A global engineering consultancy with offices on seven continents, WSP relies heavily on telephony to collaborate internally and connect with its customers. But the company’s aging, ISDN-based telephony solution was no longer meeting their needs. As well as lacking the collaboration features WSP were looking for, its IDSN-based set-up meant paying for the cost of a call every time staff in different offices needed to talk to one another. As Associate Director – IT, Dave Corbet, puts it: “It was great news for our telco. Not so great for us.”
With the existing system wearing out and difficult to update, it was obvious WSP needed to change. But with offices all around the world, Corbet and his team didn’t want to have to look at integrating a fruit salad of different telephony systems. “We wanted one solution – not ten.” Achieving that meant looking for a simple, seamless, familiar tool that worked effortlessly between one continent and the next. No small task.
The WSP team were already familiar with Microsoft Skype for Business, using its messaging functionality to communicate with each other within and between offices. But with a new phone system now much needed, they looked to the possibilities of Skype for Business’s advanced telephony capabilities to minimise their call costs while adding new functionality, with the aim to make their highly mobile workforce even more productive – whether on the road, at home or at their desks.
After a thorough tender process, WSP selected Microsoft Gold partner for communications Brennan IT to marry a new phone system to the existing Skype for Business solution in WSP’s Australia offices. “Their solution offered the best value for money, and came with the level of confidence we required. From start to being fully operational, the deployment took about ten weeks,” Corbet explained.
Today Australian WSP staff have access to the hosted telephony solution, replacing their desk phones with headsets enabling full mobility as well as a single mailbox for email and voicemail. Even better, WSP is saving around $11,000 on call costs per month.
For a business that relies on telephony to connect and collaborate across borders, the Skype for Business solution has made an invaluable difference to the way WSP does business.
Enabling more flexible work styles: Engineers can sometimes be seen as fixed in their habits – including their work habits. But by unplugging WSP’s team from their desks, the Skype for Business solution is giving them greater flexibility in how they go about their business. “It’s become the centre of their worlds,” Corbet explains. Now team members can take their headsets home and make international calls, opening the door to 24/7 collaboration.
Cutting the costs of collaboration: By ‘trading in’ their ISDN platform for a SIP-based hosted phone and Skype for Business solution, WSP experienced immediate and significant costs savings. “Our phone bill has dropped from $14,000 a month to around $3,000 a month. It’s an enormous saving,” Corbet said.
Simplifying ICT management and training: As Corbet makes clear, WSP was looking for a single, consistent telephony system throughout their global organisation, simplifying deployment, management and training for its staff. “Skype for Business is highly intuitive, so it’s easy for the team to get familiar with and use – no matter how busy they are.”
And as a hosted solution, based on the underlying Skype for Business unified communications platform, it’s easy to scale. “It’s worked so well and saved us so much money, there’s no reason we wouldn’t use it in as many places as possible,” Corbet said.
Improving staff mobility: Engineers spend a lot of time on the road or on site, which can mean a lot of downtime built up traveling from A to B. Not only is Skype for Business helping put that travel time to good use, it means engineers can collaborate quickly and make decisions on the spot, or more easily seek advice when faced with difficult problems to solve. “Even something as simple as being able to sort through your email and voicemail in a cab can save a lot of time back at the office. Our guys are less distracted by day-to-day administration, and more focused on delivering the right solutions for our customers.”
Innovative communications and collaboration solutions are critical to 90,000 employees at Shell, who work from all over the world in locations as diverse as upstream exploration sites, downstream refineries, and trading floors. Large projects depend on teamwork among individuals positioned globally. Recently, the company has increased its focus on collaboration with third-party organizations, which expands the user community to 140,000.
To facilitate collaboration among teams and stakeholders, Shell wanted to provide a simplified environment where people would have a single user interface for voice, video, instant messaging (IM), and all other real-time communication requirements. The solution had to support collaboration with a growing number of energy industry partners, consultancies, and individual experts. This need was especially important because the quest for oil and gas steers upstream activities and exploration to increasingly remote locations where the company must call on local expertise and other specialists.
