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It's a perfectly ordinary Saturday afternoon in late May. A conductor raises his baton, an orchestra fills the room with the age-old sound of a commencement ceremony, and suddenly, for the thousands of students celebrating the end of three hard years studying law, the world is their oyster, and anything is possible—if only for a moment.

There are two requirements necessary to legally practice law in the U.S: a post-graduate degree in law (JD) and a passing score on the Bar exam. After the dazzling commencement speeches come to a close, BARBRI, a global organization that provides innovative learning technologies and test-prep services, will be there to help these individuals prepare for the notoriously challenging 12-hour exam—something it has done since 1967.

Leadership at BARBRI recognized early on that there was a disconnect between the requirements of universities and the requirements of the exam. With a decade of experience, Director of IT, Mark Kaplan, heads an internal software development team that developed the proprietary software that differentiates BARBRI’s specialized course from any other test-prep service. Sure, other courses provide an ongoing review of university coursework, but BARBRI actually bridges the gap between curricula requirements and actual skills needed to pass the Bar. “Law schools do a great job of teaching the law,” explains Kaplan, “but they didn’t prepare students to pass the Bar exam.” After years of industry leadership, Kaplan identified the infrastructure as an opportunity to enrich the customer experience and began looking for a digital environment that would optimize their global operation.

Searching for a new digital solution

As an organization offering year-round services to prepare future lawyers for the Bar exam, BARBRI has helped more than 1.3 million students “own the Bar” across the globe. That is more than every other test-prep service combined. To handle such a large volume of clientele, BARBRI needed the ability to operate at full capacity throughout the year. This meant the organization’s on-prem data system needed to go.

As cost and efficiency issues associated with on-prem infrastructure began to get in the way of progress, BARBRI began searching for a cloud solution. Their previous IT infrastructure consisted of two identical data centers on the East and West coasts. This system created restrictive barriers for employees due to a lack of on-demand access to essential resources and data. To mitigate these issues, BARBRI began their process of digital transformation.

“I evaluated the numbers and moving to the cloud made the most sense,” says Kaplan, who knew that while “migrating to the cloud would certainly be a process,” it was also integral to the company’s future success.

A partnership with Microsoft

BARBRI had built its tremendous success on its previous data infrastructure, so the decision to move to the cloud wasn’t made in haste. The organization carefully considered a number of cloud computing platforms, but with leadership and the recommendation of Kaplan, BARBRI trusted Azure as their new cloud partner. Ultimately, the decision came down to an overall positive experience and unprecedented support from Microsoft.

“AWS had a fine system, but their assistance was not there. Microsoft rolled out a lot of resources for us, welcomed us, and helped us get to where we needed to be,” Kaplan recounts.

The transition took place in three phases. First, BARBRI was challenged with moving all of their database management systems to Azure’s more flexible cloud platform. They realized the undertaking would be massive and involve a significant transfer of sensitive data. However, Microsoft worked directly with Kaplan to successfully transition from Oracle to Microsoft SQL.

The second step was to create a “hybrid” environment by shutting down one of the databases and replacing it with Azure. Finally, after a year of running their hybrid operation, the team felt comfortable in Azure and leveraged Azure ExpressRoute to migrate all remaining data to the cloud. While the process was immense, with the help of Microsoft, BARBRI’s transition was met with ease and they were able to finish the transition to the cloud with confidence.

Empowering success through the cloud

With a new system in place, BARBRI has begun to optimize its operations with Azure’s easy-to-navigate environment and customizable platform. The portal’s intuitive navigation allows employees to confidently make changes while enabling management to control the platform from anywhere through the mobile app. The organization has also experienced greater threat protection through Azure’s security framework, ensuring sensitive data remains out of the hands of cybercriminals.

The scalable solutions offered by Azure have also allowed BARBRI to achieve significant cost savings. Developers now have the capability to expand and contract resources as needed. “In the cloud,” explains Kaplan, “you have the freedom to spin the servers down to avoid spending money in the off season.”

Driving innovation with cloud systems

BARBRI is looking into the future of productivity with Azure. Their forward thinking and new data management capabilities have paid off and enriched user experience in ways they didn’t think were possible. With greater capabilities, they are able to offer students a more reliable and efficient experience that leads to a better outcome for all.

At the end of the day, “Microsoft is a partner, not a vendor,” says Kaplan. BARBRI is looking forward to increasing its partnership with Microsoft and begin to fully utilize everything Azure has to offer.

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Change is born of desire, accelerated by technology, and driven by imagination.

True innovators are often outsiders; rebels with a cause who solve problems we didn’t know existed, bringing new perspectives to the collaborative process of design.

A people-centered, design-based approach to innovation can transform the way a business thinks and works. You can find the future by using your imagination and leading without frontiers.

It’s a collaborative approach that helps challenge the status quo and imagine the art of the possible by dreaming up and developing the big ideas, and activating the innovative scenarios to make it real.

