Local Union works anywhere with Office 365

cupe_401_logoOffice 365

CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) is the largest labour union in B.C. and in Canada, representing workers in municipalities, education, libraries, universities, colleges, social services, health care, public utilities, transportation, emergency services and airlines and around 680,000 members across Canada.

The Union local in itgroove’s area of Canada (Vancouver Island) is CUPE Local 401. Until recently, they had a single Microsoft SBS (Small Business Server) located in their office. SBS 2011 delivered Exchange, SharePoint (2007), File Sharing, MS SQL, Active Directory and is an all-in-one, more cost-effective package – on average  45% cheaper than licensing those components individually would cost.

The problem was SBS has been effectively morphed into Windows Server Essentials, which removes key components such as Exchange and is also limited to 25 users instead of the 75 permitted by SBS 2011.

CUPE Local 401’s SBS server had many happy years, allowing Exchange-powered email, basic file collaboration, and simple team sites in the Windows SharePoint Services portal. The local came to rely on it as their centralized portal and the bulk of the organizations digital assets orbited the system.

Times change however, and in addition to just general software lifecycle pains, new requirements come up. There became an obvious need for new functionality:

– Workflows to run procedural business processes
– Mobile access so staff members can work on the go
– Simplified enterprise backup of all their data, moving away from on-site managed backup
– Easier collaboration in team sites with more/new functionality
– Instant Messaging so staff members can streamline communications

Additionally, CUPE Local 401 maintained a public website using the Joomla CMS.  However it was generally regarded as not very usable for their staff to edit and update content – in fact, they had all but abandoned trying to update their website content themselves. The learning curve was simply too high for them to absorb how to use yet another software system (Joomla).

So when it came time to look at bringing CUPE Local 401’s systems up to date, there was one clear, cost-effective solution: Office 365.  Working with Bob Palmer, the Secretary Treasurer at CUPE 401, itgroove formulated a migration plan for CUPE Local 401 to move into the Office 365 Cloud, and since then there has been no looking back.

In the first phase, we quickly signed up the required user accounts on their new Office 365 presence. Since Office 365 is licensed on a per-user basis, it was determined they required a mixture of Enterprise E3 and Enterprise K1 (Kiosk) user accounts. The executive and staff members that required full Office 365 functionality including being able to download the Office 2013 desktop software would get the E3 accounts, and those members who only needed email access and lighter functionality went on the K1 plan.

Our in-house Office 365 specialist (and Exchange whiz), Jeremy Dahl, worked to backup each users local Outlook mailbox and then migrate them into their new Office 365 Exchange system. It’s good to have a pro stick-handle this phase as users tend to do all kinds of crazy stuff with their Outlook inboxes over the years, including letting them grow to huge file sizes by using email inappropriately as a file transfer method. 🙂

Next, we used the great ShareGate to migrate their SharePoint 2007 portals from the SBS server into their new cloud-based SharePoint 2013 team site. Once again – for a simple migration you should be able to get the job done with ease. When it comes to moving many years’ worth of organizational data, even when you have access to semi-automated tools like ShareGate, it’s best to have a SharePoint pro involved so that you can ensure maximum fidelity with your SharePoint migration. Sometimes it’s less of a technical issue and more of “do we really need those 2 gigabytes of old files, in our new SharePoint?”.

The next step was to create their new public website. All Office 365 plans include one public SharePoint-powered website.  We quickly sourced a 3rd party theme to apply to the out-of-the-box look and feel of the site and in addition to the content pages, added a couple 3rd party Apps from the new Office SharePoint Apps store. These Apps increased the site’s functionality by providing a blog aggregator on their homepage, and a “Latest Events” calendar rollup web part.

CUPE Local 401 members were pleasantly surprised to find that a full Blog system comes baked into the public website and were in no time posting news from their executive to their members. They are now working with itgroove to flesh out a communications strategy which includes new blog posts getting automatically posted on Facebook & Twitter – eliminating the need for the staff chore of re-posting news releases and content on many different websites.

CUPE-401 Office 365 Public Site Homepage
CUPE-401.com Public Office 365 Website

We’ve experienced that customers that formerly had WordPress or Joomla are updating their content on their own in their new SharePoint portal with much more ease. The secret? It’s the Ribbon. They were already familiar with the Ribbon in Office (and possibly their SharePoint Team Sites) and this was such a simple extension of that knowledge that these formerly “technically intimidated” users are updating their own website content.

CUPE Local 401’s case has been a prime example of this effect: staff members of various technical aptitude levels express that they feel more comfortable using the new Office 2013 UI and can accomplish more before getting “stumped” and having to refer to the help section or seeking professional advice. This is an essential trait of a usable CMS.

CUPE Local 401 now has one centralized dashboard for all their systems, and no longer has to have someone manage backups for them as all their data is secure in Microsoft’s tier-1 datacenters. Health indicators show if there’s any problems with the global networks, with detailed descriptions of what the response is and what to expect, should glitches ever occur. They also now have 24/7 support for free in case there is an after-hours or weekend issue that we at itgroove cannot help them out with, or even if they just have simple questions about how to use Office 365.

CUPE Local 401 Office 365 Aministration Dashboard
CUPE Local 401’s Office 365 Administration Dashboard

We asked some key questions of Bob Palmer from CUPE Local 401, so he could share CUPE Local 401’s experience with their move to Office 365 cloud firsthand:

Q1- How has Office 365 made it easier for you to accomplish CUPE work anywhere?

“All staff & executive members access Outlook Web Access, the SharePoint team sites from both inside the office and out. The mobile experience with SharePoint and the webmail is great and lets us be mobile. We are just getting started with using Lync as our instant messenger service and so far it seems to be a great option for communicating and doing remote meetings.”

Q2- What is your favourite Office 365 feature?

“Integration. The fact that we now have one style of system which manages our intranet, our public site and our email is great. And we now rolling out SharePoint Workflows.”

Q3- Does an Office 365 subscription allow you to get more work done outside the office?

“It’s easier by far to access. We previously were having to make concessions like having people use remote desktop to access certain systems. Now everything is all available and accessible to everyone in the organization. It’s easy to navigate and easy to use.”

Q4- Since you have an Enterprise E3 license that allows up to 5 installs of the desktop Office 2013 per user account (including on home devices) – Does your family use it?

“Yes – in addition to my workstation at the office, I have an additional install of Office 2013 on my personal laptop which orbits work and home.”

In conclusion, the move to Office 365 has been a positive experience for both itgroove (as the IT Service Partner for CUPE Local 401), and the client themselves. While there’s some nostalgia about retiring the traditional on-premise server model, ultimately the Cloud model can maximize the business goals of small business clients by reducing infrastructure, maintenance and support footprints. Having a trusted IT partner to provide guidance will never go out of style but the Office 365 advantage is that we can focus on offering clients like CUPE Local 401 help where it’s really needed such as designing workflows, business intelligence and training.