A Starting Point
In 2010, Shell deployed Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2, (now called Microsoft Skype for Business Server) for IM, presence, conferencing, and voice to most of its 140,000 users, including access to the full enterprise voice capabilities of Skype for Business Server for peer-to-peer and public switched telephony network (PSTN) calling.
The solution is deployed at three sites: in Europe, North America, and Asia. Each site has the capacity to host 50 percent of Shell’s users to provide for disaster recovery in the event of a data center failure. The failover is a manual process that takes three to four hours, and users do not have full conference capabilities while on the backup pool.
To provide connections to the PSTN for external phone calls, Shell deployed Sonus UX1000 or Sonus UX2000 gateways at its sites. The gateways are placed in front of the existing PBX equipment and direct calls to both Skype for Business Server and the PBX system. Shell uses Skype for Business Server to reduce international calling charges by routing calls to the destination country over the Shell network. snom IP phones are used for common areas and a limited number of users. Almost all users use the software client for their phone calls. They are able to choose from a variety of headsets.
Along with the voice capabilities, Shell enabled audio conferences hosted on Skype for Business Server, so that users can easily schedule conferences using the Microsoft Office Outlook messaging and collaboration client. More than 90 percent of Shell’s conference calls are now handled by Skype for Business Server, totaling 190,000 hours a month of calls. The remaining 10 percent of calls require dial-in numbers from locations where Shell does not have local calling capabilities, so a local service is required. Shell places snom MeetingPoint audio conferencing phones in some conferencing rooms to facilitate calls.
The voice and conferencing solutions have been widely adopted at Shell and have helped traveling employees to communicate more effectively. Skype for Business Mobile enables staff to access the Skype for Business capabilities from their mobile devices.
Shell has enabled 55,000 employees for peer-to-peer videoconferencing. They can host a conference from their desktops by using laptop webcams, or by using videoconferencing devices from conference rooms.
To facilitate communications with third parties, Shell deployed the federation capabilities of Skype for Business Server. Federation enables people from other organizations that have Skype for Business deployed to see presence and engage in IM, voice, and conferencing conversations. Shell also deployed NextPlane UC Exchange to federate with companies that use non-Microsoft communications solutions. Shell is always looking for new ways to facilitate communications with third parties.
To further improve its communications capabilities, Shell began to investigate an upgrade to Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2010. It was looking to improve its disaster recovery options, enhance mobile communications, improve videoconferencing capabilities, and broaden the reach of its communications solution through federation. During its investigation it learned that Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2013 was nearing release and decided to wait to deploy the latest communications solution from Microsoft.
The disaster recovery capabilities in Skype for Business Server 2013 have been significantly improved. “With Skype for Business Server 2013, we can have a fully redundant solution with automatic failover that is transparent to our users,” says Rob Bendig, Lead Network Services Architect at Shell. The front-end servers are organized into pools, which have extra capacity to handle individual server failures. If an entire pool fails, the users are transferred to their backup pool. The Microsoft SQL Server data management software that supports Skype for Business Server has redundancy through database mirroring and will automatically failover in the event of a database issue.
Skype for Business Server 2013 also has numerous capabilities that will help employees communicate, including voice over IP (VoIP). “We are really looking forward to the new mobile client available for Skype for Business Server 2013,” says Bendig. “With VoIP calling, employees will be able to make calls using the wireless networks in all of our offices.” Shell has started a bring-your-own-device program and already has 10,000 employees enrolled to receive email on their mobile devices, using Exchange ActiveSync technology. Shell expects these users to adopt the Skype for Business Mobile client when it is available.
