Ready to Dive into Software as a Service?
Reprinted with permission from the Microsoft Small Business Center
Randy Niederer had a problem. As director of marketing for Unico, a St. Louis-based manufacturer of specialty heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment, he’d gathered leads, which were then sent to about 150 independent sales representatives. Unfortunately, the CRM software he used for tracking the leads proved too inflexible to meet the needs of the independent sales reps, who found the application cumbersome and often experienced problems entering complete information about their sales calls. The upshot? Unico had trouble knowing how or where its products were being sold or installed. Consequently, it was hard to improve sales, offer targeted marketing, and resolve customer service issues promptly.
Sales problems of a different sort plagued The Linc Group, a provider of high-value facilities management and building systems services. Headquartered in Irvine, California, the company has a geographically dispersed sales organization that serves customers in 45 states and 6 countries. With such a widely distributed organization, employees lacked ready access to standardized content and therefore found it difficult to create precise, professional proposals and contracts. Instead, they cobbled together proposals from previous documents, adding in content gleaned from e-mails and various internal information sites. The jury-rigged documents were time-consuming to create and frequently were riddled with redundancies, inconsistencies, and outright errors, which necessitated a lengthy legal review.
A widely scattered workforce created woes of a different sort for Briess Malt and Ingredients Company of Chilton, Wisconsin, a major producer of ingredients for the food, brewing, and pet food industries. With some 1,500 customers spread across North America, Briess relies on a mobile workforce that is often disconnected from the corporate network for days at a time. This created a big headache for the IT staff, who didn’t know which users had received the latest software updates. Often, IT personnel only became aware of a PC problem after the fact, when an employee returned to the office and complained about a computer glitch. This situation was not only inefficient, it created security issues that were exacerbated by the fact that the company’s security solution was not integrated with its PC-management software. Finally, the company was keeping track of its IT assets manually, an onerous, time-consuming chore that meant waiting for remote workers to return to the office in order to check what systems they were using. This catch-as-catch-can method of asset tracking made it tough to plan for IT purchases.
So, what do these three companies have in common? They all resolved their problems by utilizing Microsoft software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. Each solution was different, of course, but all took advantage of the scalability and affordability of cloud-based services, and the flexibility, reliability, and ease-of-use of Microsoft online offerings.
For Unico, the adoption of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online took care of the problems in tracking sales and installations. Compared to the company’s previous CRM solution (Salesforce.com), Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online offered a flexible, intuitive lead management system that was readily embraced by the independent sales representatives. The key was in the user interface, which was based on familiar Microsoft products like Office. In addition, the interface was easily tailored to Unico’s business processes, which made it far simpler for sales reps to enter data. According to marketing director Niederer, “There were salespeople who were concerned that the new system would be difficult to use, but they’ve since come back to us and said the system is so easy that it will be much easier to follow up on leads.”
Unico now has forms on its Web site that are automatically linked to the customer relationship management solution. “Distributors, contractors, and even homeowners can enter data about their purchases, serial numbers, and installation dates and all that information is automatically entered into the system,” says Niederer. This gives Unico a much more complete picture of its sales cycles and customer data. What’s more, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online has proven extremely cost-effective compared to Salesforce.com and is expected to pay for itself within 18 months.
You don’t need to have Unico’s hierarchical sales structure to profit from Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. Any company that wants to improve its relationship with its customers (and what company doesn’t?) can benefit from Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online’s ease of use and powerful analytics. With Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, you’ll have the customer intelligence needed to perform real-time analysis and to streamline your business operations. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online interoperates with your Microsoft Office applications using compelling CRM tools, all delivered over the Internet.
Your marketing professionals will have a full suite of data management and segmentation tools, campaign management features, and marketing analytics. They’ll profit from insightful analysis of marketing programs and demand generation, and they’ll plan, launch, and manage campaigns using streamlined workflows. Your sales force will love the fast access to customer data and history, which allows them to spend more time selling and less time on mundane administrative chores. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online also provides salespeople with wizard-driven communications for altering existing customers and prospects to new product and service offerings.
The Linc Group found the consistency it needed by deploying a custom SaaS solution built on top of the Microsoft Business Productivity Suite, which included Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Office Live Meeting, and Microsoft Office Communications Online, all coordinated with Microsoft Office 2007 system on employees’ computers. The resulting solution enabled salespeople to access pre-approved document components from a SharePoint Online library and then, using a customized add-in called Document Composer, to compose proposals and contracts. Because it is a cloud-based solution, it was quickly deployed and required no additional IT investment from the customer. With all the components other than the Microsoft Office applications and the Document Composer running in Microsoft datacenters, The Linc Group didn’t have to invest in new hardware, software, or support.
As great as this solution was, there is even better news today. With the soon-to-be-released Microsoft Office 365, businesses can access a complete SaaS package that offers the familiar Office applications and the new Office Web Apps, along with Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online-all with the affordability and flexibility of a cloud-based subscription service. With Office 365, you’ll have a variety of plans from which to choose, priced from $6 to $27 per month per user, and all with Microsoft’s 99.9% uptime guarantee. Your employees will have anywhere access to their email, documents, contacts, and calendar from almost any PC, Mac, or smartphone. With Office Web Apps they’ll be able to view, edit, and share documents. And each user will have a 25 gigabyte mailbox, access to sites to share documents securely with customers and colleagues, malware protection, integrated IM and presence, and online meetings with audio/video conferencing.
As for Briess Malt and Ingredients Company, they found relief from their PC management problems by implementing Windows Intune, a cloud computing solution that delivers PC management, information security, and asset management services through a single web console. Windows Intune helps safeguard the company’s PCs from malicious software with tools from the Microsoft Forefront Protection Suite and Microsoft Security Essentials. IT administrators can monitor company computers even if they are not connected to the corporate network; employees only have to connect their computers to the Internet.
“Having a cloud-based PC management solution is huge for us,” says Derek Schauland, information technology manager at Briess. “With Windows Intune, I can provide earlier diagnosis and resolution, along with improved security.” And with the Windows Intune asset tracking features, Schauland can assess the company’s IT needs and forecast future spending more accurately. “I can use Windows Intune to gain insight into the systems, hardware, and applications used in our organization at any time,” says Schauland. “It’s helping me decide which IT investments to make-and when to make them.”
Think about what Windows Intune could mean for your business, especially if, like Briess, you have a large number of remote workers. Windows Intune helps you your PCs from virtually anywhere. You’ll have rock-solid endpoint protection from the latest security threats, and you will be able to keep your PCs up to date with the centrally managed deployment of Microsoft updates and service packs. And you’ll simplify the tracking of your IT assets and software licenses, enabling you to maximize your existing investments. What’s more, a Windows Intune subscription includes upgrade rights to the latest Windows operating system, including, of course, Windows 7 Enterprise. This means you can standardize your PC environment on the best Windows experience. In short, you’ll get an all-around solution that includes PC management, endpoint protection, and standardization on the Windows operating system of your choice, all with the reliability and affordability of a Microsoft cloud solution.
So there you have it: a quick overview of Microsoft SaaS solutions that can catapult your business into the catbird seat. Whether you need world-class CRM, state-of-the art productivity and collaboration, or iron-clad PC management and security, you owe it to yourself to investigate the flexible, reliable, and affordable cloud subscriptions from Microsoft.