The International Business Leaders' Forum

The International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) works globally with businesses, governments, and international agencies to create new partnerships that help both business and communities to flourish. It is part of The Prince's Charities - a group of 16 not-for-profit organisations of which The Prince of Wales is President.

As the majority of IBLF's workstations are Macintosh, Mac know-how is key for an organisation so dependent on effective communications. Technical support was originally provided in-house, but IT manager Nick Claridge decided that outsourcing could deliver the increased depth of cover and scope of knowledge crucial to optimal efficiency.

After only a few months, it became clear that the outsourced company IBLF had contracted did not have the Mac-specific skills required. A Google text advert led Nick Claridge to contact SupportPlan: ‘We were attracted by SupportPlan's combination of competitive pricing, a promise of immediate response from a pool of Mac experts, and excellent hardware and PC support mechanisms. Their offer was exactly what we were looking for.'

Outsourcing to SupportPlan brought immediate benefits: ‘With our previous support company, time to fix a problem was an average of eight hours', says Nick Claridge, ‘they were often on site and sometimes had to visit several times until a solution was found. They were always fire fighting.'

‘SupportPlan immediately took a different approach. They planned a Standard Profile for all our Macs to give us a common operating system and applications on every computer. Our users have confidence in the remote support they receive - and the average time to fix a problem is now down to two hours.'

A Mac-unfriendly product

Identifying - and resolving - a major problem with IBLF's email system was a typical example of the focus and knowledge SupportPlan can offer.

IBLF's email (including remote access), custom databases and shared calendar facilities were provided by Lotus Notes, accessed on 45 Macs and 5 PCs connected to a Domino server.

Like all popular commercial software packages, Lotus Notes has its detractors as well as supporters. In providing technical support on a daily basis, SupportPlan became quickly aware of the problems the application was causing. Of the 45 Mac users, the majority's experience was that IBM's 'groupware' application can be a less than Mac-friendly product. For instance, when new mail arrives, a message reads 'You have new mail', but the mailbox display doesn't update; you have to press a key or menu item to refresh it. Archiving email for the first time can also be complex and unintuitive.

Working in close collaboration with Nick Claridge, the SupportPlan team identified a solution that would offer ease of use and drive greater productivity. SupportPlan proposed that the server that would deliver best performance for IBLF's needs was Microsoft Exchange, combined with Microsoft Entourage software to provide email, shared calendar, public folders and custom databases facilities.


Minimum migration time

In setting up a test account to ensure a seamless-as-possible migration from the old system to the new, SupportPlan was able to highlight a potential problem. Converting a file to PST in order to transfer it from Domino to Exchange, proved reliable but time-consuming. The change-over period for 50 users would be an unacceptable five days minimum. By converting files to IMAP, SupportPlan greatly reduced migration time.

The detailed testing phase also revealed that many users had devised highly complex structures for filing their mail. These structures had to be re-created and manually dragged onto the new system, again incurring unacceptable downtime. SupportPlan proposed the Microsoft connector EXT Notes, which allowed these structures to be retained, while reducing migration time to an average of 45 minutes per user.

When it came to the change over, downtime was restricted from 4.30pm to 11am the next day. Users found that their machines were set up and ready on the afternoon of the migration day, at which time SupportPlan provided full training in the new system for blocks of five or six people.


Anticipating problems

Having set up the new system, SupportPlan's ongoing service was able to solve two problems with Exchange which became apparent in the following few months: archiving and security. A machine which mirrored the Domino server was set up to provide easy archiving, while two further machines ensured security by providing DHCP and a robust firewall.

Summing up IBLF's experience with SupportPlan, Nick Claridge said 'What impresses us is SupportPlan's flexibility and enthusiasm for adding value. They have identified problems, devised solutions and given invaluable help in sourcing hardware and software at a keen price. It's also reassuring to have desktop support from a Mac engineer who can guarantee a quick response'. This confidence in SupportPlan is reflected in IBLF's two year rolling contract for ongoing technical support.

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