Another improvement is to the videoconferencing capabilities in the Microsoft Skype for Business 2013 client. Skype for Business 2013 gallery view enables Shell employees to see up to five video streams so that they can see the reactions of others to the presentation, identify the active speaker, and associate names with faces. The contact card has an option for video calling, making it much easier to initiate a video call by just hovering over a colleague’s name and selecting video. Another helpful feature for video calls is the video preview, which enables a user to preview what the video camera will display before turning it on.
The Skype for Business Web App for Skype for Business 2013 will facilitate calls with external vendors and partners who do not have access to Skype for Business. They can use the Skype for Business Web App to join conferences and fully participate in voice, video, and application sharing. Administrator rights are not required to install the plug-in for the Skype for Business Web App, making it easy for anyone to join.
By deploying Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2013, Shell will provide its staff and external parties an easy-to-use interface with a unified set of powerful communications tools, including instant messaging, presence, VoIP, and audio, video, and web conferencing. Employees can work more flexibly and communicate effectively while traveling and from remote sites. Shell anticipates reduced operating costs with a centralized VoIP, messaging, and collaboration infrastructure.
Effective, Streamlined Communications Increase Productivity
Shell employees will be able to access all Skype for Business 2013 communications tools from their desktop or smartphone. Voice, video, IM, and conferencing discussions are all conducted using a familiar, intuitive interface and employees can easily switch from one communications channel to another. For example, if an IM conversation requires a more detailed discussion, a user can initiate a voice call with one click.
Skype for Business also creates a more efficient working environment because employees’ phone numbers and voice mail are not fixed to a specific device. “With Skype for Business, I can just click on the name of the person I want to call,” says Bendig. “It doesn’t matter where they are; it’s always the same phone number. People are much easier to reach because their Skype for Business connection travels with them.” Calls can even be made to a team whose members are dispersed over the globe.
The video capabilities in Skype for Business 2013 will help to drive adoption of videoconferencing and further reduce travel requirements. “The Skype for Business 2013 gallery view is beautiful. We are really glad to see that functionality. It makes videoconferences much more valuable when we can see the audience’s reaction to the presentation as it is delivered,” says Bendig.
Remote Access Promotes Flexible Workplace Culture
By using Skype for Business Server 2013, Shell enables unified communications for its employees, including staff members working in remote locations. Employees traveling with laptops or smartphones will be able to use the full range of voice, IM, and presence functions, as long as they have an Internet connection. “In Shell offices, wireless connections are available for employees. With Skype for Business Mobile, they won’t have to worry about voice or data roaming charges, everything will go over the network,” says Bendig.
The federation with Skype for Business will also help to simplify business travel by facilitating communications between employees and their families. Employees always have their Skype for Business client turned on, so they know their families will be able to contact them.
Presence Awareness Accelerates Global Communications
Because Shell employees work in different time zones and locations, it is essential for them to communicate effectively. Employees now know whether a colleague is online, out of the office, or busy as indicated by the presence icon next to contact names in Skype for Business. “When we deployed Skype for Business, there was some skepticism about the value of instant messaging and presence, but I don’t think most employees could live without them now,” says Bendig. “My reports are spread over three cities, but by using Skype for Business for instant messaging, presence, and desktop sharing, we function as a team.”
Federation with partners through Skype for Business or third-party instant messaging systems provides additional avenues for communications. With presence information available and conferencing through the Skype for Business Web App, Shell finds it easy to collaborate with third parties.
VoIP Calling Reduces Costs
A centralized VoIP system for Shell, based on Microsoft unified communications solutions, will help reduce the cost and complexity of managing multiple PBX systems at global offices. It will centralize all call control, collaboration, and management servers into three data centers. Shell expects to retire more than 200 pieces of PBX equipment over the next several years. “We really appreciated the flexibility to install Skype for Business in parallel with our PBX equipment for a low-risk transition. Now users are turning in their desk phones voluntarily as they make Skype for Business their primary method of communication,” says Bendig.
