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Cornerstone Mortgage Company is a full-service mortgage banker with about 900 employees operating in 70 offices throughout the United States.
The IT staff needed to upgrade its on-premises solutions for messaging and communications, but after it investigated the costs and effort involved, it decided to consider a Microsoft hosted solution.
First with its pilot of the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, to now with its upgrade to Microsoft Office 365, Cornerstone is moving its messaging and communications solutions to the cloud.
- Reduces IT costs by 40 percent
- Reduces IT administration by 50 percent
- Provides enterprise-class security and reliability
- Enables more predictable IT spending
- Improves employee productivity
Cornerstone Mortgage Company is a full-service mortgage banker. With more than 900 employees, it considers communication and collaboration tools critical to its ability to serve its customers’ home-financing needs. With an aging messaging solution and limited communications capabilities provided by a third-party solution for instant messaging, the IT staff sought to expand the communications options provided to employees. After it analyzed the cost and effort to deploy an on-premises solution versus a hosted solution, the company decided to transition to Microsoft cloud-based services. With Microsoft Office 365, Cornerstone anticipates it will reduce its IT costs to run its communication and collaboration infrastructure by 40 percent over five years. Employees expect new messaging and communication capabilities to improve productivity and help them respond to their customers faster.
Cornerstone Mortgage Company is a full-service mortgage banker that operates more than 90 offices throughout the United States. Headquartered in Houston, Texas, it currently has more than 900 employees, each dedicated to delivering superior customer service to fulfill its customers’ home financing needs.
Cornerstone considers communication critical to the business. For example, employees must stay in constant communication with support staff and customers. Customers typically have a limited time to arrange their mortgages, so Cornerstone must provide them with information as quickly as possible. Communications are complicated by the fact that many employees work outside the office and often attend home loan closings. Since employees are not always in the office together, they rely on messaging and communication tools to stay in constant touch with each other and their customers.
With changing market conditions over the last few years, Cornerstone has also experienced fluctuations in its employee base. Today the company relies on its communications solution more than ever to help new employees connect with veteran employees to receive assistance and guidance.
Kyle Sandoval is the Director of Server Operations and Architecture at Cornerstone. He explains, “To help us meet the challenges in our workforce, our goal is to provide user-friendly and efficient communications solutions to help our veteran employees and our new employees work better together and ultimately service their customers better.”
For its messaging solution, Cornerstone deployed Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 on-premises and Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 on the desktop in 2008. It used an older third-party communication solution for instant messaging only. Sandoval says, “Employees who joined Cornerstone from some of the larger companies in the industry expressed frustration with our instant messaging solution because it lacked presence information and desktop sharing capabilities.” In addition, the compliance department sought new tools in its messaging solution to help make sure Cornerstone complies with new government regulations. William Gemza, Director of IT at Cornerstone, says, “Even though we are a private company, the government is placing more rules and regulations on our industry.” From a legal aspect, the company has to prove that it communicated with its borrowers throughout the loan process, and the IT staff must ensure that the loan originators do not delete certain emails.
For daily server administration, the IT staff had one person to support these solutions. The administrator spent the majority of his time on server issues and routine employee requests, which included application support, hardware failures, server maintenance, mailbox creation, distribution list creation, and help desk team support. Sandoval adds, “I was the lone person for server support, which led to delays in responding to employee requests. I needed to reduce the amount of administrative tasks I handled, so I could better serve our employees." The IT staff also struggled to help business divisions accurately budget for its software licensing based on headcount due to the fluctuations in the employee base.
To meet those challenges, Cornerstone considered an upgrade to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010. The IT staff also sought to enhance its instant messaging application with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 to provide communication capabilities such as presence, conferencing, and desktop sharing. However, because the company is headquartered in Houston, the IT staff worried about seasonal hurricanes that could damage its infrastructure and disrupt company communications. This potential threat, combined with administration and communication needs, led Cornerstone to consider a hosted solution from Microsoft. Sandoval says, “We liked what we saw with Exchange Server 2010 and Office Communications Server 2007 R2. However, when we investigated what it would take for us to deploy and administer these on-premises solutions over a five-year refresh cycle, we became concerned with our long-term hardware costs, physical space requirements, and administration needs as our company continued to expand.”
