Office 365 Business Premium Restores Branding Company’s Faith in Email

Clarotech isn’t just a service provider. They engaged us as partners to understand what would work best for Synchron.”

Nikki Swain, IT Management Consultant, Synchron

Industry:
Spatial branding services

Offering:
The development and production of branding for internal and external surfaces and spaces

Problem:
Unreliable and incomplete onsite email service was negatively impacting business-critical communications

Solution:
Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium, implemented and supported by Clarotech

Services:
Clarotech consulting, project management and professional implementation
Clarotech managed services with SLA support

Result:
Exchange Online, a component of Office 365 Business Premium, delivers a reliable, secure and managed email service, synchronised across devices for anytime, anywhere availability

Clarotech qualifications:
Microsoft Gold Competency Partner
Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (Tier 1)

About Synchron
Synchron is an innovative, African-based, family-owned business that has operated successfully for over 50 years. The company specialises in developing and producing branding solutions for internal and external surfaces and spaces. They deliver unique designs that utilise colour, materials, textures, furnishings, light and layout to enhance customer experience. This helps their clients build and preserve a uniform brand across print, architecture, point of sale, and other mediums.

Email challenges
Synchron relies on email for communication between its operational staff, suppliers, customers, and mobile workers – including sales reps and executives. Email needs to be seamless and uninterrupted for personnel to carry out their duties effectively.

To continue delivering excellent service in an increasingly digital marketplace, Synchron engaged independent IT management consultant Nikki Swain to review its business processes and IT systems. One area of concern was the reliability of the company’s email service – an open source solution running on an onsite internet server. This configuration presented several obstacles to doing business.

Poor availability
Email and firewall services shared the same hardware and operating system, so maintenance or downtime on one could impact the other. Emails were often sent or received late or not at all, impeding workers’ ability to service customer requests promptly or communicate internally.

Burden of administration
Synchron IT staff were responsible for administering the mail solution, which required third-party tools and specialised skills. The sophisticated setup meant disaster recovery could take hours or even days, with no guarantee of fully restoring data.

Software maintenance
Staff used whatever version of Office existed on a newly procured PC. Over time, the Office versions across the company varied and no simple way existed to check if software was properly licensed. Updating or support of client software had to be carried out on a PC-by-PC basis.

Lack of security
Synchron IT staff were responsible for providing security against increasingly sophisticated attacks. When the company was hit by ransomware, it raised further concerns about the security and antivirus capabilities of the email solution.

No syncing
Because emails were deleted from the server once downloaded, email was not synchronised. Further, messages sent from one email client did not appear in the sent items of another. This resulted in disparities in received mail, sent items and read statuses across PCs and user devices.

Ineffective backup model
Local mailboxes had to be backed up individually, requiring a backup agent to be installed on each PC. Backups for devices were not possible, resulting in incomplete backup sets. When the MD’s mailbox became corrupted, even though backups existed on the server, the read status of 1000s of emails and the local folders to which they had been saved were lost.

Lack of productivity features
The mail solution lacked basic time-saving features, such as:

  • No shared calendars, so users had to schedule meetings or book resources manually on a first-come-first-served basis
  • No global mailing groups, so users either painstakingly entered each recipient in a message or set up their own local mailing lists
  • No shared address books, so users had to set up their own contact lists, resulting in duplicated or inconsistent contact information
  • No email aliases, so users had to share specially addressed mailboxes and their passwords

Mistrust of email
There was a general mistrust of the company’s email system. Users were anxious about missing important messages, losing mail or attachments, or being unable to locate an email across devices.

Email review
Synchron reviewed its email solution as part of its larger IT upgrade project. The company wanted to reduce IT concerns and focus on the business value it could gain from information, rather than the means by which it was communicated. Ultimately, the key goals were to:

  • Restore user trust in email with a reliable solution
  • Improve business agility by outsourcing email to a capable provider
  • Focus on service delivery instead of IT

Clarotech’s role
For several years, Clarotech had provided support to Synchron when required. The vendor was asked to consult on possible solutions, assist with system planning and modelling, and provide the technical expertise and resources for implementation. Clarotech welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to improving business through technology, and its capability to do so. Derek Bayer, Clarotech Solutions Director, spearheaded the company’s involvement.

The strategy
Clarotech’s consulting team played a key role during the strategy phase and added value by suggesting technology options appropriate to Synchron’s requirements. The client settled on Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium to provide its users with trusted productivity applications augmented by online email, storage, sharing and collaboration facilities. The email service, Exchange Online, has a history of reliability and integrates well with Synchron’s larger infrastructure projects, including the adoption of Microsoft Active Directory. This offers conveniences like Single Sign On and centralised management of users, systems and resources.

The solution
Office 365 Business Premium runs on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and comprises the vendor’s Office applications backed by a suite of online business services, one of which is Exchange Online*. It’s therefore delivered purely as a SaaS (Software as a Service)** offering, with hardware, software and technical skills being housed in a Microsoft data centre. The solution is charged on a per-user-per-month basis, and makes security patches, software updates and application upgrades available through an update service similar to Windows Update. New Office 365 features are released regularly to subscription customers far ahead of normal customers, and certain services, like Microsoft Teams, are available only to Office 365 subscribers.