By deploying Skype for Business, Shell has also reduced telephony charges in many areas. The company has reduced the amount of international toll charges that it must pay by using the Shell network to route calls to the destination country and then using Skype for Business to place a local call. When employees are out of the office, they are also saving money by using their Skype for Business client instead of a mobile phone or hotel phone. “We advise our employees to use the Skype for Business client as their first choice for making calls, no matter where they are, which provides a more cost-effective connection than their hotel room or mobile phone,” says Bendig.
Shell also saves money by using Skype for Business to consolidate audio and videoconferencing. “We have shifted more than 90 percent of our audio conferencing minutes onto Skype for Business Server, which has saved Shell considerably,” says Bendig.
Aston Martin is one of the world’s best-known luxury automotive brands. Located in Gaydon, England, Aston Martin produces a wide range of sports cars. Regardless of the model, each Aston Martin automobile is handcrafted by highly skilled engineers and technicians to express the company’s core values of power, beauty, and soul.
In addition to passionate, skilled employees, technology plays a key role at Aston Martin as the company continues to push the boundaries of automotive performance, while delivering cutting-edge design and comfort. The company relies on the latest computer-aided design and communications technologies to enable close collaboration with suppliers.
An IT infrastructure and operations team of 15 is responsible for the technology that enables Aston Martin to produce its distinctive cars. Employees demand the same level of passion and excellence from their IT department that they put into the cars they build. “We have employees based in regional offices in a number of countries around the world, and they expect to be able to connect to their email or other services from anywhere at any time, and from any device,” says Daniel Roach-Rooke, IT Infrastructure Manager at Aston Martin.
To maintain focus on its core mission of building luxury sports cars, the IT department has been moving to a cloud-based computing model for many functions, moving its email to a Microsoft-hosted service in 2009. In 2011, when it heard about the Microsoft Office 365 cloud-based offering, which provides email, communications, and collaboration capabilities along with Microsoft Office,
Aston Martin saw an opportunity to expand its current productivity tools without shifting the IT department’s focus away from higher-value projects.
Prior to selecting Office 365, Aston Martin evaluated other cloud offerings in the marketplace and looked at the possibility of deploying Microsoft Exchange Server on-premises. Office 365 proved to be the best option. “Office 365 offers everything we need. It is designed for the kind of environment we have, with access from around the globe and different levels of services to match our employees’ needs,” says Roach-Rooke.
For its office staff, Aston Martin selected the Office 365 E3 plan, which provides licenses for Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus, Exchange Online, Skype for Business Online, and SharePoint Online.
Aston Martin worked with Microsoft Services Premier Support to migrate its email accounts to Office 365. “Microsoft Services Premier Support was with us for the entire migration. They worked with us to plan the move and mitigate the risk of moving our employee mailboxes in one weekend. We couldn’t have done it without them,” says Roach-Rooke.
The company upgraded all of its computers to Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010, now named Office 365 ProPlus, as part of the migration and, because Office 365 provides Office licenses for up to five devices, employees were able to deploy Microsoft Office on their personal computers and tablets at home. Employees have also set up their personal smartphones to access their corporate email accounts. “Office 365 provides us with the tools to enforce security policies on personal smartphones so that we can offer that access to employees. We can enforce PIN policies or wipe the phone if necessary,” says Roach-Rooke.
Office 365 offers additional security and compliance capabilities, which Aston Martin has now put in place. Employees can archive email into a hosted, personal archive. The IT staff can place legal holds on mailboxes, rapidly perform eDiscovery, and enforce retention policies. These capabilities are essential to most enterprise businesses, and Aston Martin appreciates the ease with which they can be applied in Exchange Online. Exchange Online Protection provides virus protection and spam filtering on incoming email messages. “We receive more than 1.5 million spam email messages per day, so it’s great to have all messages filtered before they hit our network,” says Roach-Rooke. To enable employees to control access to proprietary information, Aston Martin plans to implement Information Rights Management (IRM) using Windows Azure Active Directory Rights Management, which is included with the Office 365 E3 plan.
