Vince Sarubbi kept seeing the billboards every time he got on U.S. Highway 101 going to and from his office in Silicon Valley. They were for a company called Box and they promised to make work collaboration much easier.
That was something that Sarubbi, CIO at Webcor Builders, wanted to improve at his company. The staff had grown, and along with it the amount of collaboration among employees.
Sharing large construction files via FTP servers had become inconvenient and inefficient. And the task of managing the many FTP accounts had turned into an administrative burden for his IT group.
“It took us a ton of time, just to manage something as simple as changing passwords and adding users to job sites and projects,” he says. “We needed to find something different.”
Might the answer be in those intriguing billboards? After a few weeks of driving past them every day, Sarubbi decided to open a personal free Box account. After spending some time playing around with the file sync & share, cloud storage service, Sarubbi had an epiphany: something like this could be a viable replacement for FTP.
So he and his staff got to work trying out and evaluating Box and similar products. But in the end, they picked Box for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it was the one that employees found most intuitive and easy to use.
“I gave it to just one job site and told them: ‘Just try this out and let me know what you think. It’s different from FTP,'” he says. “By the next week we had more than 80 users in Box. I couldn’t put out the fire. I got adoption without even lifting a finger. My people loved it.”
This was about 4 years ago. “We bought in and never looked back,” he says.
Cloud computing has taken off, and SaaS in particular
Like Webcor Builders, many other businesses in recent years have taken the plunge into cloud computing, signing up for platform, infrastructure and software services delivered from vendor data centers via the Internet and billed usually through annual subscriptions or on a per use basis.
Companies have primarily adopted Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps for email, office productivity, collaboration, CRM (customer relationship management) and cloud storage with sync & share capabilities.
Companies have embraced SaaS for various reasons. They have seen the opportunity to save money on hardware and reduce IT maintenance work. They get access to modern apps that are continually enhanced and are designed from the ground up for information sharing and collaboration. They boost their mobile and remote work capabilities, because most SaaS apps are built to be accessed via web browsers and from a variety of devices, including tablets and smartphones.
In November of last year, Gartner declared that SaaS products had graduated from smaller pilot projects to production deployments for tasks critical to the business.
Here are some case studies that look at how companies are using SaaS products in the real world.
Land O’Lakes goes all in with Office 365 for communications, office productivity and collaboration
The giant farm co-operative adopted Microsoft’s Office 365 about three years ago for 6,000 information workers, and it is taking broad advantage of the suite, unlike other companies that limit their use to certain components, like the Office productivity apps — Word, Excel, PowerPoint — and Exchange Online’s email and calendar.
Land O’Lakes employees are also actively using the SharePoint Online collaboration software, the OneDrive cloud storage service and Skype for Business for IM and presence.
In most cases, the IT department makes available to users as soon as possible new features and applications that Microsoft adds to the suite.
One example is Delve, a new search and discovery tool that uses the suite’s Office Graph machine learning engine to analyze how people work on Office 365. Based on that knowledge, it searches for employees in a visual, card-based interface, showing their most relevant colleagues, documents and data at any given point.
Another new app Land O’Lakes turned on for its users recently was Sway, a futuristic presentation app designed for mobile devices, cloud computing and social media. It uses algorithms to auto-format the presentations and suggest layout options.
“We’re using it all,” says Tony Taylor, the company’s Senior Director of Infrastructure and Security.
With Office 365, the IT group was able to eliminate a lot of grunt maintenance work, such as tuning servers and managing storage.
“It really relieved a lot of that back end admin stuff that my guys were spending a significant amount of time on,” Taylor says. “Once I moved that off of our workforce, I got people working on much more important things.”
When deciding to adopt Office 365, Land O’Lakes also had in mind the many young people it has been hiring.
“We thought it important that we portray that we’re a leading edge company when it comes to enabling the workforce to do their work effectively,” he says.
Prior to Office 365, most collaboration was done by sending email attachments back and forth. “We collaborate in a completely different way now,” Taylor says.
With OneDrive and SharePoint Online in particular, Land O’Lakes encourages employees to share files, documents and data “anywhere, anytime from any device and securely,” he says.
This mobile capabilities are critically important for Land O’Lakes — between 1,500 to 2,000 of the Office 365 users are road warriors.
