As part of the Real World with Cloud Services series we spoke to Jeremy Mahler, Director of Technical Operations at Hickory Farms, about why, after trying for almost a year to develop an effective collaboration environment with a leading cloud-based messaging and collaboration service, Hickory Farms switched to Microsoft Office 365. Here’s what he had to say.

Q: Can you tell us about Hickory Farms?
Mahler: Hickory Farms is a leading purveyor of specialty foods, known for our cheeses, summer sausages, and popular food gift baskets. We deliver our products to consumers across North America through the hickoryfarms.com website and a network of department stores, mass merchandisers, leading supermarkets, and more than 750 seasonal mall stores that are open from October through December.

Q: What led Hickory Farms to adopt an online services model for its collaboration infrastructure?
Mahler: To help reduce costs, we started to explore replacing part of our IT infrastructure with cloud technology. By 2010, our Exchange Server environment was aging, and it no longer made financial sense to maintain it. We were interested in updating our legacy messaging infrastructure and we selected a popular, online platform that was competitively priced and seemed like a good solution.

Q: Why did you switch to Office 365?
Mahler: When we adopted the previous online service, results were mixed. Employees still used Microsoft Office 2007 in addition to the email, word processing, and spreadsheet components of the non-Microsoft service, so we had no single point where people could share work easily. When employees converted messages, documents, or other materials between Office 2007 and the other online service, graphs, pictures, and other elements would change, or type fonts would be switched and colors would not remain true. Sending email messages and calendar invites to customers, retail partners and vendors also presented compatibility challenges. It created extra work for the IT department, too.

By 2011, we understood that we had to find something more effective and our IT partner, Bennett Adelson, helped us switch to Microsoft Office 365 very quickly. With Office 365, we still had a collaboration environment managed for us in the cloud, and it brought us back to a familiar environment that our employees were comfortable with.

Q: What kinds of benefits are you experiencing by using Microsoft Online Services? 
Mahler: By switching to Office 365, we’ve delivered tools that are familiar to our employees, which they can use to easily and effectively collaborate with each other. They can share work without compromising documents, and they can send email messages and meeting invitations that recipients can open and read. With our previous cloud-based email, employees were constantly asking us how to use the system, but by adopting Office 365, employees can use Outlook exactly the way they’re used to. We’ve also streamlined our IT management by no longer having to remediate problems or reconcile two separate messaging and collaboration environments, and we’ve developed the flexibility we need to efficiently scale our seasonal operations up and down.

Read the full story online. For more success stories like Jeremy Mahler’s at Hickory Farms, read other real-world testimonials on the whymicrosoft website.