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DirectWest reimagines core business processes for a digital age

DirectWest, a phone directory publisher in Saskatchewan, Canada, is in the midst of a digital transformation. The company worked with Microsoft Services to completely reimagine core business processes for a digital age. By using expert guidance and cloud services from Microsoft, DirectWest has reinvigorated its development team, sped its development cycle, and modernized customer-facing systems to deliver greater customer intelligence and more innovative services.

Transform a paper-based phone directory company

For nearly 30 years, DirectWest has been a phone directory publisher in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, helping to knit the province’s 1.1 million residents together across a vast geographical expanse. A subsidiary of SaskTel, Saskatchewan’s leading information and communications technology provider, DirectWest is best known as the provider of Mysask411, the local online directory assistance service.

While many Saskatchewan residents still rely on paper phone books, most business customers are going digital. DirectWest followed suit, digitizing its business and residential directories and creating new services for business customers, such as building websites and managing their online and social media presence.

In 2016, DirectWest was ready to transform and modernize its core sales, customer management, and customer service systems that were the bedrock of those new digital offerings. The existing applications were old, rigid, expensive to maintain and support, and crimped the company’s ability to quickly roll out new digital services and make use of customer data.

Envision a digital future

DirectWest wanted to begin moving its operations to the cloud and decided to build its next-gen IT systems on Microsoft technologies. “Our new solutions needed to interoperate with our older applications, and Microsoft had a vast ecosystem of on-premises and cloud products that all work together,” says Andrew Clarke, Vice President of Information Technology at DirectWest.

To help it plan and successfully embark on its ambitious digital transformation journey, DirectWest turned to Microsoft Services for strategic planning and implementation assistance. DirectWest specifically worked with an onsite Microsoft Services Digital Advisor, who worked as part of the DirectWest team to envision the company’s digital future and strategize a path for getting there, prioritize projects, design solution architectures, and provide other strategic assistance.

“Our Digital Advisor really invigorated our staff and opened our eyes,” Clarke says. “DirectWest is a mature organization, and cultural change can often be more difficult than technology change. Microsoft Services was good at matching the business benefits of the technology we were implementing to our company’s objectives and showing us what was possible. They helped us evolve and expand our phone directory and change the perception of who we are. We’re now taking that message and excitement out to our customers.”

Create a unified sales and service platform

DirectWest used Microsoft Dynamics 365 to completely revamp its sales and service operations. It outfitted its 30-person field sales team with Microsoft Surface Pro devices and developed sales presentations that took full advantage of Surface Pro touch and digital pen interactivity.

Salespeople connect to Dynamics 365 in seconds (versus minutes for the VPN connection required by the previous system) and enter customer notes using either their Surface Pro devices or smartphones. The office-based sales teams use Microsoft Surface Hub collaboration devices to pull up Dynamics 365 and discuss customer account status between offices across vast Saskatchewan sales territories.

“An important aspect of our digital transformation is creating an environment where sales and sales fulfillment can spend more time advising customers and less time on administration,” says Keith Jeannot, President and CEO at DirectWest. “Our salespeople use the solution that we developed with Microsoft to reduce preparation time and streamline order submissions. This increases time spent helping customers and reduces our back-end costs.”

Adds Clarke, “Because accessing and using Dynamics 365 is so easy to do, our salespeople use it from the field, which means we’re getting much better information from our customers. This in turn allows us to serve them better. Dynamics 365 is now the one place everyone goes to see all our interactions with our customers.”

With help from Microsoft Services, DirectWest has similarly transformed its customer service workflows. It can track and streamline the process of deploying new customer services, resolve issues faster, and see sales opportunities more easily. The company uses Microsoft Power BI to create dashboards of key performance indicators, with Microsoft Azure Data Lake and Azure Streaming Analytics providing cloud data storage and analytics services.

“From our digital directories, we have a lot of data about who consumers are contacting,” Clarke says. “We use Azure to analyze this data, in combination with our own sales data, then export it to Dynamics 365, which flags specific prospects as opportunities. Dynamics tracks how those leads pan out and feeds that data back into the analytics system so it gets smarter, and we can make product recommendations to our customers that will increase their business.”

Microsoft Office 365 provides all employees with mobile, cloud-based access to a rapidly expanding suite of productivity, communications, and collaboration services. And with Microsoft Azure Active Directory, DirectWest gives employees single sign-on to new cloud services and existing apps.

“We feared that Dynamics 365 would need to be a large, multiyear IT project, but Microsoft Services introduced us to a sprint development model that helped us deliver functionality very quickly,” Clarke says. “That, together with a commitment to reduce customization in Dynamics, dramatically sped up deployment.” DirectWest got its first iteration of Dynamics 365 deployed in just five months.

Continuously innovate

DirectWest has a long road map of exciting ideas it wants to pursue. “Microsoft Services brought a lot of experience and accelerated our staff’s understanding of Dynamics 365 and the broader Microsoft cloud stack,” Clarke says. “It was very valuable to have the company that built the products help us implement them.”

DirectWest is working to give customers more self-service options and insights into the web and social channels it manages for them. These services include 24-hour access to DirectWest services, greater service personalization, deeper service usage reporting, and other capabilities.

“The iterative approach that Microsoft Services used on our project really led to its success,” Clarke says. “We were able to launch Dynamics 365 on time, implement it successfully, and move much faster going forward. Our digital transformation success has been facilitated by choosing the right products and partners.”