To provide more advanced communications capabilities to employees without increasing hardware and administration requirements, Cornerstone decided to evaluate cloud-based services from Microsoft. To test the solution, it moved a small pilot group of employees to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS), a collection of hosted services for email, instant messaging, presence, and collaboration. Sandoval describes the results, “As soon as we deployed the BPOS capabilities to our employees, they loved it.” The IT staff was also excited about the decrease in administration required to deploy and maintain their hosted solution.
While Cornerstone was evaluating Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, it learned about Microsoft Office 365, the next-generation cloud-based solution from Microsoft. Office 365 combines the familiar Microsoft Office desktop suite with new versions of Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft SharePoint Online, and Microsoft Lync Online. The company joined the Office 365 Rapid Deployment Program so that it could take advantage of the new solution as quickly as possible. The IT staff also deployed Microsoft Office 2010 so pilot users could test the full capabilities of Office 365. Sandoval says, “When we first learned about Office 365, we knew we wanted to upgrade as soon as possible. Not only can we provide the latest cloud-based communication and collaboration capabilities to our employees, but it also provides more local administrative functions to maintain control over our environment.”
To start the Office 365 pilot, the IT staff focused on understanding what new administrative and security settings were available. They were excited to see the option to set up Active Directory Federation Services on-premises so that it could provide a single sign on experience for its employees. Sandoval says, “It took us less than two days to set up Active Directory Federation Services to test single sign on with Office 365.” The IT staff also liked the Role-Based Access Control capabilities and a significant increase in the number of local administrative controls available in the Office 365 web portal. The IT staff can use these user-friendly controls to access logs, set email transport rules, and complete routine and daily requests locally for its employees. Sandoval adds, “We were happy to see a more complete offering of administrative controls for things we want to control locally.”
With Office 2010 and Office 365, Cornerstone will get the latest capabilities of the Microsoft Office desktop applications and the Microsoft Office Web Apps. Office 2010 and the Office Web Apps are seamlessly connected with the online services in Office 365 so employees can access their documents, email, and calendars from virtually anywhere. With Exchange Online and Microsoft Outlook 2010, employees can take advantage of tools such as Conversation View, Ignore Conversation, and MailTips to help them better manage emails in their inboxes. Conversation View enables employees to organize and view their email messages by conversation topic, so they can access information more quickly. Employees can use the Ignore Conversation feature to delete a selected email and also delete any future emails in the same email conversation, which is useful in situations where “reply all” is overused. With MailTips, employees can see—before they click the Send button—whether a message recipient is out of the office, a distribution list or attachment is too large to send, or a distribution list contains external recipients. Employees also have the latest version of Microsoft Outlook Web App to access their inboxes, contacts, and calendars when they are away from their laptops.
With Exchange Online, the compliance department at Cornerstone can use Legal Hold and retention policies to stay compliant with increasing government regulations. The IT staff can use Legal Hold capabilities to preserve employees’ deleted and edited mailbox items, including email messages, appointments, and tasks, from both their primary mailboxes and personal archives. With retention policies, the IT staff can apply retention settings to specific folders in employees’ inboxes to archive or delete old messages automatically. The IT staff can also give employees a menu of retention policies and let them apply the policies to specific items, conversations, or folders in Outlook 2010 or Outlook Web App. Gemza says, “With Exchange Online, we can quickly adapt to changes in regulations by using Legal Hold and retention policies to stay compliant. The compliance department at Cornerstone considers these tools in Exchange Online to be very valuable.”
With Lync Online and Office 2010, new employees can take advantage of capabilities like contact cards, desktop sharing, and conferencing to contact and collaborate with veteran employees. The IT staff plans to eliminate a third-party remote desktop application and use Lync conferencing and desktop sharing to provide remote IT support to its employees. As a potential business process solution, Cornerstone has a Builders Division which assigns loan originators to builders who are trying to sell hundreds of houses to potential buyers. With Lync Online, the loan originators can use conferencing to help train builders on how to explain the application process to potential borrowers. They can also use desktop sharing to instantly connect with borrowers and answer questions while customers complete paperwork at the builder’s office. Sandoval says, “Our employees will use Lync Online as a better way to communicate with each other. Since our employees will already be familiar with Lync Online from daily communications within the company, we foresee us using Lync for other business processes, like the Builders Division example, without the IT staff having to provide additional training or technical tools.”