We leverage an inclusive design thinking process and bring together a multi-disciplinary team with a common purpose to reinvent the core and reimagine the new together with you. The outcomes result in a shared vision, roadmap, customer journeys and a series of micro-revolutions to maintain leadership, advance innovation and accelerate growth.

Envisioning creates a fail fast space to explore the big questions, “Imagine if…?,” What if…?” so you can rapidly iterate, develop, capture and prototype ideas. It’s a space that allows people to dream, make, and do.

New technologies are transforming how we live and work, but technology alone can’t change the world. Only imagination can bring together diverse perspectives and bold ideas, unlocking technological possibilities and applying them to real problems and opportunities in business and society, in every industry and every part of our lives.

To succeed, an organization needs a North Star. You can steer towards it by observing and understanding your market, your employees, your customers, and the solutions you need to provide. It’s not just about analysis, it’s about empathy, and applying an innovator’s mindset to find the future.

In times of radical change you can’t settle for conformity. You have to create without fear. Creativity can’t be bought off the shelf like packaged software. It’s something that is nurtured, communicated and practiced throughout an organization, and it never ends. It takes skill and persistence, and the results pay off.

Organizations are powerhouses of knowledge, filled with talented people constantly looking to be inspired and rejuvenated. What are you doing to unlock their ingenuity and bring new ideas to life?

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Digital Transformation: Optimize Operations and Empower Your Employees

Skanska uses Surface Pro & ProCore to Achieve More - YouTube

Founded in 1877, global construction firm, Skanska, brings more than a century of expertise and a rich history of progress to the construction industry. Over the course of 130 years, what started as a small concrete manufacturing company in Sweden has evolved into a world leader in project development and construction, offering services in more than ten countries and employing more than 40,000 employees.

As one of the top five influential companies in the construction space, Skanska is committed to expanding its impact and delivering innovative, cost-effective, forward-looking building solutions wherever they’re needed.

With a global presence, Skanska’s success depends on their ability to effectively manage their team of thousands, despite being located across geographically distant locations. While any construction company will tell you that every project presents unique challenges, when a relatively routine assignment turned unusually complex for Skanska’s team of A-players, the organization recognized both the need to initiate change in their own organization, and an opportunity to address a complex issue affecting the industry at large: wide-spread resistance to modern technologies.

Despite the organizations monetary success and rapid growth, the project gone awry was the catalyst that prompted leadership to shift its attentions inward and identify Skanska’s own structural flaws. After evaluating their processes and analysing common obstacle, they soon realized that their project management system was the source of a majority of project bottlenecks. The antiquated on-premises data system wasn’t advanced enough to support the company’s rapid growth or its expansive network of geographically distant locations. The outdated software created barriers to collaboration between architects, engineers, and laborers, making it nearly impossible to develop a holistic view of projects and tasks, which resulted in decreased productivity and frustrated employees.

Leadership realizes the need for a more connected workforce 

In order to create more efficient process management systems, Skanska looked to Microsoft for a versatile yet easy-to-integrate tech solution that would facilitate fluid interactions and unify their team. In order to create the efficient workplace necessary to sustain their growth and advance their overall mission, Skanska decided to invest in modern technologies that would ensure the connectivity of their widespread team, enable their ability to collaborate and communicate effectively, and modernize their workplace. Their digital transformation initiative led them to Microsoft Surface Device the versatile and adaptable technology that helped Skanska streamline project management, boost productivity, and deliver better value to their clients.

“Our clients expect us to work smarter, work faster, and be more cost-effective,” says VP of Business Development Matt Sanborn.

With a long-established history of success through making timely transformations, leadership at Skanska recognized they had reached a pivotal point and would have to make a change if they wanted to expand their reach and extend their impact. The company’s original process management solution didn’t allow Skanska’s widely dispersed team to effectively communicate with one another, update projects in real-time, or share information in a timely fashion. The on-prem datacenter largely inhibited the team’s ability to provide real-time updates or information sharing. The team could only access applications or important files from a desktop, an obstacle with the potential to unnecessarily stall projects on various sites around the world. 

The process management system Skanska had in place was not empowering their workforce or encouraging ingenuity. Without being able to centralize projects, the team couldn’t appropriately prioritize tasks in the project pipeline and employees were being forced to table their creative efforts in order to manage tedious processional tasks.  Eventually, leadership at Skanska observed a decreased quality in the work being submitted to clients and began looking for the versatile solution the team needed—and one the company’s growth depended on.

Integrating innovative tech to unite a team and increases productivity

Skanska invested in Surface devices because of their versatile features and integration capabilities. As employees got familiar with the new devices, they began the leveraging the customizable features and collaborating with other team members more often and to greater effect, resulting in increased productivity.

