news Petrol and convenience store retailer Caltex has revealed it has completed a large migration away from IBM’s ailing Lotus Notes/Domino platform and onto Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud email system, alongside other associated technology deployments such as an upgrade of the company’s desktops to Windows 7.
Caltex is one of Australia’s largest service station brands, employing about 3,500 staff in every state and territory around the nation. It supplies about 2,000 Caltex-branded retail outlets around Australia and also sells fuel directly to other commercial customers such as large mining and agricultural companies.
However, despite its extensive footprint, the company hasn’t always been using the latest technology to support its operations. According to a Microsoft case study published this week, as late as 2010 Caltex was still using an older, on-premise deployed version of IBM’s Lotus Notes/Domino solution. At that time, Caltex didn’t have a webmail component to Notes installed, so accessing email while employees were travelling was difficult. In addition, the company had no no instant messaging or web conferencing tools. About 10 percent of the workforce had BlackBerry devices.
“We were reaching the end of life for our existing solution,” said Steve Fox, chief information officer at Caltex Australia, in Microsoft’s case study. “To access email, you had to be connected to the corporate network, and even though we had a VPN [virtual private network], it was not very reliable. Many employees experienced connectivity issues when out of the office. And when mail stopped working, it could slow down PCs and laptops. These issues generated many calls to the help desk.”
To resolve the issues, in 2010 the company’s IT department kicked off a project to examine the best way forward. Right from the start, Fox was more inclined to go with a hosted or cloud-based solution, rather than another on-premise deployment.
“In previous email projects, 60 percent of my time was devoted to working on infrastructure,” he said. “But with cloud-based services, Caltex can concentrate on business change management. We wouldn’t have to worry about paying for and setting up hardware, enabling us to deliver the benefits of new technology quickly and at reduced costs.”
In 2010, Caltex evaluated Microsoft cloud-based business productivity tools, Google Apps for Business, and LotusLive, hosted by IBM Collaboration Solutions. At that time, Microsoft cloud services were known as the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite — now the platform is known as Office 365. “Caltex chose Microsoft cloud services instead of the other solutions because we wanted a vendor with a proven delivery in the enterprise space and a very strong product roadmap,” said Fox. “We also looked at functionality and financials, and Microsoft won on both accounts.”
The company’s first step was to retire Notes and migrate about 3,000 mailboxes to Microsoft Exchange Online (hosted in Microsoft’s datacentres). Caltex then deployed Office Communications Online to deliver instant messaging and presence functionality to staff. “It was a conscious decision for us to take small steps on our journey to cloud computing,” said Fox. “We had Lotus Notes for a long time, and I wanted to stage the delivery of new communication services so we could minimize disruptions and better manage the business change, focusing first on email and introducing IM.”
In early 2012, Caltex added to the program by deploying Windows 7 across its operations, as well as the Professional Plus 2010 version of Microsoft Office. At that point, the company believed it was ready to start planning an upgrade to Microsoft’s new and more comprehensive and integrated cloud suite, Office 365. The focus initially was to implement the Lync Online collaboration tool. “We knew that employees really wanted desktop sharing and web conferencing to enable more work-from-home scenarios,” said Fox.
To prepare for the upgrade, Caltex engaged Microsoft Cloud Vantage Services, as well as Kloud Solutions, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, to help with the transition. “The transition to Office 365 was excellent; it literally happened over one weekend in August 2012,” said Fox. “For the end user, it was a seamless experience.”
To date, Caltex has acquired 3,875 Office 365 licenses. All employees are using Exchange Online for mail and 2,700 employees are using Lync Online for IM, web conferencing, and video conferencing. Caltex also installed the Lync 2010 mobile client on approximately 750 company mobile phone. In addition to managing email on their mobile devices, employees can now use mobile phones for IM and presence awareness capabilities.
The next step may see the company adopt SharePoint Online; the company currently uses an on-premise deployed version of SharePoint Server 2007.
The deployments have had a positive effect on the company’s workforce, with more than 90 percent of staff indicating they were happy with the change to Office 365, and staff productivity has risen courtesy of the new collaboration tools. Travel costs are also down as staff need to travel less, and support incidents are also down due to the Windows 7 upgrade.
I haven’t seen this kind of deployment with Office 365 specifically that much, although there has been the odd Office 365 deployment in Australia over the past year that has been worth mentioning. I’ve heard rumours of a similar large scale deployment at facilities management firm Spotless, for example.
However, it’s in the integrated nature of Caltex’s deployment that you can see Microsoft’s secret enterprise IT sauce working here. Microsoft is becoming like Oracle in the enterprise: Once you get a little Oracle into your IT environment, you end up getting a lot, because it all works nicely together and not as well with individual solutions from other companies. I can see a lot of Australian organisations deploying more cloud solutions from Microsoft over the next few years as this effect continues to be felt.
One thing I think organisations such as Caltex will obviously need to watch out for is to have a contingency plan if things go south with Microsoft. The IT industry has seen plenty of examples over the past few decades where a company with monopoly-like power has tightened its fist over its customers and started imposing unreasonable conditions. Putting everything in Microsoft’s cloud may seem like a good idea now, but what happens in five years when Microsoft starts racking up the price increases and it becomes difficult to find alternatives, given the integrated nature of Microsoft’s technology?
Right now, Microsoft is a really good company in the enterprise — it’s playing nice, that I can see, and trying its best to do well by its customers. But Microsoft hasn’t always been that way, and companies change. I hope the company keeps on the straight and narrow, for its customers’ sake.
One final note: I do wonder how many Lotus Notes customers there still are in Australia. It seems like we hear about a major Notes to Exchange migration pretty much every month now.