InterCity Group

Taking a deep dive into Office 365 migration and roll out

InterCity Group profitably combines the country’s top passenger transport and tourism networks of InterCity, GreatSights, Gray Line New Zealand, Fullers GreatSights and awesomeNZ.com.

In at the deep end

In 2018 InterCity acquired two highly-regarded Cairns-based dive companies, Divers Den and Tusa Dive, within the same twelve months. The business objective was to transform them from direct competitors into one consolidated offering to its customers.

This was easier said than done. Both companies had a passion for the dive industry, but that’s where the similarity ended. There was little technological alignment between the two, or with their new parent company.

“They were using separate email systems and onsite servers,” says Pete Yates, chief technology officer for InterCity Group. “One was using a Mac server to store everything and had local email accounts set up on staff Macs. There was a very real risk of losing all their data if their server failed. And remote system access was via a VPN, so it wasn’t easy or streamlined.”

With the companies due to relocate their two separate functional teams and locations into one, and start their new life together in January 2019, it was critical to provide a common technology environment to smooth the way. InterCity Group uses the Microsoft 365 suite of products, including email, SharePoint and OneDrive. So the ideal solution decision was an easy one, says Yates.

“The new business needed technology they could use anywhere and anytime,” says Yates. “Staff needed single sign-on access to years of historical emails and documents, plus the ability to work securely work from home or while on the road. A successful migration to Office 365 would provide all of this.”

Championing unity

While there was an obvious need to sort the two companies out from a systems perspective, Yates says it was just as critical they support the 70 dive staff in the new business throughout the cultural upheaval.

“Unaligned technology over several locations wouldn’t help us build a strong new culture,” says Yates. “We had to unite two companies together in one place, under one general manager, one leadership team and one technology platform. It was important to us that the new entity felt like part of the total InterCity Group, and could get on with business as usual, as quickly as possible.”

With a go-live date of 28 January 2019 for Office 365 announced just weeks before Christmas, the pressure was on.

Fusion5, dive buddy

InterCity Group appointed Fusion5 as their Microsoft technology partner in 2018. “As a Microsoft Gold Partner they’re a good fit with our business,” says Yates. “Fusion5 has a highly competent and experienced Microsoft practice, and are right-sized for our organisation.”

The group has already consolidated its enterprise systems and made significant investments in Microsoft products, including the Office 365 suite. Fusion5 had worked closely with Yates on their business’ Microsoft Dynamics CRM solution and is currently replacing the group’s current financial solution with Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations. All of which made Fusion5 the natural choice of partner for migrating the new dive business to Office 365.

“Fusion5 has been very good to work with,” says Yates. “They know us and our business well. I’ve been rationalising business relationships which don’t add value. We want partners, not vendors or suppliers. So I’ve settled on a couple of key partners including Fusion5. We appreciate their ability to support us all around New Zealand as well as Australia as we expand our business reach.”

The big migration

Migrating years and years of emails and documents from the old shared servers and office devices to Office 365 was not a simple process. And the more time the Fusion5 consultant spent onsite, the more unanticipated data nasties he uncovered. 

However, the project was so urgent that Yates directed Fusion5 to do whatever it took to make it happen. “We needed a fast and successful outcome. All the business documents and email data had to be ready to migrate to Office 365 by the end of January.”

Fusion5’s consultant also discovered four local email accounts used by the dive companies that weren’t even on their servers, which had to be painstakingly migrated manually.

Yates and Fusion5 also fronted up when they uncovered several shared mailboxes which were being accessed by multiple employees.  The lack of system controls on a generic address with untracked access made it impossible to see who had logged in to the mailboxes to clear and send emails – authorised or otherwise.

Another ‘surprise’ challenge was the need to maintain access to Office 365 onboard dive boats while out at sea. The boats use satellite communications beyond cellular range. However, this involves opening firewalls to allow the team to use Office 365. Several weeks of testing finally established which network port the skippers now depend on to send emails on demand.

Due to the volume of data and the short timeframe, Yates asked Fusion5 to deal with the most current data first, sorting out a more formal document structure later on. “Fusion5’s consultant was highly responsive, which was exactly what we needed,” says Yates. “He was very good working with the dive companies, and collaborated tightly with our group’s IT team.”

Setting sail

One of the dive companies was familiar with using Microsoft products, so their people adapted to using Office 365 with relative ease. For the other business, it wasn’t plain sailing.

“After years of using Macs and being accustomed to the Apple way of working,” says Yates, “they had to get used to new technology and new processes. Everything changed for them, right down to the everyday activity of creating and sending emails.”

Yates says several lessons were taken away from the super-speed migration project.

“We learned not to underestimate the power of training and communications for users, and to understand the current setup before you embark on anything new! Unfortunately, in this instance, we didn’t have the timeframe to do either as thoroughly as we would have liked. Next time I’ll make sure we have time.”

“We’d have benefited from recognising the value of delivering extra training the week after go-live. And then following up with more, three or four weeks later, once everyone had settled into using Office 365.”

Coming up for air

As the group CTO, Yates sees IT as an enabler. He takes it personally when people say IT stopped them from doing something. “IT should just work,” he says, “and if done right, it should help people do their jobs, not hinder them.”

The dive business project has underscored his ‘help, not hinder’ philosophy.

Office 365 has totally replaced the old deployed mail servers and mail infrastructure for the dive business. It provides a simple, low maintenance single sign-in solution for the new business. And because all the services are hosted in Office 365’s cloud environment, InterCity Group has significantly improved its technology environment without investing in new infrastructure.

Office 365 allows Yates to enforce email permissions, issue individual logins and track email usage. And with the experience gained from this project, it promises a larger degree of self-reliance on future migrations.

With Office 365, there’s no need for dive shop staff to use a VPN to access, upload and edit documents. As long as they have an internet connection they can check in as they travel and visit the InterCity Group business intranet to keep up to date with what other people in the group are doing.

“They now feel and behave as one business,” says Yates. “I’d call that success.”

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