PGA Tour Lines Up Its Shots During Its Migration to Office 365

The Tour has taken a deliberate approach to moving off its on-premises email system, and is gaining productivity tools for its users in the process.

For years, IT managers at the PGA Tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., have received feedback from employees that the organization’s email system felt dated and stodgy. At the same time, they knew that many of the professional golf governing body’s longest tenured workers had never used anything else, and they didn’t want to force an abrupt change on employees who might not be ready for it.

The solution? When the Tour deployed Office 365 last fall, it did so gradually, running the cloud-based email system (and suite of hosted productivity and collaboration apps) side by side with the existing email system. The phased approach gave any hesitant workers time to adjust to the switch; it also gave the IT team a chance to work out kinks.

“It’s just the culture that we’ve built,” says Steve Evans, the Tour's senior vice president for information systems. He recalls that when the Tour set up the IT group to manage help desk and network support 30 years ago, it established the ground rule that the team’s success would be based on user satisfaction.

“One of the things that kills user satisfaction is when you mandate,” Evans says. “Everybody is going to have to make this transition, but we don’t have to make it painful. We can allow it to happen over time.”

A Strong Technology Partnership

Before transitioning away from its existing email system, the Tour brought in experts from CDW to assess the organization’s environment and explain the pros and cons of the possible options moving forward.

“Ultimately, we had to make the decision,” Evans says, “but it’s a lot more comforting to know you’ve had your options fully explained.”

The PGA Tour’s Steve Evans, left, and Doug Edwards say that the the Tour has improved user productivity by upgrading to Office 365.

In presenting the choices to the Tour, CDW detailed the costs of possible approaches alongside the different feature sets for each one — including gradations of the various Office 365 license types, says Andy Wood, a licensing account executive at CDW.

“Every company is different,” Wood says. “It’s case by case.” Some organizations, for instance, must plan deployments around compliance regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), which layer in additional consideration factors, he says. At the PGA Tour, leadership placed an emphasis on moving to a system that could be managed by a lean IT staff.

Making the Migration 

Once the Tour decided to purchase Office 365 from CDW, it also relied on CDW to negotiate the best pricing. “We are able to see the plans for companies across various industries and then leverage that for the customer’s benefit,” Wood says.

Working with the Tour’s tech team, CDW created a detailed project plan for the transition, down to the task level, and assisted with the migration process.

“It’s rare to migrate from one system to another,” says Derek Carnwath, a CDW senior project manager. “It requires a really specific skill set, and our engineers have been through the process multiple times, whereas a customer who has never performed that migration wouldn’t necessarily have that knowledge.”

What’s more, even if they have the expertise to seamlessly manage a migration to Office 365, Carnwath says, IT professionals in many organizations are already maxed out managing and executing their day-to-day duties. “They have to support daily operations,” he says. “Their job is to support the environment on a daily basis, not to take on projects outside of their availability.”

Managing a Complex Transition 

While the Tour wanted to let its users make the transition gracefully, the IT team had no misconceptions about the speediness required to lay the foundation for a successful email migration.

“We were on a fast track and needed to ensure that we hit the ground running,” Evans says. “CDW’s team did a great job, from educating us on our options to implementing the coexistence solution for mail during the transition.”

To manage the migration from the existing mail system to Office 365 — and to help route mail between the two systems during the transition period — the PGA Tour relied on Quest migration solutions from Dell, purchased through CDW.

“If you want to live in a coexistence period, it’s critical that you have a piece of software like the Quest tools,” says Doug Edwards, director of information systems customer service for the Tour. “For us, it was a no-brainer.”

To date, most mail has been duplicated in the cloud — even for users who have yet to make the switch — allowing IT teams to migrate a user’s remaining mail in a matter of minutes.

When the switch is complete, the IT staff will no longer have to manage on-premises email servers. Although that factor was not a primary driver of the move, officials say the change will free up staff to focus on other IT initiatives.

“Administering mail is a time- consuming endeavor,” Edwards says. “There are issues that come up; there’s all sorts of troubleshooting. Offloading that to Microsoft has been really helpful, so our people can focus on the hardware and applications that drive the business.”

Strong Short Game

The PGA Tour has no dedicated IT training staff, but the organization has created different levels of support for Office 365, depending on how comfortable each employee is with the new system. IT staff has set up intranet pages explaining the technology — with self-training materials, videos and frequently asked questions — and staff members are also available to sit with employees for one-on-one sessions.

Teenya LaPorte, an 18-year veteran of the organization who leads staff training and development for its human resources department, says she was “apprehensive” before making the switch but was “thrilled” after doing so. She is particularly enamored with small differences from the old system, such as the ability to drag email to a task list and color-code her calendar.

“I love it, love it, love it,” LaPorte says. “It’s made me so much more efficient.”

By early spring, roughly 500 of the Tour’s nearly 900 employees had made the switch, and the IT team had begun gearing up for a second wave of sign-ups.

Gaining Productivity Tools 

By itself, Evans says, migrating to Outlook wasn’t a good enough reason to expend the time, effort and money to move away from the old email system — especially several years ago, when the only option was another on-premises system.

“You’re still going to get email and calendar,” Evans notes. But, he says, the inclusion of productivity and collaboration apps in the Office 365 suite made the migration worth it.

“All of a sudden, you had a much better business case about why you would spend money to make the change,” he says. “If you’re really just trading out one email system for another email system, we could never build the business case to do it.”

Ultimately, the expanded apps and productivity tools in Office 365 reduce day-to-day maintenance and management responsibilities, Evans points out. “Outside of provisioning new users, the rest of the management is going to end up being pretty trivial.”

Blending the Personal with the Professional 

The PGA Tour’s licensing agreement gives users the ability to install familiar Office programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint on multiple devices, and then access files from anywhere using the OneDrive cloud storage system. They can also share documents with SharePoint and participate in online meetings and video calls with Skype for Business (formerly Microsoft Lync).

Soon, the Tour plans to let workers upgrade to Office 2016, which will give them the ability to work on documents with colleagues remotely and in real time, with each user seeing edits and additions that the others are making.

Vanessa Thompson, a research vice president for IDC’s collaboration and communities program, says that collaboration apps are strong drivers of cloud software growth. By 2019, according to IDC forecasts, around half of collaboration and communication software will be hosted in the cloud.

“Every worker now is a connected information worker,” Thompson says.

Evans, the PGA Tour senior VP, says the fact that Office 365 lets users manage their own license allotments simplifies matters for IT, so that the organization doesn’t have to make decisions about which workers need access to Office apps on their home computers or personal mobile devices.

“Everyone’s blending their work life with their home life,” he says, “and so it gives us a lot of flexibility.”

Jensen Hande
May 31 2016