With Surface, Skanska can enhance productivity on the go and ensure the connectivity of their widespread team. For instance, before Surface, there was no way for on-site and off-site employees to share information. So, if an on-site employee needed to get information from someone at headquarters or at their respective home office, they’d have to stall the project or proceed without the info. Now, the information is at the fingertips of employees everywhere.

In addition, Surface’s camera capabilities, drawing feature, and editing software facilitate seamless collaboration between teams, allowing multiple people to work on various projects at once with real-time updates. Surface features like touch screen allow employees to more efficiently tackle projects. “The touchscreen, the ability to draw and actively connect with what’s on the screen–it takes away the barrier that’s there with other products,” says Sr. Project Engineer Alex Abate. These features enable engineers and architects to spend more time doing what they’re good at than trying to overcome tactical barriers: “I don’t have to think about using hot keys or worry about using a mouse. I can go right to the screen, touch what I see there, and it removes the barrier between me and my work,” explains Abate.

After integrating Surface Devices into their process management system, Skanska was able to further develop their new modern workplace by transitioning to Procore, a cloud-based construction management software. Together, with Procore and Microsoft Surface Devices, Skanska’s widespread team is able to collaborate in real-time and effectively coordinate task and project assignments. The cloud-platform provided a place for Skanska to centralize projects and ensure every team received the same accurate information and updates. With automatic syncing capabilities, everyone is on the same page no matter what work site they happen to be on. “The processing speed is so fast,” said Superintendent Jason Ray, “I can open up multiple applications at one time and never have any issues with it crashing on me.”

Through integrating Surface devices, Skanska has been able to create an agile workplace, empower their workforce, and with no downtime. By investing in innovative technologies, Skanska leaders gave the organization and its employees the wherewithal to take on new and challenging projects. With their team’s ability to keep tabs on finance, safety concerns, project revisions, and the progress of each moving part of specific jobs from the convenience of their own device, Skanska has been able to deliver the high-quality work their clients expect while taking on new projects. Skanska’s new project management capabilities are powering the team’s recent and massive undertaking: remodeling the 400,000 square feet of office space on Microsoft’s Seattle campus.

Continuing a legacy of transformation and leadership

“Keeping up with the latest technology is important at Skanska because it lets us differentiate ourselves from our competition,” says Sanborn. “Being at the forefront of our industry through innovation helps us become more valuable to our clients and stand out from our competitors.”

After more than a century in business, Skanska understands that as technology changes the way companies operate, the quick-to-adapt companies that embrace change attract the best talent and put themselves at a great competitive advantage. Moreover, the company’s leadership has demonstrated the importance of listening to employees and taking a forward-looking approach to decision making in business.

By leveraging Surface devices to transform their process management systems, Skanska reinforces a legacy of harnessing the power of greater connectivity. The company’s new agile system has empowered their workforce to continue expanding their global reach and maximizing the impact of their efforts.

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Focus on: Empower Employees, Optimize Operations

In the late 90’s, 12-year-old Craig Kielburger knew he wanted to change the world.

Craig saw things he knew weren’t right —abuse, inequality, and cynicism—and decided to make a difference. That compassion grew, and today, Craig and his brother Marc’s nonprofit organization, WE, is dedicated to “making doing good, do-able.” Although its offices are based primarily in North America and the United Kingdom, WE’s efforts and impacts have a global reach. Through various programs aimed at engaging students, teachers, families, corporate employees and even celebrities, WE is well on the way to realizing its goal of empowering 100 million people to care and act.

The overall vision at WE is driven by three programs: WE Villages, WE Schools, and WE Days (Me to WE—the nonprofit's social enterprise arm—helps support these programs while giving the organization a way to offset operating costs and reinvest in its growth). Each of the programs plays a unique role in advancing the WE mission: to empower the next generation of change-makers to transform communities across the globe. Whether it’s through humanitarian-focused volunteer trips, direct funding, or­ both, WE manages projects in many developing countries to help provide education, water sanitation, healthcare, employment opportunities, and agriculture and food security.

“We’re focusing on delivering the capabilities, products, and services that are going to provide the most business value and help us scale to achieve our mission of empowering 100 million people who care and act,” said Director of IT and Enterprise Services, Dan Kuzmicki.

Over the last 18 months, WE has been undergoing a major digital transformation, including a focus to bring its infrastructure to a more efficient, unified, scalable, and secure cloud solution. WE used a variety of different solutions and services to support its digital environments in the past, bootstrapping systems to meet business needs as they arose. While one department might have relied on a third-party cloud provider, others used on-premises infrastructure-as-a-service solutions, or even something entirely different. It became evident to leadership that to create change on the ground, they’d have to start from the top, and truly create an infrastructure that encouraged unity and empowered their cross-functional teams to work together. “We had a number of different systems and platforms all over the place,” Kuzmicki recalls.

