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Laundry innovator wrings insights and productivity from Office 365 and the Microsoft Cloud

Today’s post about Office 365 was written by John Buccola, chief information officer at WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems.

WASH CIOI had been on the job barely a week when WASH made its biggest acquisition ever: Coinamatic, Canada’s largest multifamily laundry service. Overnight, our company grew by a third, and I had to do my part to get email and other services to our 300 new team members as quickly as possible—connecting them to the culture and the business.

It hasn’t slowed down since.

WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems installs washers and dryers in apartment complexes, military bases, college dorms and other multifamily settings. We’ve grown like crazy since the company was founded in 1947, doubling in the past five years. Today we have more than half a million installed machines in 75,000 locations throughout the United States and Canada. Five million people do their weekly laundry in a WASH laundry room—and we’re just getting started.

Rapid growth has its challenges. A big one is how to manage more equipment, data, customers, offices, employees, everything. How do we maximize our efficiency and manage by fact rather than instinct? How do we help employees in different departments and locations pool their ideas to come up with the best solutions? And how do we do all this as flexibly as possible, letting employees collaborate from their phones, their homes or the airport?

We’ve long used Microsoft Dynamics GP as our backbone accounting and asset management software and Microsoft Dynamics CRM to manage our sales pipeline and customer records. We have high transaction volumes—renewing customer agreements, selling to new accounts, replacing or removing equipment—and all those activities are governed by CRM. It’s critical that we be able to see a comprehensive view of the customer lifecycle so that we provide a great customer experience both during and after the sale. Our salespeople are well equipped to maximize every customer interaction, especially with our rollout of Dynamics CRM across mobile devices.

We realized we had to augment these core business applications with a cloud productivity solution. To meet the needs of a more geographically dispersed workforce, reduce IT investments and stay abreast of new features, we decided to switch off our older email system and move all 900 employees, including the new team from Coinamatic, to Microsoft Office 365.

One of the capabilities we’re most excited about is Power BI for Office 365. Nearly all our employees are familiar with Microsoft Excel, and now they have easy access to powerful data analytics and can share insights with one another from anywhere on any device. With these insights, employees all over the company are solving our thorniest challenges, from laundry load pricing to service request prioritization, speeding installation work and uncovering anomalies in our P&L reports.

Let’s take price setting, which is pretty dizzying for 75,000 locations. If you raise or drop the price on a load of laundry by a few cents, it’s difficult to tell if that was a good or bad decision.

Instead of depending on IT to create custom reports, our finance team built regression models that take into account pricing sensitivity by market down to the neighborhood level. They use natural-language queries to drill into more than a terabyte’s worth of data—from Dynamics, the U.S. Census and other sources—to pinpoint the pricing that will maximize profits by machine and location. All the data-crunching muscle is in the cloud, so we don’t have to own it. Key to this process is how Office 365 works seamlessly with the Dynamics applications. You need to have good data quality going in to have good analytics coming out. At WASH, we think about productivity by measuring machines per employee. That metric has improved more than 40 percent since we applied Microsoft technologies to our business.

We merge these machine predictions with people knowledge, and our cloud tools help immensely here, too. Before increasing prices at a location, we send people to do on-site surveys. Through Office 365, a field person can call or instant-message with analysts at headquarters and say, “We know the computer said we can raise prices here, but we’re seeing a lot of clotheslines in backyards.” The field person can even share photos from a smartphone.

So we’re combining data insights and smart people to make the best possible decisions. With only 900 employees serving five million people at 75,000 locations, we need every tool we can get to keep our equipment running optimally. Using Office 365 for instant knowledge sharing and communication and cloud BI to analyze pricing data has revolutionized our profit model. We’ve seen a 3:1 improvement in revenue optimization.

We want to take this technology further by putting the data through Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, a cloud service for predictive analytics. The idea is to connect all 500,000-plus washers and dryers to the cloud and set pricing dynamically.

Now that our business users can make sense of mind-boggling amounts of data themselves—and collaborate in the cloud to share ideas—my IT staff can focus on building new cool stuff to bring more value to customers and shareholders. We’ve shifted our IT team from simply keeping the lights on to creating business value–oriented activities.

We’ve never been as excited about our business as we are today. With Office 365 integrated seamlessly into the rest of our Microsoft stack, we have infinite possibilities for growing and excelling.

— John Buccola

For an in-depth look at the WASH story see the Office 365 case study, the Microsoft Cloud/Azure video, and post on Microsoft News.

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