When a risk-adverse financial services firm with a sophisticated IT department opts for Office 365, you know that Microsoft's cloud servics have matured significantly, writes Ian Cambell
Goodbody has successfully leveraged the latest technology and IT services to advance its business while maintaining the highest standards in relation to security and data management. TheIrish financial services firm adopts a pragmatic, no-nonsense approach to its IT investments, and is never going to be impressed by buzzwords.
For Stuart Halford, head of technical projects and service assurance, the 'cloud' phrase was not important to him. Wanting to replace an ageing version of Lotus Notes that was delivered by a service provider, he was looking for a hosted email solution, delivered as a managed service that was robust and resilient. "We were very comfortable with managed services offerings and working with best of breed providers whose core business - is implementing and managing those technologies," said Halford.
The firm's version of Lotus Notes wouldn't allow multiple emails to be displayed at once;attachments could only be opened through another application; and each user only had 50Mb of storage so stringent management was needed to stop mailboxes filling up. "There were a number of usability issues and it was increasingly clunky to use. Email is critical to the business and we weren't happy with what we had," said Halford.
Goodbody replaced it with Exchange Online, part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite, deployed by Ergo as a softwareas-a-service solution. The company had also considered Gmail and the Google Apps suite, but Microsoft won through because it presented additional value-add components as part of the Office 365 offering. It also addressed Goodbody's key concerns around hosting data. "We asked both of them if they could guarantee all of our data would always reside in an EU data centre. Only Microsoft could give us the assurances we needed," he said.
There were other drivers that fitted with the firm's wider IT strategy. Plans are under way to upgrade its desktop operating systems, office and collaboration tools, and build on the firm's Microsoft estate with other products like System Centre Manager.
Preparing the path, Halford and his team had already rolled out Microsoft Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) to create a secure single sign-on access system for all access to the Office 365 platform. This was pivotal for Goodbody as it looked to exert tight control over how and where users could access the new email platform.
Avoiding the potential security pitfalls of a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, Goodbody kitted out employees with corporate iPhones. "One of the challenges of cloud-based solutions is that by default you can access them from everywhere. We use ADFS to limit that access to controlled locations and we have iPhone devices that are part of that tightly controlled environment," said Halford.
Microsoft facilitates seamless integration between the Apple devices, ADFS and the Office 365 environment, which made it very easy for Goodbody to ensure consistent levels of access control over email, regardless of whether it was from a desktop in the office or out and about on a mobile.
The Microsoft solution, combined with an innovative suite of products from Vodafone, allowed Goodbody to route, manage and control mobile traffic and devices seamlessly. All these factors contributed to ensuring that Goodbody maintained the highest standards in relation to security and data management for the overall solution.
Exchange Online also gives each user a 25GB mailbox, significantly more than the existing system, which immediately reduced the amount of time spent managing accounts. But the biggest headline about the implementation is that Goodbody was able to make a strong business case based on cost.
The Microsoft Office 365 E3 license allows the software to be installed on up to five devices per person. Goodbody bought 250 Office 365 licenses that cover users, rather than devices. A suite of Microsoft software can be accessed from a user's PC or mobile, and, in the event of an emergency, they can also use the software on desktops at the company's disaster recovery locations at no additional cost.
The hosted solution also provides more flexibility, leveraging enterprise level solution providers while saving Goodbody the headache of having to manage and maintain the underlying infrastructural hardware and software components supporting the solution. Because of a Software Assurance agreement with Microsoft, Goodbody is automatically entitled to new iterations as they come online. Paid for on a per seat per user basis, the number of users can be quickly ' flexed' up and down as the business requires.
To date, Goodbody has only enabled email on the Office 365 platform, but intends to evaluate, secure and switch on Lync and SharePoint – key features of Office 365 – over the next 12 months. "We have the foundation to deliver a lot of value to the business by rolling out additional services over the next year without paying any extra costs for them," said Halford.
Goodbody is an organisation that avoids the risks associated with 'big bang' IT implementations. As such, an incremental approach was used to phase out Lotus Notes and introduce the Office 365 solution. Part of Ergo's responsibility was to make sure the two systems ran in parallel for a time, but the fact that there were two email systems was transparent to the end users.
They were able to interact with each other as usual without having to know what email system the other user was running on. "Colleagues were able to send emails and arrange meetings seamlessly across the two systems. It worked and went completely according to plan," said Halford.
The Goodbody experience highlights how it's becoming easier for organisations to make a business case for the cloud based on numerous factors. It also highlights how the role of the channel partner has evolved but remains important as an intermediary.
"Ergo was very professional and knowledgeable," said Halford. "The people it has are passionate and there's an ongoing relationship with the Ergo resources that extended after the engagement had been successfully delivered."
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