The result was a nonprofit facing multiple organizational inefficiencies, from paying for a variety of redundant services to isolating each department and its data. Different departments were separated by their own organic solutions, producing inconsistent environments that restricted teamwork, stifled communication, and made WE susceptible to inaccurate data reporting. Kuzmicki, and his colleagues -- CTO Kelvin Kang and Head of Strategic Planning and Operations, Heather Harkness -- recognized the divisions and inefficiencies their datacenter management was creating, and knew the organization needed to digitally consolidate.

“Our mandate is to try and do more with less cost, and that meant that we had to go to the cloud,” Kang explains. “That drives a lot of our decisions. Unless on-prem solutions are critical for performance reasons, everything is being pushed to the cloud because that lowers our overarching cost and lets us focus [our resources] on our programs.”

WE is like many nonprofits, no matter their size: They aim to maximize their impact by finding smart, technology-powered ways to improve efficiency, automate operations and empower employees. That’s why Microsoft has committed to supporting organizations’ ability to do more good through discounted or donated technology offers.

Doing good in the cloud

Despite WE’s designation as a charity, its efforts encompass a wide range of complicated processes and systems. Searching for a partner to help them resolve their unique organizational needs and unify their competing web of data services, WE turned to Microsoft for both a vision to simplify the complexity, and the support to navigate it. Kuzmicki says, “The Microsoft team did a fantastic job in sitting with us, understanding, getting our requirements, and getting a vision of where we want to go.”

Thanks to a grant from Microsoft Philanthropies, WE was able to leverage cloud services like Azure to set a new normal for the organization. A unified cloud environment set the foundation and infrastructure to break down barriers between departments, enabling the nonprofit to be better stewards of the communities it seeks to empower.

“[Azure’s] really helping us scale and enable all of our existing buildings and regional offices to act as one and bridge that divide,” Kuzmicki explains. A unified, equipped, and scalable system means the WE team can act more efficiently, use off-the-shelf resources and create new tools they hadn’t imagined previously. “We’re seeing real world results immediately and are able to deliver workloads to the cloud using Azure very quickly.”

By consolidating its datacenter environment, WE’s IT team built a more accessible system for creating and managing workloads and additional services. Azure’s cloud technology empowers the IT team to better serve departments across the organization and unite operations across the world.

Meet WE’s Service Desk Bot

With Azure in place to better connect, manage, unite, and navigate its data, Kuzmicki started exploring new ways to automate and simplify WE’s daily operations. That research led him to develop WE’s very own service desk bot—an Azure-based digital personal assistant that helps employees answer IT-related questions, ultimately freeing up additional time for his team to focus on the bigger picture: empowering people to change the world.

“Within about an hour of tinkering, I was able to have a functional prototype [of the bot] effectively deployed within our SharePoint instance,” he explains. “We’re populating it now, and our final goal is to embed it into Microsoft Teams to help our service team answer questions.” Now, employees will be able to get answers to questions more quickly than before, and Kuzmicki and his team can spend less time on Frequently Asked Questions and more time working on the organization’s more complex IT challenges.

The Service Desk Bot has generated a great deal of interest throughout the organization, inspiring employees to explore more ways to automate WE’s internal processes—potentially even building live chatbots for customer conversations and increased access for after-hours inquiries.

The Future of WE

Whether expanding their ERP and CRM solutions, or exploring machine learning and AI opportunities, the team at WE is committed to continuing its digital transformation to find new and greater opportunities to support its mission to empower people to do good. “There’s been a lot more conversation and excitement over the past year about how technology and innovation are and will continue to help drive us towards where we want to get in the next ten years,” Harkness says.

WE’s digital transformation exemplifies the various and powerful ways that innovative technology can empower an inventive team and facilitate alignment between cross-functional teams.  Cloud innovation has helped WE to more strategically allocate funds, encourage internal collaborative efforts, and ultimately drive a more unified organization. The WE organization’s implementation of cloud technology is just its latest step towards its goal of building a more compassionate and caring global community.

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Small businesses are the backbone of innovation. Entrepreneurs empowered with raw creativity and brilliant ideas all start as small enterprises trying to make an impact on people and communities. Whether the end goal is to provide a service or deliver a product that changes the way we understand the world, small businesses are driven by the power to dream big. But big ideas and concepts rarely come to fruition without strong backing from investors.

Making your business stand out to investors takes more than just an exciting product. You need the right digital tools to grow your business in the most effective and efficient ways possible. This means having the best digital infrastructure to stay connected, share information, and keep data secure.

Staying Connected

Microsoft 365 is your one stop shop to staying connected to your work, employees, and business. Greater connection means more robust communication to get work done and channel your energy into developing that next innovative idea to grab the attention of investors.

Outlook and Exchange allow you to seamlessly connect employees through email and dynamic calendaring to set priorities and communicate tasks. No matter the size of your business, connection matters. Make sure you have the connective capabilities investors are looking for.

File Sharing and Storage

Agile connective capabilities are only the beginning. To uncover your business’s true innovative capacity, you need a network that supports sophisticated file sharing.

