news Telecommunications infrastructure construction and maintenance firm Service Stream has revealed that it has deployed more than 1,400 seats of Microsoft’s Office 365, in one of the largest known rollouts of the software as a service platform in Australia outside of the education sector.
Service Stream provides services to companies such as Telstra relating to the construction and management of their network facilities, as well as water and energy utilities. For the financial year ended June 2012, for example, it services some 6,000 mobile phone tower sites as one of its activities.
In a statement issued by Microsoft in late December, the company’s chief information officer Craig Wishart said Office 365 represented the best office productivity suite for the company’s overall IT strategy. “In a contract-driven services business, it is essential that we can scale our technology costs in line with revenue,” the executive said. “Office 365 allows for agility, enabling us to mobilise our team faster, and begin delivery to our customers sooner. Should we need 500 new mailboxes tomorrow, it’s a few clicks away, without delays for capacity assessments or procurement.”
It appears as though Service Stream was already using a traditional version of Office previously, as the company said that the deployment allowed its employees to enjoy “the same familiar Microsoft Office interface”, negating the need for user training. The software as a service approach of the technology has also allowed the company to change its mentality regarding how its employees work.
“Office 365 will provide our employee’s with access to email from virtually anywhere: in the office, at home or from a customer site, giving maximum flexibility,” said Greg Rudakov, Service Stream’s head of service operations. “Supervisors can now spend more time in-field while our customer focused team can address commitments and promises made to delivering quality of service.”
According to Microsoft’s statement, Office 365’s interoperability also gives Service Stream the ability to offer a bring your own device (BYOD) capability to its employees, providing the necessary flexibility in the company’s choice of corporate smartphone standards. The statement said the flexibility will deliver an uplift in cross company communication and collaboration as employees were now able to work on the move whilst reducing the need and requirement to be in the office. “Our workforce is predominantly field-based and our ability to deliver work and communications to our infield and national team members is vital to our business and the way in which we manage our work,” said Rudakov.
Service Stream is also deploying Microsoft’s Lync unified communications suite. The company said that it had consolidated several audio and video platforms into the Lync system, resulting in savings of over $100,000 per annum. In addition, it claims to have increased conference calls by 250 percent, and within 10 days of deployment, over 5,500 instant messages had been deployed daily — reducing the company’s reliance on traditional email for communications.
“With offices and facilities spread across Australia, video conferencing is the basis of our engagement strategy. Lync has allowed an increase in face time, easier sharing of information and has built a ‘connectiveness’ across teams who aren’t necessarily based in the same region,” said Service Stream CIO Wishart.
The company has also deployed Microsoft’s SharePoint Online service and is planning to use the platform in future as its main source of document management, content management and knowledge sharing functionality.
Office 365 has been available in Australia for some time, but has broadly struggled to gain acceptance in major corporations and government departments, with most major organisations preferring to remain with traditional versions of Microsoft Office and Outlook/Exchange platforms. However, the company has been making gradual progress over the past several years with the service, especially in organisations which have so-called ‘fringe’ workers who do not need to sit at a desk all day completing office work. For example, in early December flight booking service Webjet revealed it had adopted Office 365, and in July it was Qantas adopting the platform.
Office 365’s main rival is seen as being Google Apps, which has recently signed up new Australian customers including publisher Fairfax, Woolworths (the retail giant’s store managers will use the service) and others. Both Microsoft and Google have a major established presence in Australia’s education sector, where students and staff alike have been encouraged to use the two rival SaaS suites.
Service Stream’s Office 365 deployment appears to be a classic case of a major organisation with a large number of so-called ‘fringe’ workers — workers who don’t sit at desks all day — deploying a SaaS office suite because it’s inexpensive, portable and easier to administrate than the more traditional office/email suites. However, the size of the deployment is significant — so far we’ve seen relatively few deployments of SaaS office suites of this size outside the education sector. In my view, Office 365 is gaining a strong degree of acceptance in Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it being used in government shortly.