The Center for American Progress (CAP) is a Washington, DC-based think tank with a staff of 400, plus hundreds of interns annually, who need 24/7 access to their technology: secure email, document collaboration tools and unified communications. They were in the same position many other organizations find themselves: maintaining their own Exchange environment which neglected over the years.

Challenge

CAP’s staff knew they had to be strategic and forward-thinking with their technology, but the external vendor costs and valuable staff time associated with maintenance, upgrades and repairs to the existing Exchange server was at an all-time high. They were spending $5,000-$10,000 per month on consultants to maintain their email environment alone, along with five Help Desk staff and an operations team managing the networks.

New Signature has consistently proven that it has the people, systems, best practices and processes to make a project happen.

George Estrada, CIO | The Center for American Progress

Solution

CAP decided to take a logical, factual approach and look at all their options to get their technology infrastructure back to where it needed to be. Working with New Signature, they compared apples-to-apples solutions and looked at all the costs – financial, technological and cultural – involved with each option.

If they were to maintain an on-premises Exchange environment, they needed at least two staff members with Microsoft certifications, two locations to maintain up time and back-ups and a full Help Desk staff who could serve as both engineers and customer service representatives (a difficult combination to find). They also factored in the cost of purchasing and installing new hardware and software every three to five years.

If CAP moved to the cloud, they realized their costs would be relatively flat year over year. There would be no need for hardware upgrades or installations every few years. The technology staff could focus their time and expertise on strategic ways to support CAP’s mission, instead of plugging holes and trying to keep the engines running. The cloud technology would easily scale as their staff increased in size. And, up time, back-ups and security would be taken care of by the provider.

The team looked at multiple cloud options, including Google Apps. The tipping point of the analysis and what ultimately determined that Office 365 was the best platform for CAP came down to the staff. During the analysis, it came to light that

CAP’s staff was familiar and comfortable with Microsoft products. The change management costs of training the staff on an entirely new system and more importantly, disrupting the culture of the organization were key points that drove CAP to adopt Microsoft Office 365.

The business case that was ultimately built compared other cloud solutions as well as continuing to manage an on-premises environment. Just like many organizations there were IT staff members who were uncomfortable with a move to the cloud and away from the traditional email management setup. These points were taken in to consideration as the business case was developed but in the end, the ease-of-use and cost-benefit squarely determined that Microsoft Office 365 was the right solution for CAP.

It took nine months for CAP and New Signature to lay out the business case, develop a migration plan and execute the move to the cloud.

CAP’s technology team worked very closely with New Signature to coordinate the migration. New Signature was able to help CAP save money by knowing what steps the CAP team could handle themselves and where consultant expertise was needed. For instance, in-house technology teams usually have less experience with determining data migration paths for on-premises to cloud solutions. New Signature was able to provide the analysis, preparation and planning to help CAP map out and execute that data migration successfully. By allowing New Signature to guide this aspect of the engagement, CAP’s transition was able to stay on-time and on-budget.

In order to ensure end user buy-in, the CAP technology team were the first line of defense and face of the project, not the New Signature team. This enabled CAP to promote user adoption and demonstrate leadership within the organization and allowed New Signature to focus very clearly on the tasks at hand. In turn, the CAP tech team members were personally invested in the success of the rollout and by taking the lead, they also gained firsthand experience with the new environments, increasing their own expertise and giving them the knowledge to troubleshoot, to know what questions to ask and where to find the answers.

Results

The transition to Microsoft Office 365 was smooth and successful. The organization is more productive. The technology team is better meeting the needs of their users and is able to focus on other challenges. And, just as important, there are no more daily or weekly worries of “Will email be up?”

CAP no longer needs staff to manage email servers, so their technology team can focus on how best to use their skills to meet the mission of the organization. For instance, CAP redirected funds that were previously earmarked for email and server maintenance to hire more network administrators and deploy more robust tools like Microsoft System Center Configuration Manger (SCCM).

And, CAP’s Help Desk is now able to provide better customer service and training to the entire staff. Without the need for highly technical people to manage internal systems, CAP has been able to build a Help Desk with staff who understand the technology, but also enjoy solving problems. With the team at New Signature available around the clock, they have a partner that can help solve the more difficult challenges when they pop up.

The end result was improved functionality, happier staff and a better-aligned Help Desk.