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V8 Supercars fixed its outmoded and broken productivity systems by adopting Office 365.

I was tempted to use superlatives in the headline especially after being Microsoft’s guest at the Office 365 V8 Supercar races in Tasmania last weekend – but that could be seen as cash for comments and iTWire simply does not do that.

Fortunately I got to spend quality time with David Malone, CEO and Peter Trimble, Director of Finance and Systems for V8 Supercars and got the low down on how old legacy systems can (and did) strangle a company, especially one trying to cope with a very mobile workforce.

First V8 Supercars is all about Holden, Ford, Nissan and Mercedes racing to the death in 15 races in Australia, New Zealand and one of those in the USA. David refers to the schedule as like a travelling circus and with its fleet of very big, brightly painted B-Doubles and occasional specially fitted out 747 air transporters it does resemble such.

To David however this is a business “an event more than a race” and his responsibility is to ensure that the myriad of ‘things’ work. Peter is a little more personal “It is my responsibility to give the hundreds of people involved the best work environment possible – they need systems that work”.

“First priority was to harness the cloud component of Office 365 so that we can work anywhere, anytime” Peter says. That’s not just email (which is paramount) but shared folders on SkyDrive, communications using Lync (covers everything from instant messaging to full on communications and collaboration) to more complex SharePoint portals.

“At any given time staff are working in a diverse range of locations in the field to overseas” he says. “Information is our stock in trade and cloud storage has simplified not only access but the whole 365 cloud/rental model has meant that we don’t need racks of servers any more” Peter added.

All staff are so computer bound, even at the trackside it is interesting to see Microsoft Lync being used in preference to other things like Skype (also owned by Microsoft) and with apps for Windows Phone, Android and iOS it helps to communicate 'any time with any one'. More importantly it shows where people are, what they are working on and offers different pathways to contact them.

I noted a plethora of shiny, colourful, Nokia Lumia’s (Windows Phone) and without exception they all love the tight integration between Office and the ability to read and edit Office documents on the move.

Office 365 is misunderstood

When you say Microsoft Office most people think of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. But that is only part of the story.

The 365 moniker is all about rental of software instead of purchase – iTWire covered the versions here and to date is the clearest article I have seen to present what amounts to perhaps a dozen ways to buy/rent/own Office and Office 365.

To be very clear 365 is a significant change in thinking and consumers and business owners need to get their heads around renting software instead of buying - there are compelling reasons for business (tax and operational costs) and different compelling reasons for consumers and students (5 copies to use for the same price).

But Office 365 for business offers much more

By “virtualising” your software and using a mix of public (SkyDrive) and private cloud (dedicated local storage) technology you can eliminate the need to have your own servers. This is smart – no more need to keep aging and inherently unreliable hardware going, no more system administrator costs and no more down time.

Virtualise email as well

Hosted email makes more sense than setting up Exchange server particularly where you have mobile users.

Go one step further and virtualise your phone system

Cloud based PABX systems are cheap – lets generalise and say $10 per month per person. All you need is a SIP handset (again cheap) plugged into your office network or at home or on the move and you have ‘soft phone’ features like direct in dial, transfer, call forwarding to mobiles and much more. Always connected becomes a possibility with Lync being able to use internet, networks, PSTN phone gateways, VoIP, SIP gateways and more to access you.

SharePoint is another sleeper technology

V8 Supercars has so many people on the road (pun intended) that its next stage is to implement a system to offer collaboration, library (check in and out of documents) and a staff/supplier and client intranet facilities to the mix. SharePoint is part of Office 365 hosted services and will fill this need.

Who knows more about Office 365?

If you are a small business 1-10 employees, midsize 1-250 employees or mega the first port of call would be to your usual network or system support company. There also are dedicated Office 365 partners (simply ‘Bing’ Office 365 partners).

The key to remember is that 365 is a totally hosted environment and it can potentially be much, much more than Word, Excel etc…

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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