* At the time of writing, Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium consists of:

  • Office applications: Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Access (PC only)
  • Online services: Exchange Online, OneDrive, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Yammer (business social network)

** SaaS (Software as a Service) is a computing model where software is hosted on a third-party provider’s servers and can be accessed by its users over the Internet through a web browser, or desktop or mobile application.

The solution provides immediate improvements for Synchron, including:

For users
Every user’s email is properly synced across all their devices and PC, providing them with a consistent communication experience

  • Instead of being deleted, delivered emails are preserved on the server for retention and recovery purposes
  • Sent messages are saved on the server and synced across devices for easy traceability and retention purposes
  • Folders created in Outlook and the organisation of emails in them are replicated on the server, allowing them to be automatically recreated if lost on the client PC or device
  • Built-in collaborative tools enable team members to share resources, like calendars and documents
  • Each user has a 50GB online mailbox

For IT
The email client is standardised for every user, making support easier

  • The effort of maintaining and administering the email service has moved to Microsoft
  • Office 365 accounts and permissions can be easily managed through the onsite Active Directory service
  • The service’s infrastructure provides full redundancy and a failover data centre, so email services are always available on the supplier side.
  • Robust security, SPAM filtering, and virus and malware protection are delivered by Microsoft’s dedicated security experts, giving Synchron better threat deterrence than they could provide themselves

For the business
Microsoft offers a highly available email service, backed by a financially punitive SLA promising 99.9% uptime.

  • No extra hardware costs were incurred to separate the firewall server from the email server
  • Synchron no longer concerns itself with hardware costs and enjoys state-of-the-art server hardware and networking components through Microsoft
  • The IT system’s total cost of ownership was reduced
  • Native integration with Microsoft applications or enabled third-party products means documents can be emailed or automatically distributed from various applications if required
  • Synchron currently emails statements electronically, so Exchange Online offers greater traceability and compliance with data preservation and protection legislation

Implementation


Project management
A dedicated Clarotech project manager planned and managed the project budget, activity scheduling and task execution throughout each implementation phase and the subsequent rollout.

Technical services
Clarotech provided the technical skills and resources to complete the work. This included preparing all workstations and devices by installing the latest Microsoft Office applications and mobile apps, and setting up the Exchange Online accounts and mailboxes. Cutover to the new system was carried out on a weekend to avoid disrupting Synchron’s business operations.

Email migration
Clarotech empowered Synchron users to migrate only emails they considered historically relevant. This gave Synchron the opportunity to perform a limited clean-up of personal messages, marketing communications and similar emails.

Training
Clarotech provided training to Synchron staff, combining instruction on Office 365 applications and Exchange Online. The training was customised to Synchron’s typical work and communication activities, which Clarotech knew well, making it easier for users to associate features with their daily duties. 

Problems and solutions
Only 2 problems were encountered during implementation, for which Clarotech provided appropriate solutions:

  • Users’ “autocomplete” address information is not transferred when upgrading Office 2007/2010 to Office 365. Clarotech technicians therefore imported the data manually.
  • Office 365 does not support unauthenticated SMTP, which is required by applications or devices – such as multifunction printers and scanners – to transmit scans or data by email*. Clarotech technicians used existing onsite equipment to create an email relay server, not accessible from the Internet.

* Unauthenticated SMTP is a major security risk, so it’s not offered by email service providers.

Duration
Clarotech implemented Office 365 Business Premium in 2 months with minimal interruption to email services throughout.

Ongoing support
Clarotech entered into a managed services agreement with Synchron to take over monitoring, management and technical support for its IT systems. This includes Exchange Online which, while maintained by Microsoft, is provisioned and supported by Clarotech. Synchron staff also enjoy technical support for Outlook and email-enabled applications, and Clarotech will provide solutions and advice for any future email-related requirements.

Outcomes
Clarotech helped Synchron achieve its ultimate objective for email – to restore user confidence in the company’s email service and therefore their ability to share information effectively with colleagues, customers and suppliers. According to Nikki Swain, staff no longer talk about email problems or reliability. “The focus on user education and training was a critical success factor because it gave them confidence to embrace the solution,” she says. “There’s a profound difference in the way users think about email now.”

Working with Clarotech

Swain reports that working with Clarotech was a positive experience. “The company’s responsiveness to my and my team’s needs is commendable. Clarotech wasn’t just a service provider. They engaged us as partners to understand what would work best for Synchron.”

When asked if she would recommend Clarotech, Swain said: “Definitely. Given the opportunity to work more closely with Synchron, they impressed us with their personal touch and understanding of the organisation, its people and its culture. When I pointed out risks that would endanger the project or cause user dissatisfaction, they responded to my concerns immediately with practicable solutions.”

Conclusion
Office 365 Business Premium is a trusted product line with world-class support from Microsoft. However, the journey to implementing it correctly and supporting a company’s communication needs requires solid technical input. Clarotech Consulting delivers the best in business analysis, strategy development, project management, technical skills, professional implementation, user change management and support, and after-sales service. Its managed services offerings release companies from the burden of IT administration and system maintenance, allowing them to set their focus and energy on operational excellence.

Clarotech is a certified Microsoft Gold Competency Partner and Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider.