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Software Provider Improves Customer Service and Development Time with Hosted Solution

Published: June 2011


ďOur ability to have 99.9 percent uptime with Office 365 is hugely valuable to our business. We are enjoying improved business continuity, so we have better and more reliable customer service.Ē
Paraic Nolan, Finance Director, Big Red Book

Headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, Big Red Book is a leading supplier of bookkeeping software for small and midsize businesses in Ireland. As a small business in a competitive market, Big Red Book depends on superior customer service, and it requires reliable email so that it can respond quickly to customers. To help reduce email downtime and improve development processes, Big Red Book chose to move to Microsoft Office 365, which includes the latest version of the Microsoft Office Professional Plus desktop suite. With the help of Itomic IT Services, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Big Red Book is taking advantage of a reliable email solution hosted by Microsoft and improved communication and collaboration tools. Big Red Book has improved customer service, avoided costs of Ä250 (U.S.$360) per employee, and improved its software development process.

Situation

Founded in 1993, Big Red Book provides accounting and payroll software to 30,000 small and midsize businesses in Ireland. Its software has an easy-to-use interface compared to more complex enterprise resource planning systems. Big Red Book is currently working on a project to develop cloud-based services for payroll and accounting called Big Red Cloud, and it expects that service to help it grow both within Ireland and internationally.

Based in Dublin, Ireland, the company’s 18 employees develop applications, test software, and support customers. Because of its size, the company’s employees take on multiple roles. Paraic Nolan, Finance Director at Big Red Book, says, “My official title is Finance Director, but I am also the IT department and I manage the development process.”

Big Red Book has a support team that responds to customer emails and answers customer questions over the phone. For email, Big Red Book had a single server with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 managed on-premises, and most employees used Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 to access email. With limited IT resources and no failover server, Big Red Book had frequent periods of downtime. “Any time email was down, there was a stampede at my door. It was my responsibility to resolve,” says Nolan. “  Email is the lifeblood for our company; reliability of mail is critical for us, as it is the main method customers use to contact us.” To improve uptime, Big Red Book expected that it would need to purchase a second server to provide failover capabilities.

The company also had third-party products to protect against malicious software (malware), but they were not effective. Nolan says, “We had a serious issue two months ago, when we got blacklisted because we had an internal malware infection. That caused a lot of downtime and burned two days of my time to resolve.” In addition to the lost time and blocked email, Big Red Book was concerned about its reputation when customers were notified that email messages were undeliverable due to the company being blacklisted.

Big Red Book also wanted its support team, developers, and testers to work more closely together. It was using an internal customer relationship management system to track development tasks, but this information was not linked to the development application environment. Employees found it difficult to locate information, such as development team meeting notes, which employees took by hand, typed into Microsoft Office Word 2007, and sent to team members by email. Employees used an instant messaging solution that had no presence or history. If intended recipients of an instant message did not have their computers turned on, the sender had no way of knowing whether the message was received.

Solution

Big Red Book moved to Microsoft Office 365 to help improve email reliability and collaboration among its support team, developers, and testers. Office 365 brings together cloud versions of Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Lync Online, and Microsoft SharePoint Online with the Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010 desktop suite.

Nolan says, “We do not need the hassle of managing our own email and other services. We previously evaluated Google Apps as a potential solution for our corporate email and document needs. Google Docs is not really suitable for business use due to limited functionality and the lack of offline capabilities.” The company moved all employees to Office 365 in April 2011 with the help of Itomic IT Services, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. Nolan says, “Itomic helped make the transition easy. It helped with planning, setting up domains, and migration, and its services were excellent.”

Employees immediately downloaded Office Professional Plus from the Office 365 portal to take advantage of the latest applications in Microsoft Office 2010. Nolan says, “By using Office 365, we are getting the latest Office version. The last two versions of Office have been quite good, so we are excited about getting all of the new capabilities and enhancements.” By using Office 365, employees get the rich desktop experience of Office Professional Plus and the browser experience of Microsoft Office Web Apps. Nolan adds  , “The Office Web Apps are fantastic. They do not have all of the capabilities of the rich client, but they have most of the frequently used features, so they are perfect for working from home.”

For messaging, Big Red Book is using Exchange Online, which is based on Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 technology. Through Microsoft Outlook 2010 or Microsoft Outlook Web App, employees have access to key features, like Conversation View, Ignore, and Clean Up Conversation, that help them organize email quickly. With Microsoft Forefront Online Protection for Exchange, Big Red Book can take advantage of premium malware protection, in addition to regular security updates. Big Red Book is provided with backups of data between georedundant data centers and a financially backed, 99.9 percent uptime service level agreement from Microsoft. Because the company doesn’t have frequent email outages like before, support employees respond to customers’ email messages more efficiently. 

