A security and event-management company, based in Brandon, MB, can now rely on an improved communications infrastructure to manage its mobile workforce dispersed across the country.
Outdoor Box Office Ltd. (OBO) says it experienced several benefits after replacing, last June, its previous peer-to-peer network with a new infrastructure based on Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 R2.
They include well-connected employees, better collaboration on projects, and more effective data sharing.
Microsoft Small Business Server is an integrated group of server products from Microsoft Corp. designed for running network infrastructure (intranet management and Internet access) of small and midsized businesses (SMBs).
OBO is a provider of security and event management products and services. Its event management offerings include coordinating admissions, parking, security, concession audits and information services. The firm also provides onsite security guards.
The company employs around 25 staff in two offices – in Brandon and Winnipeg – and 250 full-time security guards across Manitoba as part of its security service.
OBO staff managing an event move from their office to the event site for the duration of an event.
So the company needed to invest in an IT infrastructure that supported communication between remote employees, says Sean Farnell, president and CEO of OBO.
He said this capability is crucial because when traveling to these big shows, data that needed to be transferred to the firm’s payroll department sometimes got lost in transit.
Event planning aside, he said the security component of the business also required employee connectivity. A dispatch centre that tracks watch guards needed immediate access to information, such as site locations, on-duty staff, and level of guard training.
For instance, if someone calls in sick, the dispatch centre can identify which persons are trained to work at a particular site, and quickly find a replacement, says Farnell.
Prior to the implementation, e-mail communication depended on a third-party Internet service provider (ISP) that didn’t reliably relay e-mails to mobile devices used by remote workers.
In addition, employees did not have access to the latest updates, and often had to wait until they returned to the office.
“It was causing havoc for our administration, human resources, and payroll people because information was not accurate, and would get lost during e-mail transfer,” says Farnell.
The company chose C-Five Ltd., a Brandon, MB-based Microsoft partner specializing in small business, to create an IT infrastructure that would resolve these problems.
OBO initially considered using the messaging capabilities of an Exchange server, but after some discussion, realized the real need was for remote access, says Les Connor, president of C-Five.
So he said C-Five introduced OBO to the idea of using Remote Web Workplace, a feature of Microsoft Small Business Server 2003, to stay connected with staff in the field. “They were unaware that using remote access capabilities would allow them to run their business from anywhere on the planet,” says Connor.
He said the new communication infrastructure responded to OBO’s needs by bringing e-mail hosting in-house, and connecting mobile devices to the business through Exchange.
Events managed by OBO include the annual Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) that takes place in Toronto each August. It’s a gala the event-management firm has planned since 2001.
Following the implementation of the Microsoft Small Business Server-based network, OBO staff managing the CNE onsite were able to post and share files on a central Web site using SharePoint, such as staff schedules for the 400 seasonal workers generally hired for the event.
The company says it experienced other benefits as well.
On the security side, just last month OBO began providing patrol units with laptops connecting users in their vehicle to the office, through high-speed broadband. This way, Farnell says, patrol units can keep track of incidents occurring during shifts and instantly relay that information to the office.
Given their culture – in particular the tendency towards frugal spending, a do-it-yourself, and do-more-with-less attitude – it’s not surprising SMBs seek a strong return on their IT investment, says Connor.
“It’s often up to partners like C-Five to demonstrate that what they’re purchasing is actually going to have value to them.”
While companies across the board need to pay more attention to the business value of IT, such a focus is especially crucial for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), says Michael Hyjek, research director for customer segments at Toronto-based analyst firm IDC Canada Ltd.
SMBs “need to choose applications that will deliver the strongest business value,” he says.
According to Hyjek, implementing new software can be a challenge for such firms given that they often have little or no IT infrastructure, and operate on limited resources. Therefore, SMBs need to be selective about which tools they implement and how they go about it.
Statistics indicate SMBs would do well to heed this caution. An IDC survey of 300 Canadian SMB owners, conducted last year, shows end-user training and support, along with escalating operating costs, are some of the biggest hurdles SMBs face in running their business.