The United Kingdom Royal Mail Group (RMG) is responsible for mail collection and delivery, and related postal services. RMG must operate efficiently and introduce new products to remain competitive with the private sector.

To accomplish this, RMG replaced a costly and outdated version of IBM Lotus Notes across its entire computer estate, and implemented a pay-as-you-go services model. Its IT outsourcing partner CSC deployed Microsoft Business Productivity Online Dedicated Suite to help transform the business.

RMG migrated 28,000 email accounts to the new cloud service in eight weeks, introducing new tools such as instant messaging and audio and video conferencing to a total of 30,000 users. The company will save more than £1m over four years in maintenance and operational controls and be better positioned to provide new and innovative services to customers.

Operating in a highly competitive environment, Royal Mail Group (RMG) in the UK processes and delivers every working day more than 70 million items to 28 million addresses.  Directly employing 165,000 people, RMG prices are among the lowest in Europe.

Currently government-owned, RMG is likely to become partly privatised during the current parliament. In the meantime, the company, which operates from 3,000 separate processing sites across the UK is making every effort to improve efficiency and introduce new products to stay competitive with private sector service providers.

In the last quarter of 2008, RMG decided to upgrade its email messaging service for 28,000 employees who were using Lotus Notes. The cost of storing emails, which was managed by CSC, was rising, and many employees found Lotus Notes difficult to use. RMG realised that to receive the maximum value from its email migration project, it should also empower its employees with more powerful communication and collaboration tools than they had access to previously.

Adrian Steel, Head of Infrastructure Management, Royal Mail Group, says: "We needed a complete redesign of our computer estate, starting with email messaging, to bring down costs by adopting a pay-on-consumption model. We also wanted to improve our collaboration environment, which was running on out-of-date software and used very little."

With 30,000 computers under management, RMG directors were keen to transform the business and avoid incurring capital expenditure by adopting a flexible model that could accommodate growth or shrinkage. An emerging solution was to acquire a suite of business productivity tools using a flexible software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach with payment on demand from vendors, including Microsoft, Google, and Lotus Live.

Over a nine-month period RMG analysed several other options, including retaining the existing system with minor upgrades, moving to a new version of Lotus Notes, or replacing it with Microsoft Exchange Server.

Steel and his colleagues evaluated each option with consultants from Accenture and Avanade, as well as its outsourcing partner, CSC, and Microsoft. An added consideration was that RMG, as a result of its long standing outsourcing partnership with CSC, one of the world’s leading independent IT services companies, did not own its IT infrastructure.

Steel says: "Cost was a driver, especially with the economy in recession. But an equally important consideration was the need to improve collaboration and give the workforce new communication tools to help them play a part in transforming the business."

RMG chose the Microsoft offering based on a CSC recommendation and its own research. It provides Microsoft Exchange Online for email, Microsoft Office Communications Online for instant messaging, Microsoft Office SharePoint Online for collaboration, and Microsoft Office Live Meeting communications tools for web-based audio and video conferencing.

Working with CSC and Microsoft, RMG formed a unified deployment team, which helped the companies work together and achieve common ownership of the transformation.  To speed up migration CSC built a suite of user migration, training, and management tools that helped many employees to start the migration process themselves.

The result was that thousands of people were automatically migrated overnight with no downtime or business disruption.

The suppliers worked with RMG to organise a series of workshops to help prepare staff for the migration and change in business culture that the new productivity suite would bring. In the first eight weeks of deployment, 28,000 employees were supplied with their new collaboration suite, giving them access to tools such as instant messaging and presence awareness.

Steel says, "Around 46 per cent of those 28,000 were fully migrated overnight, producing overwhelmingly positive reactions."

Around 30 per cent of Steel’s time was spent on the technical work behind the migration. The rest was on running a Culture and Change programme within RMG.

"I am managing up to 1,000 people at individual sites as champions of the new business productivity suite," says Steel. "You have to remember that most of our people had only ever used Lotus Notes. It was engrained in the RMG psyche."

As a culture and change champion, Steel sought buy-in from the Chief Executive Officer downwards.

"The champions act as super users at their sites and serve in the role of a conduit with the users," he says. "Our investment in detailed planning, education, and training has paid huge dividends. People are enthusiastic about the deployment because they hear so many good things before they even get the new tools."

The solution includes SharePoint Online, which is replacing an earlier version of SharePoint that was little used.

Steel says: "An example is a room-booking system written in Microsoft Silverlight. It complements the business productivity suite with graphics and screenshots of all 1,000 rooms our staff can book for meetings."

RMG considers that the speed of migration for the first 28,000 users to the new app suite is a world-class achievement for a government owned, public sector agency. The project equipped its workforce with diverse new collaboration technologies and met RMG savings targets.

Steel says: "We believe that the suite — compared to Lotus Notes with the same capabilities — will save more than £1 million over the four-year duration of this deal."

A driving force behind the project was a strong focus on tapping into the benefits of cloud-based computing to meet specific needs for enhanced productivity in the business.

Steel says: "RMG is concentrating on change across its existing user base for personal computers but also wants to make the potential of IT available to a much larger proportion of the workforce."

With the new solution, RMG management now has greater flexibility to move beyond the 30,000 office staff with personal computers, to around 100,000 others who lack regular access to a computer.

The agility and flexibility afforded by this cloud-based communication and collaboration solution means that RMG is much better positioned to react to market changes and develop new products and services to stay on the leading edge of the market.

Of the migration project, Steel says: “This prepares the way for the roll out of the Microsoft Office 2010 suite and Windows 7 operating system in 2011. We will be one of the first companies globally to deploy the Office 2010 suite—and certainly one of the first to run it on Windows 7.”

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