Collaboration is key to business development. Microsoft 365 provides your business network with advanced file sharing capabilities, so you can access the documents you need when and where you need them. This means when potential investors reach out, you are always ready to pull the data and files you need to show off your products and business operations when it counts.

Threat Protection

Connection capability is power. But when your data isn’t secure, that power is taken away. Protecting your data across company devices secures your ability to innovate at a high velocity and with peace of mind.

Sometimes attracting the right investors takes a little investment on your part as well. Investing in the right IT infrastructure to secure your data helps make sure the files you share both internally and externally are free from any corruption. Microsoft 365 and Windows 10 lets you share files across with protection from malware, viruses, spyware, and a host of other cyber threats.

Make sure you are attracting investors with the right business solutions. Harness the power of innovation by partnering with Microsoft and leverage the technology you need to grow your small business to deliver valuable products and services.

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Digital Transformation: Optimize Operations

Since its inception in 1964, Coverdell has spent the last five decades reinforcing their industry leadership through delivering quality products, outstanding service, and significant savings to their customers. Headquartered in Chicago, the business creates, markets, and administers cost-saving membership products supporting more than six million customers around the country. Coverdell’s five key services include direct-to-consumer, affinity marketing, wholesale, insurance programs, and administration. 

Until recently, Coverdell’s business strategy focused entirely on B2B2C companies to ensure they could market directly to a consistent customer base. To expand their market reach and encourage company growth, Coverdell’s leadership developed a new business strategy to include B2C offerings. VP, Information Technology, Vince L’Erario, recognized that the business’ original tools and systems wouldn’t be sufficient to manage their new strategy. In charge of overseeing application development, infrastructure, and security across Coverdell’s technologies, L’Erario understood that a company-wide digital transformation would be the next step.

Exploring digital innovation to advance Coverdell’s new business strategy

As Coverdell continued developing and strengthening their expanded business strategy, they realized they needed to find a digital solution to better support the needs of their broader audience and new offerings. For example, Coverdell’s Chicago headquarters were housed in a building that didn’t have back-up power and was subject to brown-outs and system disruptions. However, the business knew they couldn’t manage their direct-to-consumer product offerings with unreliable technology.

The business initiated their digital transformation by first using Azure to address their hosting needs for a specific collection of websites.

“If we had a power outage or a brown-out in this building, we knew that our customer-facing website and other access points were still up because we had the reliability of Azure and that datacenter,” explained L’Erario. “And in the process, we were able to realize a huge cost-savings.”

Before using Azure, Coverdell relied on colocation facilities for this specific block of websites, costing the company $6,000 per month in hosting fees. By migrating to an Azure Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) platform, Coverdell modernized their hosting services while reducing their monthly costs to under $1,000 per month. These significant benefits motivated the company to explore Azure-based solutions to support the entire company’s transformation.

SWC Technology Partners helps Coverdell capitalize on Azure’s cutting-edge technology

After a successful and cost-effective website migration, Coverdell began exploring other Azure use cases related to their core applications, data, services, and the underlying on-premises infrastructure of their administrative platform.

In partnership with SWC, an IT consulting firm and award-winning Microsoft Gold Certified partner, the team developed a multi-phase timeline, guided by SWC’s Azure-specific expertise. In addition to supporting Coverdell’s team of developers and IT engineers, SWC also laid the groundwork for Coverdell to take the lead on the company’s transition, facilitating a successful migration process for these mission-critical assets.

“While we have a great team of highly competent developers and infrastructure people, nobody had significant experience in Azure,” said L’Erario. “So SWC really flattened that learning curve for us.”

With the deadline to renew their Salesforce subscription looming and a successful Azure transformation project well underway, Coverdell decided to migrate their remaining co-located, Salesforce-administered websites and inherited infrastructure to the Microsoft cloud.

“Having done countless Azure transformation projects, it was refreshing to partner with organizations like Coverdell who embrace partners as extensions of their team and have the technical prowess to execute against an aggressive roadmap,” said Ric Opal, VP of Infrastructure Solutions at SWC.

Migrating to Azure results in record cost savings

As it turns out, Coverdell’s initial cost savings discovery with their first block of websites was only the beginning of the company’s financial benefits. Their decision to unify the company’s websites, applications, data, and infrastructure in an Azure environment eliminated $54,000 in monthly colocation upkeep costs. According to L’Erario, Coverdell’s Azure-based digital transformation is on track to save the company an estimated $1 million over the next 2-3 years.

Azure’s technology also enables Coverdell’s IT team to simplify and streamline internal process and infrastructure. With the cloud, the business’ technology team can more easily and quickly update its website. In fact, Coverdell’s developers can now manage the process over 2-3 days rather than over 2-3 weeks. As L’Erario notes, the company’s internal customers have already noticed a big difference in response times, adding that the simplified technology improves efficiency across the board.

“It was just a spaghetti of legacy code, and we were able to just cut through that, bring it to our existing infrastructure, and drastically simplify with Azure,” said L’Erario.

