Aisle7 is a provider of online and offline marketing services for retailers' wellness products. After moving its 30 users from on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server to Google Apps in July 2009, it had chronic problems with its email system. In the nine months that the company used the Google unified message solution, it faced daily issues with synchronizing email to Microsoft Outlook, managing meeting invitations, and managing contacts and distribution lists—and the company had difficulty getting support from Google. When Google Apps stopped downloading new messages to Outlook, Aisle7 turned to the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, which offered competitive pricing and full-featured productivity tools. Now the company’s IT department no longer has to field daily support calls. Aisle7 is also saving money and taking advantage of advanced features that work seamlessly.
Based in Portland, Oregon, Aisle7 delivers wellness-driven marketing programs to engage shoppers and increase sales—in-store, online, and on-the-go with applications for mobile devices—for supermarkets, drugstores, and natural product retailers worldwide. “We provide information about health and wellness to our customers such as Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, and The Vitamin Shoppe,” says Jake Harris, Director of IT at Aisle7. “They put our content on their websites and in their stores in the form of kiosks.”
In 2009, when Aisle7 needed to replace its on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 environment, Harris was committed to using a hosted offering. Aisle7 was already using the Salesforce.com customer relationship management solution, and Harris wanted to expand the company’s use of cloud computing (the use of computing resources hosted in external data centers and available as managed services over the Internet). “I was a big fan of using Gmail in my personal life,” says Harris. “At that time, nobody could touch Google’s offering on a price-per-feature basis and cost was a major concern for us.”
The 30 employees at Aisle7 had been using Microsoft Office 2003 productivity software, and the Office Outlook 2003 messaging and collaboration client to manage their email. When Harris proposed switching to Google Apps Premier Edition to the Aisle7 workforce, one third of people said they would gladly use Google and didn’t want to use the Microsoft Outlook messaging and collaboration client anymore. Two thirds voiced concern about losing their Outlook client. “Some people warned that Google might be good for personal use, but it’s not appropriate for business. I think those people were the wisest. That’s what I’ve come to believe after trying it.”
What sold Harris on the Google solution was the Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook tool, which is designed to enable users to synchronize their Google Apps information with Outlook. He spent three months migrating to Google Apps Premier Edition, and the company went live with the solution in July 2009. Although the sync tool was intended to allow Aisle7 to use Office Outlook as a front end, employees had many problems synchronizing between Outlook and Gmail. Data from the “To” and “From” lines of emails were lost, and information from the “Bcc” fields disappeared. Employees had issues with calendar and meeting-request functionality, and Gmail didn’t support back-end management of distribution lists, as the Address Book in Office Outlook does.
“The Google Apps Sync tool is simply a debacle,” says Harris, “If you’re using calendar features, that’s where the Google sync tool really fails badly. I had to update distribution lists manually, save them onto a network share, and then send everyone a ten-step procedure for remediating their distribution lists.”
When converting email from Outlook, the Google tool applied labels to folders but didn’t support subfolders. The user’s folder hierarchy was collapsed and replaced with one long label. Though a Firefox add-in supported folders in Google Apps, it was a slow, multistep process that sometimes stalled the email application.
Aisle7 employees also complained about a number of other issues with Google Apps including service outages during business hours, no way to synchronize tasks or notes from Outlook, and the multistep processes required to put an image in a message.
||I was tired of the headaches with Google Apps. I’m quite excited to be using tried-and-true Microsoft products. The Exchange Online pricing is competitive, and the overall value is higher.
Director of IT, Aisle7
Throughout this difficult implementation, Harris was unable to get full support from Google. “I’d say it was very poor support except there was almost no support at all,” says Harris. “Sometimes I would call anyway. They’d let me talk to someone, but they wouldn’t do anything. They’d give me a case number, ask for log files, and that would be the end of it. I’d never hear another word.”
Harris tried turning to the support forums on Google but found that they had “become a place for unhappy customers to agree with each other that the product is insufficient.” He came to believe that there were no answers to the problems that people were reporting, and that explained Google’s silence.
