Caltex taps Office 365 to unite workforce

To bring its 3,500 disparate workers from across Australia closer to the company, Caltex implemented Microsoft Office 365.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

With over 3,500 staff spread across the country, Caltex Australia must provide adequate communication and collaboration tools for its entire workforce. The oil company's workers span not just metropolitan areas, but remote regions as well, with workers often out and about providing fuel to customers.

Caltex CIO Steve Fox.
Image: Caltex

Caltex had been using an in-house IBM Lotus Notes environment, which provided basic email for a long time, with no browser-based mail access at all. The only way to access emails remotely was through BlackBerry devices.

"We had very limited external access to email, and it was all through a virtual private network (VPN)," Caltex CIO Steve Fox told ZDNet. "If there were any issues with the VPN, Lotus Notes would be very susceptible to dropouts — it was very temperamental."

Attempting to bring Caltex's disparate workforce together to make staff more engaged with the company, was becoming cumbersome, he said.

"Having good connectivity back to the office was becoming a real big priority for us," Fox said. "We knew we needed to make the move away from what we had."

After tossing up between Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS), Google Enterprise Apps, and IBM LotusLive, the company settled on the Microsoft option.

"When you look back to 2010, cloud was kind of in its infancy and Microsoft already had a proven track record with customers," Fox said. "The other reason why we decided on BPOS was that Microsoft had a roadmap of improvements that it was happy to share with us."

The impetus for Caltex's move to the cloud was to put more focus on business change management rather than on technology change, and knowing the roadmap for BPOS helped with that, according to Fox.

"We know we can deliver a certain feature at a particular time, so we can work back from there and start educating people," he said. "That was a really powerful thing for us, because that let us start focusing on business productivity, not on when a particular server will be built and so on."

In mid-2011, Caltex replaced its Lotus Notes setup with Microsoft BPOS, a cloud-based offering which featured the vendor's Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications, and Live Meeting products.

At the time, BPOS' successor Microsoft Office 365 was still in beta and Caltex had the option to be a guinea pig for the new online suite. It was a difficult decision, but the company chose to travel down the safer route, going with the tried-and-tested BPOS first, with plans to migrate to Office 365 a year later.

Microsoft and IT service provider Kloud both helped Caltex with the Lotus Notes to BPOS migration. Microsoft did the heavy lifting with migrating the mailboxes, and ensuring the Lotus Notes and new Exchange mailboxes co-existed in harmony during the move over a six-week period.

Kloud, on the other hand, helped Caltex design the new email architecture, integrating mail into a number of areas, including faxing functionalities and identity managers.

"Email is quite often a repository of identity within an organisation, so when you move your email system, particularly into a cloud hosted email system, you have to manage the identity of individuals," Fox said. "We needed a good approach to identify management, so as part of the project ,we implemented IBM's Tivoli Security Identity Manager product."

He noted that without Kloud's wealth of experience in this space, the rollout wouldn't have been successful.

Active directory also presented a challenge for Caltex.

"We spent a lot of time cleaning that up," Fox said. "Also, I assumed there would be very little technical setups and had forgotten all about the integration side of things — it's something you can't underestimate, particularly in an environment like ours.

"We still have a large number of Lotus Notes databases, so there's a lot of integration into other systems."

The migration from BPOS to Microsoft Office 365, which took place in July 2012, was much simpler and only took one weekend to complete. Caltex currently holds 3,875 licences for the cloud productivity suite, some of which were assigned to contractors.

Office 365 features Exchange, SharePoint, the vendor's communications server software Lync, Office Professional Plus, and Office Web Apps. Just like BPOS, this was a software-as-a-service offering. Caltex did not take on SharePoint.

While staff were at first craving the comfort of using the familiar BPOS, new features such as Lync gained traction within the company through word of mouth.

"We didn't really push out the change management for Lync initially, so we just did the backend migration," Fox said. "Then we started to push it to staff and told them, 'here's Lync, it's a chat client, but it allows you to do desktop sharing and video communications'.

"It was very reliable, and uptake of the service grew as more people discovered how easy it was to use — they really started to enjoy using it."

One thing Fox found that was still missing, even after the implementation of Office 365, was a social engagement component within the company. Just like how internal emails replaced paper memos within companies, social channels similar to Facebook, Twitter, and even RSS feeds, would help staff communicate within a business, he said.

Of course, privacy is a concern, and it'll be a long way before this concept takes off within in the business space, according to Fox.

"That will probably be the next big thing for us," he said.

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