The cloud’s powerful technology also immediately serves as a cost-effective solution for Coverdell’s building challenges. The company’s platforms now benefit from better reliability, increased processing power—and even improved performance in some cases, without requiring the company to spend more for a stronger internet connection. With improved reliability, Coverdell’s customer service, customer-facing websites and platforms, and other processes continue to drive the business’s growth and success.

“We’ve had outages here, and some of our partners that help us service our customers still keep operating on our Azure infrastructure without noticing any outage,” L’Erario said. “So, when we’re down here, our websites are still up and taking in new customers, which is huge.”

Discovering additional opportunities to optimize operations

As Coverdell continues leveraging innovative benefits from their Azure migration, the organization’s technology team also develops new features and services to enhance business operations. Using Azure’s technology, the organization was able to establish their own enterprise service bus (ESB) for a fraction of their original $20,000 budget—and in a matter of weeks rather than months or years.

Recently, they also implemented an intuitive, customer-facing dashboard with Power BI that allows Coverdell’s leadership team to leverage self-reporting and analytics capabilities. They also used Power BI to more effectively interpret and share valuable data insights with other departments and teams across the organization.

In the future, Coverdell plans to explore more innovative opportunities through cloud technology, laying the foundation for a migration from their on-premises Office and Exchange to an Azure-based Office 365 environment. With so many benefits and massive cost savings, the business knows their new strategy will only be enhanced by Microsoft’s cutting-edge, cloud-based solutions.

Related ContentVisit the Azure migration center to learn more

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Focus on: Empower Employees, Optimize Operations

Company culture is essential at CohnReznick. In fact, CohnReznick was listed as the one of the best accounting firms for women in 2017, according to the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance.[1] And the very next year, the firm was ranked fifteenth in the Vault Accounting 50’s 2018 list of the best accounting employers. [2] Despite being the eleventh-largest public accounting, tax, and consulting firm in the U.S., the 100-year-old company makes it a point to take care of their employee base.

With their corporate headquarters in New York City, office locations in 26 different cities, and more than 2,400 employees worldwide, the firm’s leadership works hard to develop a cohesive, and impactful vision for the future. Currently, CohnReznick is focused on growing into new markets and expanding their firm’s advisory function, while continuing to serve as the premier service provider for middle-market firms.

 

“We’re trying to build a culture that really does promote forward-thinking services and solutions that build trust in our clients and our people,” said Robert DeMeola, Chief Operating Officer at CohnReznick.

How CohnReznick leverages Microsoft Dynamics 365 - YouTube

Designing a new company strategy with innovation in mind

Given CohnReznick’s plans for future expansion, company leadership knew they’d need to ensure that every other aspect of the firm aligned with their goals. Principal, National Director of Technology Consulting Dean Nelson worked with CohnReznick’s leadership to develop a new innovation strategy, designed to guide enterprise-wide digital transformation. Still, the business didn’t know exactly which applications and technologies would allow them to advance their new strategy or support a new client management system.

According to Nelson, the firm’s original technology was outdated and “wasn’t appropriate for the transformation journey CohnReznick was embarking on.” They wanted to implement a digital solution that would facilitate a strategic client management system, and build a digital platform that would offer improved efficiency and more centralized workplace tools to enable CohnReznick’s new vision.

“Our corporate vision is one of excellence and innovation in providing services to our clients,” added Frank Banda, Managing Partner, Public Sector Advisor for CohnReznick. “And to accomplish that vision we need to be on the cutting edge of technology.”

Developing the Client Experience Platform (CXP) with Microsoft Dynamics 365

Based out of the firm’s main office, the Innovation Lab enables CohnReznick’s employees to focus on driving technology implementation and developing opportunities for greater innovation. More specifically, employees use the Innovation Lab to develops new ideas, concepts, and strategies to more effectively engage clients and prospective customers.

CohnReznick’s Client Experience Platform (CXP) was born out of the firm’s Innovation Lab and was built using Microsoft Dynamics 365 as the platform’s foundation. As a fully-integrated product, Dynamics 365 easily centralizes tools and streamlines the firm’s most essential business development processes, enabling the CXP to function as the most ideal digital solution. The CXP increases collaboration between sales and project teams with cloud-based capabilities, transforms productivity with cutting edge tools, and improves the day-to-day execution of common workplace processes. It also provides employees with digital features that enable them to deliver enhanced client services through the CXP’s new client management system while increasing top-line revenue.

“Since going live in the fall, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the early successes we’ve seen with better collaboration amongst the sales teams, our project teams, and our engagement teams in field,” added Nelson

Currently, the firm has implemented a client-facing application through the Dynamics 365-based platform. The solution’s cloud technology provides consistent connectivity and reliability, strengthening CohnReznick’s “One Firm” approach to customer relationships with a comprehensive client management system. Overall, the technology enables a more efficient customer experience, allowing the organization’s employees to manage the entire client lifecycle—from the lead through the entire customer journey—all from one system.

