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Home improvement provider chooses the right tools for the job with Microsoft BPOS

Published: September 2010

A change is coming to software, with enormous benefits for business. That change is cloud computing, where applications such as email and collaboration tools are delivered over the internet as a service. Businesses of any size can now get access to the latest technology without making massive capital investment – instead the technology is provided on a pay-per-use model. What’s more, because it’s online, companies don’t have to worry about valuable resources being diverted to manage it. Cloud computing with Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite is secure and saves firms time and money.

Situation

BHT Group is one of Ireland’s largest suppliers of building, heating, plumbing and home improvement materials to the trade and retail markets. The group has branches throughout the island of Ireland trading as Brooks, Heat Merchants Electric Merchants and Tubs & Tiles. Earlier this year the holding company changed ownership after being bought out by private investors. While the stores remained under their familiar names, as part of the change the group rebranded from its previous name of Wolseley Ireland to BHT Group. As with any progressive company, the change in branding had to be reflected in the group’s communications with the outside world, and that meant new email addresses for all staff.

Until this year, email had been provided from the former UK parent company’s data centre. While BHT’s new owners naturally wanted control over their email, migrating would not be a trivial undertaking. The group has more than 550 employees across its various branches in Ireland and email is extensively used throughout the company. “The people using email and the system are everybody from the guy down the stores to the Chief Executive. People in central services couldn't do without it,” explains Dymphna Pettit, Business Systems Manager with BHT Group.

There were several factors at play: BHT Group had set a very short deadline for moving its email domain to reflect its new name. What’s more, the group’s IT department was busy implementing a new ERP system so there were no available in-house resources to oversee the email migration project.

Solution

Faced with an urgent migration deadline of less than seven weeks, BHT evaluated its options quickly. The group was already using Microsoft Exchange for its email server and Outlook for the email client on people’s desktops. It quickly became clear that a hosted email service that was delivered over the internet would meet the company’s needs within the short timeframe, while also providing the kind of cost savings BHT was seeking. BHT Group was clear that it wanted to maintain its own name in company email addresses and Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite [BPOS] provided this facility. BPOS is Microsoft’s name for the online versions of its popular software such as Exchange email and SharePoint collaboration tool.

Unlike traditional software, BPOS is hosted by Microsoft and delivered as a service over the internet in what is often referred to as cloud computing. It’s a more flexible way of acquiring and using software because it is priced on a pay-per use model, and there’s no need for a company to invest in IT hardware because all of the systems running the software are located in Microsoft’s data centre.

Dymphna Pettit, who had to make the case for BPOS to BHT’s directors, outlines the benefits of software delivered online. “The main advantages are: fast deployment, no capital outlay for IT equipment and no extra resources required for support.” With a hosted service, all maintenance and technical issues are included in the service, so there’s no additional workload for BHT’s internal IT staff. “Implementation had minimal impact on the business,” she adds. Itomic, a Microsoft partner based in Dublin, was brought in to handle the migration project. “Even though BPOS is hosted by Microsoft, you still need the technical resources to get from A to B,” explains Itomic managing director Keith MacHale.

Security and reliability are frequently cited as concerns that prevent many people from looking at software hosted in the cloud. From BHT’s experience, Microsoft’s investment in hosting facilities and security has provided reassurance. “Their policy around security and the fact that it is a Microsoft product brings trust,” says Dymphna.

BHT is currently using Email and SharePoint and in time the company plans to roll out Microsoft LiveMeeting and Office Communicator on the BPOS platform. Upgrades are added as and when required without any disruption to the business.


“Microsoft’s Online Services are enabling businesses to move to the cloud quickly and easily. In under 4 weeks BHT were able to get their email services up and running on a platform that was familiar and easy to use. Our drive and passion is to deliver cloud services to all businesses and with the help of Microsoft Certified Partners like Itomic, internal IT resources are able to get on with more strategic tasks.”
Martin Cullen,Director, SM&P Microsoft Ireland


“Email is a vital part of any business and BPOS allows the business to get on with day-to-day activities while giving security and reliability of email, SharePoint, live meetings and office communication.”
Dymphna Pettit, Business Systems Manager, BHT Group


“The big thing with this project was the time involved – we only had four weeks to do the job itself. That just shows the flexibility of cloud solutions. If we had to order hardware and build servers we never would have done it in time. I would certainly say there is probably 70 per cent less administration overhead because there are no servers to manage .”
Keith MacHale, Managing Director, Itomic

Benefits

Cost saving

BPOS removes the need for additional investment – which can be crucial for any business looking to minimise capital outlay. According to Keith MacHale, BHT Group saved both time and money by opting for a cloud-based email service. “If you look at the number of users, they probably would have had to have at least two servers and licences to go with that, plus weeks of work to get it all up and running.” With Exchange delivered via BPOS, BHT pays for its email on a per user per month basis. “You don’t have to worry about expensive infrastructure. They don’t have to invest in network bandwidth,” adds MacHale.

