moves email and files to the cloud
Inspired Dwellings, a specialist home cinema and audio-video firm, was growing fast, with many employees working away from the office. They needed a way to share diaries, email, and files with people wherever they were so that everyone was up-to-date with the latest information. Microsoft Exchange Online lets the company’s 15 staff get their email and diaries on their PCs, notebooks, or smartphones - and Microsoft SharePoint Online allows them store files online, giving everyone access to a single, central version of all the firm’s important documents. Microsoft’s online services were easier to manage than installing an in-house server. As subscription services, they were also easier on the company’s cash flow. As a result, Inspired Dwellings now works more flexibly and efficiently.
Inspired Dwellings faced a big challenge. The fast-growing home cinema and audio-video specialist couldn’t depend on office-bound IT. The company needed to allow its staff to work on the move - for example, scheduling appointments for installers - and it had to provide facilities for a newly hired telesales person who wanted to work from home. In both cases, they needed access to the same systems and information as people in the office.
“As we grew, we found that a basic ‘POP3’ email system was holding us back,” says Rob Sutherland, the company’s Managing Director. “We didn’t have the ability to share calendars, so we didn’t know where people were and we couldn’t share documents easily.”
“My telesales person does a lot of work from home. One of the benefits of Microsoft technology is that she can be working in her basement in her house in Fulham and I can be working in my house in Parson’s Green and it’s like we’re in the same office. It makes us more flexible.”
Rob Sutherland, Managing Director, Inspired Dwellings.
The company needed an email, calendar, and file-sharing system that worked for employees wherever they were based. They also needed a shared file store so that “everyone had a single view of the truth” and didn’t have multiple versions of the same file in their email inbox or on their local hard drive.
These problems were holding back the business. For example, when it came to invoicing, Inspired Dwellings needed to be sure that it billed for all the work it had done but this meant that the firm had to have a single record that installers could keep up to date easily. Similarly, it had to make sure that the right people turned up at the right homes at the right time. There’s no point installing a home security system or multi-room audio if the electricians haven’t done their work first.
An in-house solution didn’t present any technical problems for this high-tech firm but it didn’t seem like good value for money. “We can do all the geeky stuff,” says Sutherland, “but it’s harder to justify a large investment in IT infrastructure or to find the space to store it all.”
After researching different solutions, Sutherland selected Microsoft Exchange Online for email and shared calendars, and Microsoft SharePoint Online as a central, secure, online file storage system.
“We wanted something that was familiar and easy to use,” says Sutherland. The new technology lets employees use familiar software such as Microsoft Outlook to view their email and diaries, so there wasn’t a big transition period. Similarly, using Microsoft Office 2010, they can save files directly to the SharePoint system just as if they were storing them on their own PCs. Even better, the whole system was accessible from laptops and smartphones.
Because the system is hosted by Microsoft and runs in its data centres, Inspired Dwellings doesn’t need any extra hardware or software, and, instead of a big upfront capital cost, the company pays a simple per-user, per-month fee.
Exchange Online and SharePoint Online have helped Inspired Dwellings address the challenges created by its growth and success. Employees can now get the information they need to do their jobs - including email, appointments, leads, and job sheets - on any Internet-connected computer or smartphone. And the company can exchange information in real time instead of waiting until people can get back to the office to update their records.
The system is easy to manage and scalable. Typically, companies need one IT person for every 10 to 20 employees - or the equivalent in outsourced IT support - but with Online Services from Microsoft there is less kit to manage so businesses need fewer people to manage it. “We don’t have to have a person fiddling around with a server. We can concentrate on what we have to do and it allows us to run a bit leaner than a company that needs to build up an IT infrastructure,” says Sutherland. With less IT to manage and no upfront capital costs, Microsoft Online services helps Inspired Dwellings focus on expanding the business and serving customers.
As the company grows, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online will grow with it. And if the business needs more people, an extra licence is just a few clicks away. Inspired Dwellings only has to pay for people who are on the system, so the expense is directly proportional to the number of employees. For a fast-growing company, this is an effective way of managing cash flow and avoiding a hefty, upfront investment in IT every few years.