As part of the Real World with Cloud Services series, we spoke to Leandro Balbinot, Chief Information Officer at Lojas Renner, about why the company chose to switch from Google Apps to Microsoft Office 365. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: Please tell us about Lojas Renner.
Balbinot: Lojas Renner owns and operates 173 department stores around Brazil. We are listed on the Brazilian stock exchange, and we have strong corporate governance and higher profit margins than our competitors. Our stores follow what we call a "lifestyle model," which organizes our private brands according to different consumer lifestyles. This is a competitive advantage for us, because our customers are better able to find a range of products that they like in our stores. The company is also growing fast—we opened 30 new stores in 2011, and we also acquired the Camicado chain of home décor shops.

Q: Why did you want to manage your messaging and collaboration with cloud technology? Balbinot: Prior to 2009, our communication and collaboration systems were based on an on-premises solution from Oracle. As part of an overall corporate IT strategy to better accommodate our rapid expansion, we started looking at moving some of our IT infrastructure to a cloud-based software-as-a-service [SaaS] model. We felt this would offer the flexibility and scalability that we needed to help the business grow. In addition, moving to a hosted cloud solution helps to reduce our IT administration burden and hardware costs.

We were one of the first big businesses in Brazil to embrace cloud computing, and in May 2009, we were the first large Brazilian company to adopt Google Apps as our communication and collaboration platform. Although Google Apps was successful in helping us reduce our IT burden and infrastructure costs, we found ourselves limited by the scope of the Google solution. We were not able to easily integrate it with crucial on-premises solutions like our IP telephony system and our enterprise resource planning [ERP] system. It was also difficult to integrate with our external partners' systems.

Q: Why did you choose Microsoft Office 365 to replace Google Apps?
Balbinot: We looked at several alternatives to Google Apps, including systems from Novell, Cisco, Oracle, and Microsoft. We also went back to Google to talk about the possibilities for extending the existing system. In the end, we felt that Office 365 offered the best set of features for our needs, and we liked the strategies that Microsoft was able to share with us for integrating Office 365 with mission-critical on-premises solutions, like the ERP system. They made it easy to have Office 365 communicate effectively with our private cloud.

We completed the migration to Office 365 in just three months, between January and April 2012, and our users have been very happy—not just with the smoothness of the transition and the ease of use of Office 365, but also with the new features available to them in the solution.

Q: What benefits are you experiencing by using Office 365? 
Balbinot: We have seen the benefits we were expecting, like ease of administration and minimal on-site infrastructure costs. But we have also seen increases in productivity and improvement in employee collaboration. Office 365 has also allowed us to streamline process workflows to speed up tasks like ordering items to restock our stores. Previously, this could take up to five days, but now it can be completed in a day.

One of the most exciting benefits has been the ability to let our store managers take a greater role in our product development cycles. We created an online review system that allows managers to preview upcoming product collections and to let us know what they like and dislike about them. This not only empowers our employees and gives them a greater sense of ownership in our brands, but it also gives our style team valuable input from the people who interact directly with our customers. This helps us provide consumers with even better products.

Read the full story online. For more success stories about people like Leandro Balbinot at Lojas Renner, read other real-world testimonials on the whymicrosoft website.