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Cloud Success at G&J Pepsi

With a workforce of some 1,600 employees, G&J Pepsi Bottlers turned to Microsoft Azure Cloud Services to keep users happy and back-end systems running efficiently.

G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers, the largest family-owned Pepsi franchise in the US, is based in Ohio. The company employs some 1,600 workers, most of whom are mobile. Over the last five years, the IT staff at G&J has migrated all of the company's critical infrastructure and application environments to the cloud, driving a digital transformation with dramatic repercussions for the business as a whole.

Eric McKinney, Cloud Services Manager at G&J, explained that the move began with Microsoft Exchange Online. His staff was happy to offload the burden of backup and archiving, and users were excited to see their mailbox sizes jump from 50MB to 50GB.

Expanding from email to critical systems

The cloud journey continued to SharePoint Online and OneDrive; McKinney and his team pushed out social communication tools like Yammer and Skype, as well. "About two years ago, because of these cloud technologies, our user accounts exploded from about 400 to about 1,600 users, with about 1,100 mobile users," he said. He credits the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS) solution with helping manage this small army of workers and devices. He added:

We needed to provide single sign-on for ADP [payroll services], for Oracle, for Meraki, for all of these software-as-a-service solutions that we have. We also needed to secure our mobile devices and push applications to them. We've completely transformed the way our business operates.

Nathan Foster, Business Applications Manager at G&J, explained how cloud computing helped save time, money, and stress. "Users fell in love with the large mailboxes and we started to fall in love with what the cloud could provide us," he said.

We were staring down the barrel of a storage upgrade just to keep our users happy with the amount of file server space. We were looking at what it would cost to just buy the equipment to replace what we already had. Huge numbers. [But] We were able to move items to the cloud. All of our file server storage, all of our Exchange storage, all of our SharePoint storage, and not have to replace that equipment. With that equipment also comes a lot of load on us IT people. There's headaches of back-ups, replications, snapshots. Did all that stuff happen in the way it's supposed to? We don't have to worry about that anymore with the cloud.

Leading the mobile revolution

"If you look at what [G&J] were doing before, everything was paper-based. Two-thirds of their employees are in the field, they're mobile, and every morning those employees had to come in and they would get a stack of papers that would call out what they were going to do for the day. If they needed to make any adjustments or there were any opportunities, it was very difficult for them to [communicate]; it just wasn't very agile," explained Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft.

With cloud-based productivity apps and EMS, the game has changed. "If they have a fantastic idea or they want to share something, they take a picture, they scribble something in OneNote, it gets shared with everyone else in the field and back to corporate headquarters," Anderson enthused. "The collaboration and the ability for the organization to be agile and adjust to business is through-the-roof positive, but it also needs to be secured, and that's where they use EMS. They're using Intune to manage all the mobile devices and make sure that that corporate data is secure and safe. They're also using Azure Active Directory Premium to do that single sign-on to all the cloud apps that they're using."

McKinney added that G&J was already using Microsoft Intune to manage its desktop computers, so expanding it to the mobile realm was easy. In fact, once user groups and permissions were set up in Intune, Nathan Foster was able to create a step-by-step playbook that non-IT staff at the company can use to enroll new devices.

"My role was to develop a playbook where we could empower other people in the company to enroll a phone and then have all the other parts of it automated," Foster said. "Once a phone gets rolled out, all the apps hit, all the policies hit. It's not even configuration files; it's just point-and-click inside Intune, telling the system what it's supposed to do per group, assigning the users to the group, and then having them log in to the phone.

Transforming business and IT relationships

"It's really transformed our whole department," said Chris Witzgall, VP of Information Systems at G&J. "Prior to moving to Microsoft cloud, we spent a lot of time keeping servers and storage devices updated, running, refreshed. Now we can use that time we save that we used to do that, and now we're transforming the business in ways that they've never seen before by helping them adopt and initiate new technologies that we have available to us."

Daniel Foster, Director of IT at G&J, described the transition's effect on his IT team. "When your team starts to transition into the cloud, they go away from doing typical patch management, server installations, those sorts of things. They have to refocus," he said. Cloud services are easier to manage than on-premises technologies, so the IT pros at G&J have shifted from a 'check off items on a to-do list' mentality to a problem-solving role.

"We have to research, and read some white papers, and learn what the tools can do," he explained, "but a lot of their time now is spent figuring out, 'how do I get this to work and solve a problem' versus just, 'I want to check the box.'"

In the next installment, we'll explore how McKinney and the Fosters used Microsoft Power BI and PowerApps to solve everyday challenges and create a new revenue stream for G&J.