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Microsoft cloud services provide construction firm with cost-savings, increased productivity

Walsh Group Construction is finding that buying into Microsoft’s Enterprise Mobility Suite and Office 365 saved $200,000 in capital costs and . 20% off operational costs for disaster recovery

Chicago-based Walsh Group Construction is finding that buying into Microsoft’s Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility Suite is yielding a mixed bag of benefits – better BYOD, cost-saving, time-saving, increased productivity – but adopting the cloud services required a dose of blind trust in their security.

Patrick Wirtz, Innovation manager

Patrick Wirtz, Innovation manager, Walsh Group Construction, Chicago

The services helped reduce capital and operational costs, got more applications into the hands of more workers on more devices and allowed for tighter authentication practices, says Patrick Wirtz, innovation manager for Walsh Group.

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Walsh saved $200,000 in capital costs and lops 20% off operational costs for disaster recovery by using the Office 365 rather than buying more servers to handle recovery and managing them in-house, he says.

Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) brought multi-factor authentication to logins as well as the ability to more effectively assign and revoke rights, and to allow users to reset their own passwords, he says.

That’s all good, but he admits that buying into the cloud services in the first place meant accepting Microsoft’s word about security since Microsoft doesn’t reveal a lot of details about how its cloud is secured. “There is definitely a leap of faith,” he says.

But Microsoft says it meets a host of security standards and regulations that can be verified through independent audit reports. And Wirtz says he’s worked with Microsoft products for more than 10 years and has access to its product team, which gave him confidence.

And that leap is backed up by contract language that leaves Microsoft open to liability for breaches, he says. “Nothing prevents me from going after them. They’re as much on the hook as I am.”

Relying on the service gives Walsh the 24-hour coverage Microsoft provides to its cloud infrastructure, something Walsh could not afford on its own, he says.

Walsh Group is a long-time Microsoft shop that has 150 to 200 construction sites active at any given time. With headquarters in Chicago, it has 20 regional offices. All the job sites have Internet connections and VPN to headquarters via Cisco VPN gear. The regional offices have Internet connections but also connect to an MPLS VPN.

The company has followed a gradual path toward its adoption of Enterprise Mobility Suite, which consists of mobile device management service Intune, Azure Active Directory Premium and Azure Rights Management.

In January 2013, the company started looking at Microsoft cloud services by considering Office 365, the cloud version of Microsoft’s Office suite - Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, and OneNote. It also includes One Drive for Business, Microsoft’s cloud storage and collaboration service.

Wirtz says at the time Walsh was particularly interested in Exchange Online for its email disaster recovery and backup features, and that was the first feature the company rolled out. As Office 365 apps were used more and more, he decided that licensing EMS could promote their use further and improve management.

One immediate impact of adopting EMS was a boost to the company’s BYOD program. The company issues just a few iPhones and iPads to some employees, he says, but more want to use these devices because they are more convenient than laptops in certain settings.

With EMS, employees can use their personal phones to access email via the Mobile Outlook Web Access client. Before it was possible for employees to enroll their phones into the Exchange environment, but that meant Walsh’s IT department could control the entire phone, he says. The app lets IT manage just Exchange access.

“Now we’re at the point where we can only control that one application,” he says, which makes users more apt to use it. And IT is happier without having to deal with whatever personal apps and data are on the phones, he says. “We didn’t like that, and the end users didn’t like that.”

Users can also bring their iPads to work and access content stored in OneDrive for Business. Before the company enabled its use for BYOD workers, those using iPads had to bring the devices to an office, plug them into a laptop, load the PDFs they wanted via iTunes and unplug the device.

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