Dynamics 365’s seamless integration with Power BI and Azure also opened up a wealth of new capabilities. Azure’s database and cloud technology support the development of more effective strategies to pursue customers, measure client data, and keep track of enterprise resources.  With Power BI, CohnReznick can effectively leverage customer-specific KPIs, and use the dashboards and various tools to visualize and make sense a range of data—from accounting processes and finance reporting, to business analytics and enterprise trends across multiple data breakdowns.

Overall, this suite of Microsoft solutions—which includes Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365, Azure, and Power BI—empowers the company with a more accurate and holistic perspective on their client relationships, allowing them to deliver superior service with efficiency and precision.  

“Microsoft Dynamics 365 found a way support the business process from beginning to end. So it covers the full business cycle, and that’s very different,” DeMeola explained. “There really is no other technology that truly does that as well as Dynamics 365 does it.”

Maintaining industry leadership by investing in modern technology

According to DeMeola, despite the advantages CohnReznick is already experiencing, there are still multiple future benefits left to discover. In addition to expanding the organization’s resource management program and building out the Client Experience Platform’s CRM component, DeMeola also hopes to effectively mine, analyze, and deliver live data to the firm’s partners to improve overall business efficiency.

At CohnReznick, keeping up with technology trends and modern digital innovation is essential to the company’s growth and future success. Thanks to the technology’s powerful impact, Dynamics 365 is currently on its way to becoming the go-to solution for CohnReznick’s business strategy. Leadership plans to eventually use Dynamics 365 to house all of their internal and external day-to-day operations regarding their information-gathering processes. The massive enterprise is eager to leverage technology that empowers the organization’s hardworking global team to embody the company vision, and enables the company to increase their competitive edge in the industry. 

[1] https://www.afwa.org/2017/06/06/2017-best-public-accounting-firms-for-women/

[2] http://www.vault.com/company-rankings/accounting/vault-accounting-50/?pg=2

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As companies across every industry begin to embark on large-scale digital transformation initiatives, they should be looking to artificial intelligence as the pinnacle of emerging technology to enable business innovation. AI is ushering in new capabilities that offer businesses an immense repertoire of digital functionality to drive meaningful customer engagement, collect and analyze data, and bolster enterprise-wide efficiency.

But how do businesses begin to prepare for the age of AI?

Many organizations haven’t begun to scratch the surface of AI capabilities. As the world of AI explodes onto the main stage of business development, it’s time business leaders take a serious approach to understanding its functionality.

On June 27, Microsoft will be hosting the Emerging Tech Virtual Summit: AI Unlocked to help business leaders gain the upper hand when it comes to leveraging AI. The event will host expert speakers such as Norm Judah, CTO, Microsoft Digital, Services & Success; Robbee Minnicola, Global Lead, Wunderman AI; Tim Linsenmeyer, CTO, Clover Technologies; Ingrid Burton, CMO, H20.ai; Steve Sweetman, Director, Microsoft Digital CTO Office; and Ricard Roma Dalfo, US CTO Enterprise Services.

During the summit, you will get an inside look into:

  • The state of the current AI landscape
  • How companies are leveraging AI to transform their businesses
  • How you can build AI systems with ethical foundations
  • The stories of how Microsoft customers are already leveraging AI with tremendous success

Don’t wait, take the next steps in discovering your business’s true potential with the power of AI. Register for the Emerging Tech Virtual Summit: AI Unlocked today.

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Most companies today question when, not if, they’ll adopt cloud computing for the bulk of their IT operations, including the ERP software they use to manage inventory and product manufacturing.[1]  For Epicor Software Corporation, a global provider of industry-specific enterprise software to promote business growth, the answer is now.

Epicor is expanding its strategic partnership with Microsoft to deliver enterprise-class solutions globally on the Microsoft Azure platform. The company is focused on providing solutions that dramatically improve performance and profitability while easing complexity, so its customers can focus on growth. 

By standardizing cloud deployment of its Epicor ERP and Epicor® Prophet 21® enterprise resource planning (ERP) suites on Microsoft Azure, Epicor empowers customers to drive faster growth and innovation as they move to digitally transform their businesses.

“Today, we are seeing more than three-quarters of prospects ask about cloud ERP,” said Epicor CEO, Steve Murphy. “As that deployment model becomes the norm, we are ready to enable our customers to move to the cloud with confidence leveraging the reliability, security, and scalability of Microsoft Azure.”

Unleashing the power of Epicor on the most trusted public cloud platform

The Epicor and Microsoft partnership expands an already proven strategy of building and deploying enterprise business applications in the cloud to a global scale, as more customers adopt the power of Epicor ERP and Prophet 21 running on the world-leading public cloud platform.