Minimal staff training required

The Microsoft BPOS Outlook client looks the same as the traditional offline version, so that after the change users see a familiar interface. “Due to the fact that it was a Microsoft product, there was no training required for users, as we were previously using Microsoft Outlook on an Exchange server,” says Dymphna.

Improved customer service

In fact, BHT has found customer service has improved since it went live with BPOS. “The improvements for our organisation are faster responses to issues raised, and the ability to access email remotely without having to log on to a virtual private network. We are also utilising SharePoint more,” says Dymphna.

Easier administration

With BPOS email managed centrally, BHT’s time isn’t taken up with routine tasks of managing email. The ‘heavy lifting’ of IT is handled by Microsoft, saving valuable time for BHT’s IT department. “As this is a managed service, we don’t have to be concerned with maintenance and backups. We can also set up users quickly and easily. BPOS is proactively monitored and it is very easy to set up on XDAs, PDAs or mobile devices and this can be done by our existing IT support team,” says Pettit. “I would certainly say there is probably 70 per cent less administration overhead because there are no servers to manage,” adds MacHale.

IT department freed up to focus on business value

By choosing a hosted email platform that needed minimal technical support on-site, BHT Group was able to deploy its IT department’s resources to a project that would add real strategic value to the company: namely, implementing its new ERP package.

Flexibility

Moving email from a company’s own servers to having it hosted remotely in the cloud is a big step, and some companies may be wary of such a massive change. Microsoft BPOS offers the ability to blend hosted and on-premise systems. In the future BHT has the flexibility to decide to bring some of its email back in-house if it chooses – it’s not locked in to an all-or-nothing deal. “Let’s just say in a year's time, BHT might decide to have on-premise email at head office and branches have online access. Or they can go completely to an on-premise solution. One of the big pluses with Microsoft is that you can do either,” says MacHale

Summary

“Microsoft’s Online Services are enabling businesses to move to the cloud quickly and easily.  In under 4 weeks BHT were able to get their email services up and running on a platform that was familiar and easy to use. Our drive and passion is to deliver cloud services to all businesses and with the help of Microsoft Certified Partners like Itomic, internal IT resources are able to get on with more strategic tasks.”

Being able to react quickly to situations is becoming a byword for business, and BPOS delivers on this front. “The big thing with this project was the time involved – we only had four weeks to do the job itself. That just shows the flexibility of cloud solutions. If we had to order hardware and build servers we never would have done it in time,” says Keith MacHale.

Dymphna Pettit points out that this was no side project but involved a critical part of BHT’s organisation. “Email is a vital part of any business and BPOS allows the business to get on with day-to-day activities while giving security and reliability of email, SharePoint, live meetings and office communication.” She is also impressed with the flexibility of payment models – another advantage of solutions hosted in the cloud at a time when many organisations are watching their costs closely. “I would recommend this solution, as there are varying options with associated prices from which to choose,” she concludes.

Solution Overview

Organisation
BHT Group

Customer Profile
BHT supplies building, heating, plumbing and home improvement materials to trade and retail customers from branches throughout Ireland.

Industry
Retail

Business Situation
The holding company changed ownership earlier this year and, on a tight deadline, the new owners had to set up email for more than 500 people without the aid of an IT department

Solution Description
Hosted email and collaboration tools allowed BHT to have email implemented quickly minimal technical or cost overheads

Benefits
Low cost
Fast deployment
Reduced administration.

Microsoft Software
Microsoft BPOS Exchange and SharePoint

Country/Region
Ireland


For More Information

About Microsoft in Ireland:
The Irish Sales, Services and Marketing Operation of Microsoft was established in 1991. The full-time team market all Microsoft products and services in the island of Ireland, targeting customers both North and South. The team services customers across all segments including enterprise, small and medium sized businesses and home computer users. In addition to developing desktop products, Microsoft provides tailored consultancy services and solutions to suit enterprise businesses. Microsoft is continuing to concentrate on its relationship with the Irish enterprise market - the top 100 companies in the island of Ireland. Enterprise customers of Microsoft include the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the Civil Service Commission, Dublin.
For more information on Microsoft’s products and solutions, please visit www.microsoft.com/ireland

About Microsoft:
Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq "MSFT") is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

 

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