Big Red Book has adopted the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate development system and Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010 to help develop and test its software, including its new Big Red Cloud project. The development solution interoperates with Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software to provide a great workflow solution between developers and testers to resolve issues. A developer can look at the actual application environment and fix any issues. A tester can open the Team tab in Excel 2010 and easily view the list of all open work items, which comes directly from Visual Studio Team Foundation Server. Nolan says, “The tester can immediately see what needs to be tested, perform the test, and update the status to complete in Excel. The status is published back to Team Foundation Server. Employees have their own view of the data in Excel, which can serve as a dashboard for development managers.” 

The development team expects to use Microsoft OneNote 2010 note-taking program with SharePoint Online to capture and share team meeting notes. Nolan says, “The shared notebook contains all of the decisions made in previous meetings, so as I type in the search phrase, I instantly see the search results about a topic from past meeting notes. Before, I would have to open and search through multiple documents and printed notes.”

Customer support at Big Red Book has used Excel 2010 to develop custom reports for customers. By using Microsoft SQL Server 2008 data management software, employees can analyze accounting data in Excel 2010 in an interactive, real-time view. For example, customer support can track sales by product and customer over time by using Slicers to filter PivotTable data and drill down on a value to get the right details.

By using Lync Online, Big Red Book now has an instant messaging solution with rich presence information. Support employees can see who is online to escalate issues using instant messaging while they are on the phone with customers. Testers and developers use instant messaging to communicate about software coding issues, and they are no longer unsure whether the intended recipient received the message.


“By using Office 365, we are getting the latest Office version. The last two versions of Office have been quite good, so we are excited about getting all of the new capabilities and enhancements.”
Paraic Nolan, Finance Director, Big Red Book


“The Office Web Apps are fantastic. They do not have all of the capabilities of the rich client, but they have most of the frequently used features, so they are perfect for working from home.”
Paraic Nolan, Finance Director, Big Red Book


“The fact that Office 365 is backed by Microsoft is huge. Iíll never have to change providers again because I trust Microsoft to look after our email and other services for us.”
Paraic Nolan, Finance Director, Big Red Book

Benefits

By using Office 365, Big Red Book has a reliable communications and collaboration solution that it does not have to manage, so it can focus more on its business. Nolan says, “

 The fact that Office 365 is backed by Microsoft is huge. I’ll never have to change providers again because I trust Microsoft to look after our email and other services for us.” The company has improved customer service, avoided costs, and improved its development process.

Improved Customer Service
Big Red Book depends on reliable email to support customer service. Nolan says, “Our ability to have 99.9 percent uptime with Office 365 is hugely valuable to our business. We are enjoying improved business continuity, so we have better and more reliable customer service.” With the enhanced antivirus and antispam capabilities, the company has decreased the risk of another severe incident that could cause days of downtime and communication delays with customers.

The support team is using instant messaging to reach out to company experts to resolve issues while they are on the phone with customers. Big Red Book can resolve issues faster, which helps to build trust and customer loyalty. It can also develop reports for customers faster, with the ability to drill down into the right details by using Excel 2010.

Avoided IT Costs
Big Red Book estimates that with Office 365 it has reduced IT costs in its first year by €4,470 (U.S.$6,400) or €250 ($360) per employee, with savings in the following areas:

  • Saved €2,000 ($2,900) by avoiding the purchase of a separate server for its on-premises Exchange Server to reduce email downtime.
  • Saved €2,200 ($3,200) by avoiding the license and installation cost for a spam solution.
  • Saved €200 ($290) by eliminating its mail backup solution.
  • Saved €70 ($100) by avoiding purchase of secure mail certificates.

Reduced Development Time
With Office 365 and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, developers and testers can update issues and work items more quickly. Because employees can access work items more easily in Excel 2010, they can prioritize work items and spend less time creating status updates. The solution provides great workflow between developers and testers. Development managers can also track progress better with a built-in dashboard in Excel. In addition, developers and testers are resolving development issues faster through the use of instant messaging and presence. The company expects the improved process to reduce development time for its cloud-based bookkeeping service.

“The ability to communicate better is difficult to quantify, but there is definitely a financial benefit. The more efficiently we communicate, the better products we can deliver,” says Nolan. “Office 365 is a key part of our business strategy.”

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 guaranteeing 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.

For more information about Microsoft Office 365, go to:
www.office365.com

Solution Overview

Organisation
Big Red Book

Customer Profile
Headquartered in Dublin, Big Red Book is one of Irelandís leading suppliers of easy-to-use accounting and payroll software for small and midsize businesses.

Industry
Software engineering

Business Situation
To support customer service and software development activities, Big Red Book wanted a reliable email and productivity solution that it didnít have to manage itself.

Solution Description
Big Red Book moved to Microsoft Office 365, which includes the latest version of the Microsoft Office Professional Plus desktop suite, for hosted communication and collaboration services.

Benefits
Improved customer service
Avoided IT costs
Reduced development time

Microsoft Software
Microsoft Office 365

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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