Epicor will leverage a range of Azure technologies including Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) to deliver ready-to-use, right-sized productivity and innovation solutions for midmarket manufacturers and distributors. Epicor also plans to explore Microsoft’s technologies for advanced search, speech-to-text, and other use cases to deliver modern human-machine interfaces that improve productivity for its customers.

For more information, you can access the full press release here.

[1] IDG Contributor Network, Talking Tech in the Age of Cloud: “Why CFOs (and CIOs) are finally embracing cloud ERP,” by Barbara Darrow, Contributor, CIO (April 25, 2018)

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Advances in technology and shifting workforce demographics are creating a more fluid work environment, redefining what productivity looks like, and empowering individuals to work smarter. With an influx of new talent that values experiences, continued learning, and collaboration over financial compensation, leadership will have to take a forward-looking approach to restructuring the workplace landscape.

Innovative technologies can help all organizations respond to workplace trends and create dynamic environments that incentivize and empower the next generation of employees.

Encouraging and accommodating remote workers

In the modern workforce, out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. Modern businesses are evolving to better accommodate a wider range of business scenarios and work styles. For example, 43% of Americans reported spending at least some time working remotely – whether from their home offices or the local coffee shop.[1]

As teams become more widespread, keeping everyone engaged and informed is critical to the success of your organization. To promote teamwork and enhance efficiency, leadership must enable communication and support reliable connection between off and on-site employees.

While the modern workforce wants flexibility, they don’t want to give up the benefits of working as part of a team. For organizations looking to restructure their respective work environments, the collaborative features of modern cloud technology are especially advantageous. These technologies allow disparate team members to collaborate in real-time across multiple projects and platforms. Communication tools like Skype for Business and Teams provide intuitive channels for employees to stay up to date on projects and streamline processes. Additionally, the file storage and sharing capabilities of cloud technologies ensure every employee can access and contribute to the correct documents. Ultimately, organizations can easily implement modern technologies to create the workplace experience that’s vital for both employee retention and acquisition.

Enabling intelligent time management and effective collaboration

Imagine getting an unprompted alert when it’s time for you to leave the office for your 3 p.m. presentation across town; or being able to decipher an acronym by pulling up references in other business materials without leaving the document you’re currently working in.[2] Today’s most competitive organizations are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to improve efficiency, increase daily productivity, and empower their employees to do their best work. Whether it’s quickly extracting actionable insights from your customer data, easily locating that important email conversation in your overflowing inbox, or simply arriving on time and prepared to a meeting or event, each day is filled with moments that can have a significant business impact. Organizations across all industries are leveraging AI to help their workers recover lost moments and do more meaningful work.

While AI technologies are creating more efficiency in the workplace, the revolutionary technology also enables your employees to be more creative in general. Features like real-time data analyzing and reporting allow your team to spend less time on mundane tasks and more time on creative ways to solve your business’ complex challenges. Ultimately, by leveraging the time-saving benefits of AI, organizations can create the versatile and challenging work environment valued by today’s workforce.

Building trust by maintaining security and compliance

The new workplace landscape involves new technologies, new devices, and introduces a new set of security challenges. With global cybercrime damage expected to reach $6 trillion annually by 2021, maintaining enterprise-grade security of corporate assets is mission-critical.[1]

Modern cloud technologies enable your employees to securely store, edit, and share data. Built-in data loss prevention and rights management capabilities help establish permission criteria to ensure information is never compromised. With the cutting-edge business intelligence, productivity analytics, and powerful visualization capabilities of cloud technology, employees can confidently handle sensitive company data.

As technological advancements continue to redefine business and transform the professional landscape, so too do the expectations and priorities of employees. Competitive organizations must proactively integrate the innovative technologies, like Microsoft Office 365, that connect a blended workforce.

Office 365 combines familiar programs like Word, Excel, and Power Point with the benefits of the cloud and efficiencies of AI technology, making it easy for your team to collaborate and remain connected. In Word, a new feature called Acronyms allows employees to spend less time decoding company shorthand by searching existing emails and documents for previously defined definitions.[2]  Additionally, organizations can improve time-management with AI-enabled Time to Go, which analyzes real-time traffic and event information.   

In 2018, Microsoft plans to expand its integration of AI across more Office 365 applications and optimize its tools for the modern, mobile workforce. Still, from actively creating ways to help your employees develop new skills, to building trust within your team, Microsoft’s Office 365 can help your organization develop the flexible workplace that empowers and excites the new generation of employees. Learn more about how Office 365 can help your on-site and remote workers today at https://products.office.com/en-us/business/office

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/15/us/remote-workers-work-from-home.html

[2] https://www.engadget.com/2017/12/13/microsoft-adds-more-ai-smarts-office-365/ 

[3] https://www.csoonline.com/article/3153707/security/top-5-cybersecurity-facts-figures-and-statistics.html

[4] https://blogs.office.com/en-us/2017/12/13/new-to-office-365-in-december-extending-human-ingenuity-with-everyday-ai/

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