And the company attorneys like that Office 365 makes it possible to do e-discovery across the entire suite. “Our legal department is really excited about that capability,” he says. “It’s a big deal for us.”
Land O’Lakes isn’t concerned about having software and data residing outside of the company firewall in Microsoft’s servers. “I’d be hard pressed to say that I can secure my environment any better than Microsoft does,” he says.
Some tips for companies considering moving their email, office productivity apps and collaboration software to the cloud?
“I’d make sure I got all the planning and architecture work done before I sign a contract,” he says. “You don’t want to be paying for capabilities you’re not ready to consume yet.”
It’s also important to explore the different user identity and access management options, such as directory sync and federated identity. “That takes some planning and understanding of what that means and what the end user experience is for each,” he says.
Companies should also make sure that their network can handle the increased traffic and load that’ll come with the use of cloud apps, as it may be necessary to upgrade certain components and increase the capacity of the Internet connection.
Oh, and don’t stop talking to competing providers. Be aware of what rivals of your SaaS providers are offering. Taylor in particular stays abreast of what’s happening in the cloud storage market, even though he’s happy with OneDrive.
“I do that just to make sure I can go back to Microsoft if a gap starts to appear and tell them: ‘You need to deliver this,'” Taylor says. “It’s a good way to keep Microsoft honest.”
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals: Despite Office 365, a preference for Dropbox for Business
Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a non-profit organization based in Utah that raises funds for 170 member hospitals in the U.S. and Canada, employees had a hodgepodge of cloud and on premises storage systems. This situation became worrisome for Nick Ward when he became VP of IT.
“One of my concerns was securing our data,” says Ward, who is now the organization’s VP of Digital Marketing. “That was one of the responsibilities of the role and our data landscape was all over the place.”
People were using personal accounts on Google Drive, Dropbox and Microsoft’s OneDrive, then called SkyDrive. They were also storing data locally on their devices, as well as on network drives assigned to them by the IT department.
Ward decided the organization had to move away from the network drives and standardize on one cloud service purchased with enterprise licenses so that it came with the necessary security and user account administration features.
It came down to Dropbox for Business and OneDrive, and it was a tough one, because the organization was already getting the latter as part of its Office 365 subscription. But there was a strong preference towards Dropbox among the staff of 135, who felt that it was easier to use and had better mobile apps.
Then as the IT team struggled with the decision, Microsoft and Dropbox announced late last year a formal partnership to closely integrate their wares.
“That was a nice moment for us to say, yeah, that’s the right direction for us,” he says. “We love the integration we’ve seen so far.”
And the storage hodgepodge problem has been solved.
“Data loss was a recurring theme: someone’s hard drive would crash, or we’d have an employee leave and erase his drive,” Ward says. “Now that’s just no longer an issue. Our data is in one place: we’re able to manage it, secure it, and you get all these great collaboration features.”
But Ward cautions against embracing blindly a SaaS product and trying to make it do what it simply isn’t good for. Sometimes leaving a specific workload on local servers is the right decision.
That was the case with the organization’s creative services team, which produces videos. Those very large files are housed on a local storage system, so that video editors can access them quickly in the on premises servers and collaborate on them.
Once they have been edited, the completed videos are put on Dropbox, where the hospitals can access them. “We have a lot of important things that we need to get to our hospitals and communicating those with Dropbox has been really helpful.”
Fix Auto USA franchisee finds affordable, flexible cloud CRM with Zoho
Fix Auto USA got a taste of the benefits of SaaS CRM with Salesforce.com, but about 3 years ago it started searching for an alternative that was more affordable and that was also easy to integrate with third-party systems.
It eventually settled on Zoho CRM, which is now used by about 20 people in the organization. It also bought Zoho Reports, the company’s business intelligence tool for data analysis and reporting, which is used by several managers at Fix Auto USA.
“Zoho CRM and Zoho Reports are very well integrated, so we’re able to visualize a lot of things and dig deep into specific items,” says Jonathan Herrera, marketing manager at Fix Auto USA.
Zoho CRM also plays very well with Constant Contact, a third-party email and online marketing app Fix Auto USA uses. In the future, Fix Auto USA is considering integrating other apps with Zoho CRM, such as Docusign. Fix Auto USA has no programmers on staff, but Zoho CRM has proven simple to integrate.
“For us, it was about how connected can we make CRM to our organization,” Herrera says.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.