To accommodate email-based workflow and business processes BECU faced an inevitable IT scale-out. "By late 2009 we needed more than one [Microsoft] Exchange administrator to manage the growth in demand for 24/7 email access," explains Kyle Welsh, VP of technology services at the Tukwila, Wash., credit union.
Rather than hire two more Exchange specialists, BECU ($11.5 billion in total assets) started reviewing other options in early 2010. "We considered adopting Microsoft [Redmond, Wash.] Office 365 to move email outside of our data center," recalls Welsh. "But, our voicemail system was integrated with Exchange and we had a business requirement to keep voice mail in-house."
"So," he continues, "we began investigating a managed services arrangement, with the systems physically located in our data center with an external partner managing them. This also permitted us to consider upgrading from Microsoft Office Communicator to Lync, improving our instant messaging and voice systems while adding the future capability to do videoconferencing."
[BECU is a leader in P2P payments; read P2P Payments: Why Banks Need to Dive In Now]
In late 2010 BECU selected managed services provider Azaleos, which has since been purchased by Avanade. "Azaleos was focused on managed services, their references were solid and they could manage an environment we hosted in-house," says Welsh.
"Since our Exchange servers were end-of-life," he adds, "we were using the opportunity to establish a private cloud to host Exchange and Lync, both of which we were updating to the 2010 version -- and, eventually, to add SharePoint. At the very least, we figured we could always hire more in-house administrators if the managed services route didn't pan out."
Building a Private Cloud
With contracts signed, equipment arrived and work on the private cloud began in January 2011. With Azaleos providing consulting services on site, BECU's 90-member IT staff installed eight Dell PowerEdge R510 rack servers and a 40TB EMC CLARiiON AX4 networked storage system. To virtualize the system BECU used VMware vSphere.
Following the infrastructure build-out, migrating Exchange and SharePoint proceeded. "We moved employee emails onto the new system in sections by last name," comments Welsh. "In general, we always attempt to avoid big-bang implementations to mitigate risk."
By August 2011 the migration was complete and BECU handed the reins over to Azaleos. Feedback from business users on the migration was overwhelmingly positive, due to a noticeable performance improvement in Outlook, Welsh notes.
However, for Welsh's department, "It was like learning a whole new golf swing," he says. "We went from owning everything to working through a third party. Fortunately, Azaleos brought extensive processes and procedures to the table, so we didn't need to create support or communications plans from scratch."
In practice, BECU employees contact the internal IT help desk, which creates a trouble ticket for its partner to resolve. "Typically, issues get resolved faster than before because Azaleos has a pool of resources and we only had a single Exchange administrator," Welsh says.
Quick resolution of support calls significantly assisted with overcoming resistance to organizational change, says Welsh. "It's easy to get people to act differently," he observes. "The real change comes when they begin to think differently."
"In this case," he adds, "our employees gained confidence with the managed services set-up over time because they experienced fast, professional responses to our support requests."
The only real bump came when Azaleos applied the first software patch. "Previously, we had applied non-critical patches during the period of least email and voice mail traffic -- Sunday morning at 2:00 a.m.," explains Welsh. But, at the start of the managed services relationship, Azaleos applied all patches during regular business hours "causing some performance impact during the day," says Welsh.
"We had set the expectation that we wanted patches applied right away to reduce security vulnerabilities," he adds. "Once we communicated our expectations more clearly, Azaleos began applying critical patches immediately and scheduled other patches for off hours. They also developed guidelines around patching and started sending us a schedule so we knew exactly when patches would get applied."
Cutting Over to Lync
In early 2012 preparations for the Lync deployment began. "With the new version of Lync, once an employee migrated to it they were completely cut off from the old instant messaging system," explains Welsh. "Therefore, we needed to migrate all 1,000 of our organization's desktops at the same time to avoid any disruptions."
To start, BECU piloted the new Lync among a small group of a dozen employees, "half from IT and half remote business users who weren't accustomed to utilizing in-house instant messaging, anyway," says Welsh. "They appreciated the added functionality, particularly audio and video chat, because it enabled them to hold ad hoc face-to-face meetings."
Originally, cut over to Lync was scheduled for late 2012. But, it was delayed by an unexpected business need: developing and implementing mobile deposit capture, which rolled out at year-end.
Meanwhile, the acquisition by Avanade was announced in November 2012 and completed about a month later. For BECU, the transition was completely seamless. "From our perspective it's only brought more resources to the table and we're getting even better support," Welsh reports.
Ultimately, the cut over to Lync was scheduled for late March 2013 and was a resounding success. "At BECU we're all about the member experience," comments Welsh. "Now, whether a member is on the phone or face to face, our employees are literally one click away from the appropriate subject matter expert."
"Also, from an organizational perspective," he continues, "we're spending fewer resources on third-party conferencing and we're seeing a surge in collaboration. During any given business day there are between 40 and 80 conversations occurring simultaneously among employees spread across 48 physical locations."
As for managed services, that's also a home run. "Overall, patches and updates are accomplished faster because they're not competing with other priorities," says Welsh. "And we're able to use in-house talent more strategically. For example, our former exchange administrator is now able to work on our SharePoint deployment and other projects that are business differentiators for our organization."
"At the end of the day," he summarizes, "our partnership with Avanade really gives us more options for achieving our desired outcomes."
Snapshot: Institution: BECU (Tukwila, Wash.).
Assets: $11.5 billion.
Business Challenge: Cost-effectively implement 24/7 Microsoft Exchange technical support.
Solution: Avanade (Seattle); Managed Services.
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio