Office 365 connects Australian oil company's workforce

Wednesday 20 March 2013

In the fast-paced world of modern business, companies are facing ever-greater challenges meeting the needs of their customers, and their rising service expectations. Particularly for large organisations, with geographically diverse workforces, the importance of clear lines of communication cannot be underestimated.

The internet is creating new opportunities for collaboration, real-time dialogue between colleagues and remote working, which allows firms to position their people on the front line across various regions. So long as they have access to a web-enabled device and connectivity to the internet, employees can do their jobs effectively, just as if they were based in the office.

As more firms embrace cloud-based productivity and communications tools, their staff are gaining greater flexibility - they can choose where and when they wish to work. And in terms of responding to the needs of individual customers, across various locations, this is invaluable. All the information they need is available online - so the link between a physical office presence and productivity is broken, ensuring more gets done.

Bringing Caltex's workforce together

Managing a nationwide workforce in the UK is challenging enough for organisations. But the logistical difficulties are multiplied several-fold when the setting is a country as vast as Australia. Oil company Caltex - which has more than 3,500 employees working Down Under - has historically experienced major challenges keeping workers connected. With many employees working in remote parts of Australia, equipping staff with suitable communication and collaboration tools has proved difficult.

But enter Microsoft. Aiming to bring its workforce closer together, Caltex deployed the firm's Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS), and then, upon its release, Office 365. Speaking to ZDNet, Caltex's chief information officer Steve Fox explained that this has proven to be an excellent decision for the company, which has been able to connect staff across multiple locations - sometimes thousands of miles apart.

He noted that for many years, the oil company offered only basic email services to its staff supported by in-house servers. "We had very limited external access to email, and it was all through a virtual private network (VPN)," Mr Fox noted. "If there were any issues with the VPN, Lotus Notes would be very susceptible to dropouts - it was very temperamental." This made it difficult to connect with individual workers and ensure they were fully engaged within the company, he claimed.

Connecting workers with productivity solutions

Mr Fox said there was a realisation within the company that changes were needed, and that strong connectivity back to the office was becoming "a real big priority". In 2010, the company decided to take the plunge, and upgrade its communications infrastructure. "We knew we needed to make the move away from what we had," Mr Fox added.

Caltex considered a number of productivity solutions, including Google Enterprise Apps, and IBM LotusLive, but ultimately decided to partner with Microsoft. "When you look back to 2010, cloud was kind of in its infancy and Microsoft already had a proven track record with customers," Mr Fox told the news provider. "The other reason why we decided on BPOS was that Microsoft had a roadmap of improvements that it was happy to share with us."

The Caltex CIO explained that this enabled the company to focus on changing its people management approach throughout Australia. "We know we can deliver a certain feature at a particular time, so we can work back from there and start educating people," he said. "That was a really powerful thing for us, because that let us start focusing on business productivity, not on when a particular server will be built and so on."

Caltex upgrades to Office 365

Caltex upgraded to Microsoft Office 365 in 2012, with the migration process taking just a single weekend to complete. As of March 2013, the firm held almost 4,000 licences for its staff, allowing them to take full advantage of the cloud-based productivity suite, irrespective of their location. Among the Software-as-a-Service solutions being used by Caltex employees on a daily basis are Exchange, Office Web Apps, Office Professional Plus, and Lync, the latter - Microsoft's communications server software - has proved to be a big hit with users.

Mr Fox explained that this new feature quickly gained popularity with Office 365 users, as employees identified the potential benefits of setting up conferences with colleagues and clients. "We didn't really push out the change management for Lync initially, so we just did the backend migration," Mr Fox told ZDNet. "Then we started to push it to staff and told them, 'here's Lync, it's a chat client, but it allows you to do desktop sharing and video communications'. It was very reliable, and uptake of the service grew as more people discovered how easy it was to use - they really started to enjoy using it."

Posted by Alex Boardman