One day in early 2010, the sync tool stopped downloading new messages to Outlook inboxes, and that was the final insurmountable concern for Aisle7 leadership. After nine months, the company decided to stop using Google Apps. “For the majority of employees, it was death by a thousand cuts,” says Harris. “On the suggestion of the CEO, I sent an email message to the entire company asking if there was anyone who did not want to abandon Google Apps.”Solution
After reviewing several hosted options, Harris came across Microsoft Online Services, which he decided was the obvious choice. During the sales process, he worked with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner MessageOps getting questions answered about how the solution could work to meet Aisle7 needs. Also, Microsoft offered a free* trial of the Microsoft Online Services solution. Says Harris, “Microsoft went to great lengths to make sure that the solution was the best fit for my company.”
By contrast, when Harris had approached Google for purchase information, he was disappointed with the sales process. “Usually when I buy software I get a product demonstration and a trial, but when I asked for these things, I got nowhere with the Google sales team,” says Harris. “Ostensibly, I had a salesperson, but she rarely responded to questions. She kept repeating that the best way to try Google Apps is to buy it.”
The company chose to replace Google Apps with the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite—available through Microsoft Online Services—which includes Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Office Communications Online, and Microsoft Office Live Meeting. Everything would be hosted at Microsoft data centers. The suite is available on a per-user, per month basis, and the company paid only for the services to which it subscribed at any time. Aisle7 deployed the suite in June 2010, and implemented Microsoft Office Professional 2007 at the same time.
Harris prepared Aisle7 workers by bringing all their old email from Google Apps to their new Microsoft Exchange Online profiles. To simplify management, he employed the Microsoft Online Services Directory Synchronization tool. The tool verified the Aisle7 domain with Microsoft Online Services. “If someone leaves the company, I can use the synchronization tool to delete them from Active Directory and they can’t access their email anymore,” says Harris. “And if I add somebody to the marketing distribution list, it’s updated automatically in Exchange Online and available companywide through the Global Address List.”
||There are all sorts of advanced functionalities that you get from the full, rich feature set of the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite. And it actually works. What a concept.
Director of IT, Aisle7
Employees can use Microsoft Online Services to gain access to a range of enterprise-class services—including desktop and mobile email, calendaring and contacts, instant messaging, presence, web conferencing, collaboration tools, shared workspaces, and workflow. Also, Harris has built a time-off request tool using SharePoint Online.Benefits
Aisle7 benefited from deploying Microsoft Online Services with a significantly reduced IT workload as well as reduced costs and an advanced feature set. “I was tired of the headaches with Google Apps,” says Harris. “I’m quite excited to be using tried-and-true Microsoft products. The Exchange Online pricing is competitive, and the overall value is higher.”
Decreased IT Workload
Since Aisle7 adopted Microsoft Online Services, Harris’ job as the sole IT representative has become much easier. “The Outlook Connector for Google Apps was dreadfully broken,” says Harris. “As an IT Director, it was a nightmare for me. There were periods when not a day went by when somebody wasn’t reporting an issue with it. When we switched to Microsoft, my phone stopped ringing. Now I can focus on other things.”
Despite the low cost of Google Apps, Aisle7 is saving money by switching to Microsoft Online Services. To enable web conferencing, the company had been spending U.S.$3,000 annually for five WebEx licenses, a cost it can forgo by using Office Live Meeting. Aisle7 has realized a total savings of U.S.$760 a year. “Pricing is predictable and affordable with Microsoft Online Services, plus we can pay monthly and there’s no long-term commitment,” says Harris. “That makes it easy to adopt.”
Gained Enterprise-Level Support
Aisle7 benefits from the fact that Microsoft Online Services are backed with a guaranteed 99.9 percent scheduled uptime. IT staff at Aisle7 can take advantage of twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week support from web forms, with phone-based Tier-2 support for IT administrators. “I can call Microsoft anytime and reach a support person within a few minutes,” says Harris. “The technicians are eager to solve problems, and I can monitor and close my issues from an administration portal. I also got fast and helpful information on the Microsoft forums.”
Moved to Advanced Feature Set
By switching to Exchange Online, Aisle7 can provide a host of Office Outlook features that are commonly used by employees, including Tasks, Notes, and meeting requests. Another example is the Out of Office Assistant, which is integrated with Microsoft Office Communications Online, so that employees can see if someone is out by looking at their contact list. Aisle7 employees can now incorporate Office Live Meeting into their meeting requests. Employees can also use the SharePoint Online tool to save time when going through the process of requesting time off.
“There are all sorts of advanced functionalities that you get from the full, rich feature set of the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite,” says Harris. “And it actually works. What a concept.”
Microsoft Online Services
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