Australian Tourist Park Management eyes the cloud

At Microsoft, we really focus on helping people do the things they care about anywhere, anytime, on any device with the help of cloud services they can trust. It’s helping to realise this potential that drives the steps we are taking to start delivering our cloud productivity suite – Office 365 – and cloud business application – Dynamics CRM Online – from data centres in Australia by the end of March, 2015.

Customers tell us that locally-hosted services are important in helping them take a step into the cloud, with reasons ranging from better performance to managing data residency considerations. As importantly, customers and partners also see the value of our platform in building innovative solutions and approaches that are helping deliver new ways of working, better efficiencies and growth opportunities.

As we prepare to deliver locally hosted services from Australia, we spoke with – Jonathan Morris, IT Operations Supervisor, Australian Tourist Park Management (ATPM) and their partner, Ozbizweb, Elliot Munro. ATPM is a mid-sized company with operations spread all across Australia. Technology, and specifically, the cloud plays a vital role in keeping ATPM connected and humming like a well-oiled engine.

Expanding ATPM’s footprint

ATPM provides a wide range of services to the holiday park and resort industry and has successfully operated under a multiple facilities model since its inception in 1993, growing from its first management contract of seven holiday parks to currently managing 30 parks and resorts throughout Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. The company employs 82 staff members, many of whom work in remote locations.

However, along with that expansion came some IT challenges – with each new park having different IT infrastructure, different internet connections and email systems and different even operating systems. Added to that was the problem of physical distance between communicating with the widely dispersed parks.

“We would use retail boxes of software and send them around to the different parks and it was difficult to keep track of whether we had the correct number of licences for the number of computers we had,” recalled Jonathan Morris, IT Operations Supervisor.

“We also have a number of staff members who travel all over the place and they needed access to emails and their files from their mobiles and tablets while they were travelling.”

A local partner

As a long-term Microsoft customer, ATPM found the solution to their problems through Pinpoint, Microsoft’s partner network which enables customers searching for applications and services to find suitable Microsoft partners.

ATPM is based on the Gold Coast and through Pinpoint found Ozbizweb Group, a business headquartered at Tweed Heads that has been providing IT and Web services to Gold Coast and Northern Rivers businesses since 1996.
Ozbizweb’s Elliot Munro said, “ATPM presented a unique opportunity for us as they were facing a number of IT problems across different areas of their business.”

“It was clear that there would be no single product or magic bullet that would solve all their challenges.”

Ozbizweb identified three major IT pain points including; unreliable or inconsistent email operations; messy IT configurations and different software versions and missed communications and a lack of professionalism while conducting business with suppliers and customers.

“We designed and developed a custom solution that incorporates Office 365 and Windows Intune to address key requirements,” Mr Munro said.

Anywhere, Anytime

“The reliability of Office 365 replaces the uncertainty and unnecessary complexity of their existing on-premise servers,” he said. “Every staff member has access to Office Pro Plus on all PCs and laptops. Office 365’s mobile devices licences and SharePoint plus OneDrive for Business ensures that team members have ‘anywhere, anytime’ access to data and documents to get the job done,” said Mr Morris.

Mr Munro said Windows Intune and Exchange Online were used for security while Lync Online has been extremely effective in improving staff communication and is used for board meetings and online meetings with external suppliers.

There has been a 25% decrease in calls for IT support from ATPM staff, while the enhanced mobility features of Office 365 give employees greater opportunity for increased productivity along with improved security on their devices.

Real cost savings

From a pure OPEX perspective, ATPM is now saving $7000 a year thanks to predictable monthly software licensing, IT support costs with no additional server infrastructure required as the organisation continues to grow. This allows the company to reinvest as it continues to expand its footprint and on boarding new parks.

Since the deployment there have been zero outages or interruptions to ATPM’s email, with Office 365 delivering the promised reliability and functionality and Exchange Online giving increased email and calendar functionality.

Malware related support tickets have dropped by around 30 per cent since using Windows Intune and Office to consolidate software versions and deploy Windows Updates. Another bonus has come from a rise in the number of employees asking questions about the features of Office 365 as they learn how to make better use of services like SharePoint Online.

“Working with a Microsoft partner, we have not just received a software product off the shelf, rather a complete solution that solves real business problems,” Mr Morris said. “Our park managers range in age and skills and they’re mostly hired for their customer service, not their IT skills.”

The Microsoft Cloud

“With Microsoft Azure we can click a button and get a server running for a customer in minutes. We don’t have to have it delivered, we don’t have to plug it in and set it up” he said.

“We’re able to build solutions where they have a single point of contact. They have a single vendor that they deal with, which is Microsoft. And they’re able to manage their entire organisation from a single pane of glass, which is typically the Microsoft online services portal.

Mr Munro said Ozbizweb built their solutions on the Microsoft Cloud, “which are predominantly Office 365, Microsoft Azure and Dynamic CRM Online.”

A cloudy future

Moving forward ATPM is going to invest in Microsoft Azure and is planning to use the various Azure services to make their transition in a controlled way with plans to have all infrastructure running in the cloud.

“We’ve upgraded from our Windows Server 2003 to running our SQL databases on Windows Server 2012 R2 which are supported with Azure file backup.” Now that Azure Site Recovery is available in the Australian region, the company is looking to setup a failover option so that if the Gold Coast server fails, the Azure VM will kick in and staff will be able to continue as normal.

Mr Morris concluded: “Before the end of next year, we’ll be running ATPM’s servers exclusively on Azure.”

Now, with local Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online services and world-class offerings from our partners, we’re taking that innovation to the next level so customers and partners can do more and achieve more with our technology, which is what counts at the end of the day.

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