Before the company starts to work with SharePoint Online, it plans to build a strategy for how the business can optimize the core capabilities of SharePoint Online. Sandoval says, “We want to establish a model for how our employees can use SharePoint Online and Office 2010 to execute business processes and workflows before we allow them to start using the solution. We look forward to the new opportunities SharePoint Online will bring to our business.”
Cornerstone anticipates significant cost savings from moving to Office 365. The IT staff will also benefit from reduced IT administration, while it maintains the control needed to manage its infrastructure. The company expects employee productivity to improve because of the way Office 365 and Office 2010 work together to offer new messaging and communication capabilities to all its employees.
Reduces IT Costs by 40 Percent
The IT Staff conducted a cost analysis comparing an on-premises solution to a hosted solution assuming a five-year hardware and software refresh cycle. By moving to Office 365, the company determined a total cost savings of 40 percent or approximately U.S.$2.5 million over five years. Sandoval says, “Had we decided to stay with an on-premises solution, we would have had to hire or repurpose other IT staff to help support it. If you compare the costs for personnel, hardware, facilities, and deployment services, it was easy for us to see the cost savings with Office 365.”
With Lync Online, the IT staff can also eliminate the cost to maintain licenses of its third-party remote desktop support tool. Sandoval says, “We will save an additional $8,000 a year with the desktop sharing feature in Lync Online.”
Cornerstone will also lower its cost for RIM BlackBerry support because RIM now provides hosted support for these servers in the cloud for no additional charge with Business Productivity Online Standard Suite or Office 365. Sandoval says, “Blackberry support was a major expense for us in the past; we see this as a great benefit from our move to the cloud.”
Reduces IT Administration by 50 Percent
As part of the hosted service, resources in Microsoft data centers will handle much of the IT administration for Cornerstone. Sandoval says, “With Office 365, we expect to reduce time spent on administration by 50 percent compared to an on-premise solution.”
With the user-friendly Office 365 web portal, the IT staff retains the administrative controls they want to configure locally, without having to worry about other administration tasks such as daily backups. The IT staff believes they can complete daily tasks quicker, which will lead to less delays or downtime for its employees. With role-based access control, the IT staff can also take advantage of more granular levels of administration rights to delegate tasks to help desk staff without affecting security policies.
Provides Enterprise-Class Security and Reliability
Cornerstone will lower its risk of communication disruptions from threats, such as hurricanes, with geo-redundant data centers and enterprise-class back-up and disaster recovery services in Office 365. In addition, it can take advantage of premium antispam and antivirus protection, 24 hour a day, seven days a week IT-level phone support, and a financially backed, 99.9 percent uptime service level agreement.
Enables More Predictable IT Spending
With Office 365, Cornerstone will benefit from a subscription pricing model, which enables it to forecast IT expenditures with predictable licensing costs. IT staff can take advantage of the pay-as-you-go licensing model to scale licenses during market ups and downs to make sure the company is only paying for services it needs. Christopher H. Meyers, Chief Information Officer at Cornerstone, says, “The business departments at Cornerstone are responsible for covering the IT costs for their people. Office 365 makes it easy for us to quantify the charge-back costs to the business, so the department managers can easily account for staffing changes in their budget. In addition, as our staffing levels fluctuate, we do not have to worry about the costs of adding new hardware or the depreciation of servers sitting in our server room.”
Improves Employee Productivity
Cornerstone anticipates that its employees will improve productivity with the new messaging and communication capabilities in Office 365. The IT staff believes these productivity gains for employees will come mainly from their ability to communicate and collaborate better with each other through a single, consistent set of capabilities, such as presence and instant messaging, conferencing, and desktop sharing. Employees also expressed their excitement about the new email and calendar management capabilities to reduce the amount of time they spend managing their inboxes.
Meyers concludes, “With Microsoft Office 365, we anticipate our employees will improve productivity with the new messaging and communication capabilities, such as presence, instant messaging, conferencing, and desktop sharing. Ultimately, this solution will help employees work better together and respond to our customers faster.”
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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