Feb 19 2010

Collaboration Is King

A move to Microsoft Exchange Server helps Navigant Consulting communicate more effectively with its clients.

Navigant CTO Tim Monson says deploying Microsoft Exchange streamlined the consulting firm’s IT administration.
Photo: Mark Battrell

The ability to share data, information and knowledge is an important differentiator in today’s digital economy. At Navigant Consulting, it’s a concept that’s taken seriously.

“Communication and collaboration are at the heart of what we do,” says Tim Monson, CTO at the 2,500-employee Chicago-based firm.

For Monson and the cadre of Navigant consultants, these are no idle words. The ability to respond to clients’ immediate needs is paramount.

In the past, Navigant relied on the Lotus Notes Domino platform to handle messaging. The technology had long served as the cornerstone for the organization’s e-mail, contact and scheduling systems. However, Monson knew that the system needed to be improved. Because of internal growth, acquisitions and more sophisticated requirements, it was time for a change.

“We needed a more robust and streamlined system in place,” he says.

Navigant, under the leadership of CIO Changappa Kodendera, opted to migrate messaging to Microsoft Exchange. He says moving to Exchange makes it easier for them to fetch e-mail from multiple systems and devices. It also makes it easier to integrate calendaring and scheduling data for employees to share.

Along with the Exchange deployment, Navigant is also deploying Microsoft’s Office Communications Server for an even more enhanced suite of communication applications. The company began switching over to the new system in February 2009.

The result? Navigant has boosted its efficiency and productivity, all while building an environment that makes it easier to communicate internally and with clients.

“It was a strategic decision that will provide many benefits,” Monson says. “We’ve consolidated licensing, simplified IT administration and reduced our total cost of ownership.”

Communication Breakdown

The ability to respond to clients’ needs without delay is a necessity in business today. This is particularly true for organizations coping with substantial regulatory or structural change — the primary focus of Navigant’s practice.

The consulting firm, which operates out of 40 offices and caters to companies in construction, energy, financial services, government, healthcare, insurance and law, helps businesses improve operations and address conflict, performance and risk-related challenges.

In May 2008, Monson and other executives at Navigant huddled to discuss a growing issue. The Lotus Notes platform, while functional, imposed important limitations on the firm.

“Continuity and consistency across the organization was lacking,” Monson explains. When he conducted a survey of employees to gauge overall satisfaction levels, he discovered that employees overwhelmingly wanted to use Outlook.

Monson knew that Navigant had to invest in a more sophisticated system. The company had simply outgrown the Lotus Notes messaging platform.

“Our option was to either migrate up the IBM chain or move to another platform,” he relates. Yet, no matter which direction the initiative took, the company wanted to deploy a system that offered an industry-standard approach, says Monson.

Navigating a Solution

When considering messaging migration, the company faced a number of important questions. With a limited IT staff, the firm had to decide whether to host the messaging platform internally or outsource it. IT management also considered how to best structure the environment. The firm also needed to develop a transition road map. And its IT staff had to determine how the project would proceed, from both a practical and a technical standpoint.

Navigant eventually selected Microsoft Exchange and Office Communication Server, and then worked with CDW, which provided consulting on the project and also hosted the environment.

With a product and strategic plan in place, Navigant began conducting test migrations to debug the process and streamline the actual cutover. Six weeks later, Navigant began migrating user accounts, typically at a rate of approximately 100 per night.

Then in early May, the firm had what it referred to as its “Big Bang” week, which included 550 users from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Despite the planning, the changeover was no simple task. The company couldn’t just switch users from one application
to another.

“We had to have two systems coexist,” Monson adds. “We had to allow users to migrate to the new Outlook Exchange platform while still being able to communicate, interact and do their calendar messaging with the existing Notes environment.”

In fact, through the use of specialized tools and a tightly focused implementation strategy, Navigant made the process invisible to employees. “Individuals didn’t know their colleagues were part of the Outlook environment or the Lotus Notes environment. It was completely transparent to them,” Monson states.

Successful Switchover

The migration required more than a good strategy. Messaging services had to remain available at all times. Yet, porting over address books and updating e-mail clients was just the beginning. Ensuring that employees could continue to view free/busy scheduling information and handle other calendaring functions was vital. The same was true for moving over tasks, reminders and alerts.

To assist with these requirements, Navigant IT turned to Microsoft’s Transporter Suite for interoperability that allowed free/busy information to be shared between Notes and Exchange. The firm also used a toolset from Quest Software to transfer data from the old Lotus environment to the new Microsoft Outlook platform.

What’s more, Navigant had to keep an eye on the volume of data streaming into offices as employees began using the new e-mail system. “We had to make sure that we had the bandwidth to make the process completely seamless. When users first opened their Outlook client, they would pull as much as 2 gigabytes of data over the wire,” Monson explains.

Mark Brajkovic, Navigant’s IT senior manager for architecture, says the company had to make sure that the old and new environments could coexist without a hitch. The changeover had to be invisible to end users.

The task demanded constant monitoring, as well as coordination with field support technicians. “We had to script specific items and document different processes,” Brajkovic explains. “We had to make a lot of changes and modifications to systems.”