Administration is more secure with role-based access control for Exchange Online and Skype for Business Online, which enables administrators to set up fine-grained levels of access for IT staff. “We have enabled the service desk to create accounts for new users and handle simple tasks, while our tier-3 support staff has much wider administrative rights,” says Roach-Rooke. Active Directory Federation Services through Windows Azure provides single sign-on capabilities for on-premises and Office 365 solutions.
Aston Martin has also deployed SharePoint Online in addition to its on-premises Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 deployment. Today, employees use SharePoint Online for external collaboration with suppliers or other stakeholders that may be involved in projects. “SharePoint Online provides us with a secure way to collaborate with partners. It’s easy for them to access the sites through Microsoft accounts we validate,” says Roach-Rooke. In the future,
Aston Martin plans to merge the two environments into a hybrid deployment for additional flexibility.
The company did not previously have an instant messaging and presence solution, so the capabilities in Skype for Business Online have been widely adopted by employees. “Skype for Business Online is one example where our employees are quickly taking advantage of great new capabilities as soon as we provide them,” says Roach-Rooke. “Presence information is so useful, especially for communicating with remote offices. Desktop sharing during Skype for Business audio conferences has also been popular.” For instance, the marketing team uses Skype for Business Online to share ideas and proofs for marketing campaigns. Aston Martin has also enabled Skype for Business federation with several suppliers to facilitate closer collaboration in the supply chain.
By adopting Office 365, the Aston Martin IT department can provide employees with the latest communications and collaboration capabilities, which they use to continue their pursuit of automotive perfection. Roach-Rooke says, “Office 365 gives our employees the technology they need to drive the business forward.”
A Fully Managed Service
Aston Martin wants all of its employees, including IT staff, to maintain their focus on producing great sports cars. “Office 365 is fully managed; we don’t have to worry about it. We don’t think about storage, capacity planning, external access, or downtime. It’s a real luxury,” says Roach-Rooke. “Our business has been using Office 365 for about a year now and we’ve had fast, reliable performance with no significant outages.”
Office 365 also helps to simplify administration for the IT staff. “Office 365 is fully integrated with our Windows Server Active Directory service, so we only have to do things once,” says Roach-Rooke. “When we bring on new staff, the service desk can create the account and that’s it. Office 365 does the rest.”
The IT team is now able to use its time to address business problems and improve productivity. “We were stretched too thin before to really be proactive, but now we have the time to talk to the business and really help,” says Roach-Rooke. “Sometimes a simple suggestion like moving an Excel spreadsheet into SharePoint to provide access control and version control can have a big impact for a team. We have positively changed the perception of IT and been able to show our passion for the business.”
Security and Compliance for a Global Brand
Aston Martin has transformed itself over the past decade from a British sports car manufacturer to a global luxury brand. With this transformation has come the need to implement tighter security and compliance procedures. “Intellectual property is one of Aston Martin’s most valuable assets, and we trust Microsoft technologies to keep it safe,” says Roach-Rooke. “We are very comfortable that Microsoft will be able to maintain a secure service.”
Technologies like IRM and the ability to enforce legal holds make it easy to implement security policies so that
Aston Martin can remain compliant. The company is also deploying Windows Intune to help manage remote devices. Windows Intune is the cloud-based PC management service from Microsoft that will provide even better management capabilities for employees’ mobile phones and tablets.
By using Office 365, Aston Martin employees can collaborate more efficiently. They can use the new capabilities in Skype for Business Online, such as presence and desktop sharing, to connect and share information internally and with partners. SharePoint Online has also proven to be a great resource for employees, enabling them to share information externally with partners. “We tended to use email for collaboration in the past, but that can be inefficient. Skype for Business and SharePoint have helped to speed interactions and ensure that our teams get the information they need in a timely manner,” says Roach-Rooke.