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Another Office 365 win - Chch Women’s Refuge

24 Jul 2012

Christchurch Women's Refuge is a non-profit that was founded in 1973 as New Zealand’s first refuge service for women and children affected by family violence. It has since grown to support more than 12,000 women and children through a variety programmes and services.

The non-profit was getting by with ad-hoc IT support, shared email accounts and a lack of calendaring functionality, and as a result, people and resources were often double-booked with many employees waiting to confer in person which was inefficient.

The Christchurch earthquakes led to a rethink, and the agency needed a solution that didn't rely on an on-premise server.

“We had a sense that our communications and records might need additional off-site back-up, but we didn’t realise just to what extent they were in jeopardy until the earthquakes,” says Christine Wallace, Office Manager of the Christchurch Women’s Refuge.

The earthquakes meant the agency had to relocate to a temporarily safe house. Fortunately the organisation was able to remove the server, some computer equipment and files needed to keep things moving temporarily.

“We couldn’t access our old premises, so had to make do with what we had. We survived nature’s events but realised that we needed to review our risk exposure.”

The Women’s Refuge made it through the earthquakes and aftershocks while providing continued support to clients but this compelled them to ensure that they would be equally as resilient in the future, having systems in place to ensure business continuity under any circumstances.

The solutionThe agency's IT advisor recommended Microsoft Office 365, an online service which unites familiar Microsoft Office applications with email, calendaring, collaboration and communication solutions.

Creating individual email addresses allowed the agency to know that all staff received and read emails, not just the first user of a shared account. The ability to set ‘out of office’ notifications and view calendars was also important.

“Previously, a client would call in and want to talk to a particular staff member, and we would have no visibility into their schedule. With Office 365 and Exchange Online, we can offer a more professional response to phone enquiries by identifying when a staff member is away or when they’ll be back in the office,” says Wallace.

Staff members can now check their email from home, which has been greatly appreciated by shift workers who aren’t in the office every day and now feel part of the office team.

"Investing in Microsoft Exchange Online allows more effective management of email, both internally and externally, and means Women's Refuge can pay for the service monthly, by user, rather than up front," says Rachel Turney, Office 365 Product Manager for Microsoft New Zealand.

Email is automatically backed up, and the system is also more secure from viruses and hackers.

The benefitsWith Office 365, the agency's 16 full-time and 7 part-time staff can better collaborate and work remotely. IT costs have been reduced and productivity, reliability and security improved – even in the face of natural disasters.

Improved customer service and team collaborationIndividual email accounts, calendaring and working remotely have provided great business value. When a staff member is ill, their manager can handle their meetings or reschedule them on their behalf. During a recent snow storm, the team was able to work collaboratively from their homes without interrupting client service.

Reduced IT costsWith IT as a service, support and maintenance are included in the monthly fee, so the IT budget can be focused on training and new services like data plans for accessing email on mobile phones.

“Like all non-profits, we have one eye on funding and a tight fist approach to overheads, with our focus on delivering services to families. Office 365 enables our organisation to outsource email and concentrate our efforts on our purpose,” comments Wallace.

Increased productivityEmployees save time due to remote access. Wallace estimates savings of minimum 30 minutes per week.“Technology is continually evolving and Christchurch Women's Refuge is committed to reducing its reliance on paper, therefore utilising more features of Office 365. They are looking into SharePoint Online to expand collaboration and data sharing to include partner organisations, and moving to a wireless environment to give them even greater flexibility within the office environment.”

Staff members are also discovering a new level of productivity by being able to synchronise their calendar, contacts and email to their mobile phones. The team can now communicate more easily, and sharing and accessing information is now simpler for those working from multiple locations.

For more information about Microsoft Office 365, please click here.

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