All on the same Teams: forging better connections through crisis

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

Man and woman having conversation

Over five decades, New Zealand tech solutions provider Datacom has helped countless businesses across Australasia reap the benefits of technology. As one of Microsoft’s largest local partners, it knows exactly how to get the most out of Microsoft’s suite of tools to help Kiwi organisations do more. And when the COVID-19 lockdown threatened to disrupt Datacom’s own business, it turned to Microsoft Teams to keep its operations – and New Zealand’s essential services – running faster than ever.

“It was the only way I could enable collaboration”

Datacom’s customers span a host of essential services up and down the country, from large government departments and city councils to financial services providers, supermarkets, hospitals and emergency services. When lockdown arrived, Datacom’s number one priority was to keep its customers going so they could be there for the rest of us.

But when Datacom’s own staff were working from homes and onsite at customers’ premises around New Zealand, it had just days to find a way to co-ordinate its efforts. With nearly 6,000 workers, simply communicating ongoing COVID-19 updates and new operating standards was going to be a challenge. Keeping on top of Datacom’s many urgent projects, mobilising and co-ordinating teams for new issues and providing support to workers and their families added many more layers of complexity.

Leading the pandemic response, Chief Information Officer Karl Wright had the perfect solution: Microsoft Teams. There was just one problem. While Datacom was a strong Microsoft 365 organisation, and some of the crew had already made the voluntary transition to Teams, most were still using Skype for Business. The old video conferencing workhorse simply didn’t provide the full functionality – or reliability – Datacom urgently needed.

“My role as the pandemic go-to meant a quick decision was needed to enable everyone to use Teams. It was the only way I could see to enable collaboration across the entire business,” said Karl Wright.

Kick-starting a mass migration

Rolling Teams out across the entire business meant scaling up the platform from only around 300 users to 5,500, in just four days. Fortunately, having the cloud-based Microsoft 365 already in place made deployment much easier.

“We managed to complete two years’ worth of migration in a week,” Wright says. “Teams was always on the roadmap, but COVID-19 just accelerated it a thousand times.”

The Teams migration included replacing Datacom’s old phone calling infrastructure with Teams calling. This meant phone calls would divert to mobiles, laptops – any internet-enabled device, so people were easier to get hold of, no matter where they were. Any messages would trigger a notification via email, ensuring no messages were lost.

It seems like an insurmountable task, but the job was made easier by the fact that Datacom’s people are no strangers to technology. Despite some early, typical concerns around using a new platform – any new platform – Teams soon became an essential part of Datacom life.

“I have to say, using Teams for the first time was much easier than other new products. People got used to it very quickly,” Wright says.

Since April 2020, Teams use has exploded across the business. There are now more than 10,000 internal Teams sites within Datacom, boosting collaboration and communication to unprecedented levels.Karl Wright standing next to a table

Whereas 90 per cent of team members’ interactions used to be done via voice chats, video calls now make up more than half, giving a feeling of real person to person connection that wasn’t possible before.

For a group of technology experts, the platform’s ability to integrate with other apps was ideal, making it super easy to customise and add extra functionality.

“If you took COVID-19 off the table and asked people whether they’d go back to what we were using before, they wouldn’t. Teams is a highly functional, seamless and enterprise-level tool, and Microsoft has been quick to make advances in technology that address any issues and make the experience better,” Wright says.

No customer left behind

It wasn’t just Datacom’s internal teams who needed migrating, either. Wright’s team knew customers would benefit just as much from switching to Teams, so they focused on helping partners make the transition at the same time.

“Not only was this an opportunity to boost productivity, it was about enabling communication when everyone was locked in their own places,” Wright says. “As a business, we pride ourselves on becoming a part of our customers’ teams and working alongside them to solve any issues, so it was important for us to open up Teams access externally, not just to our own people.”

Datacom’s customers were also quick to embrace Teams, able to work alongside Datacom’s people in one easy shared platform for the first time. More than 600 external teams, comprising 90 per cent of Datacom’s customers, are now transferring files, collaborating on projects, sharing drawings and diagrams via the Whiteboard tool or of course, communicating with Datacom’s teams on a whole host of devices. Not only has that cut down travel time for everyone, Wright says workflows are a lot better integrated than they’ve ever been.

Microsoft New Zealand Modern Work and Security Business Group Lead, Robert Havranek, praises Datacom’s approach to the pandemic crisis, ensuring none of its customers was left behind.

“Datacom is a great example of a business that understands the importance of technology to supporting people, and is doing its utmost to share the gains and learnings it makes with its customers for everyone’s benefit. In such a short space of time, it has not only integrated Teams across its own business but it actively focused on bringing thousands of others along on the journey at the same time, which is truly impressive.”

And the real beauty of Teams, according to Wright? “It hasn’t required intensive management by IT.”

The journey evolves

With so many Teams sites up and running, Datacom is now a true hub of information, so the next step will be developing a strategy to manage it all.

Like many organisations, Datacom also has security top of mind. While Teams has enabled its people to work more flexibly, one of the side-effects of the remote working boom is greater exposure to cyber threats. Datacom is already a leader in data security, but ongoing vigilance and improvement are crucial.

“We’ve gone from two or three dozen managed internet connections to more than 6,000 staff connected to the internet in an unmanaged environment at home,” Wright says. “Each one of those represents an additional piece of risk that needs to be mitigated. We’re already using Microsoft Defender and Advanced Threat Protection and we’re now exploring further products to make the most of our Microsoft licence in a remote-working, Bring-Your-Own-Device environment.”

Adding more data analytics tools to Teams will also enable Datacom to dive deeper into its operations and customer engagements in future. Wright gives an example: 80 per cent of reports of poor call quality tend to come from the same customers. Better visibility of these sorts of trends could show recurring issues that require further investigation.

“We achieved two years’ worth of migration in a week. Now it’s about building on everything we’ve achieved. Technology is always evolving, and our journey with Microsoft’s products and platforms will continue to evolve too.”

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