Vince Sarubbi kept seeing the billboards every time he got on U.S. Highway 101 going to and from his office in Silicon Valley. They were for a company called Box and they promised to make work collaboration much easier.
That was something that Sarubbi, CIO at Webcor Builders, wanted to improve at his company. The staff had grown, and along with it the amount of collaboration among employees.
Sharing large construction files via FTP servers had become inconvenient and inefficient. And the task of managing the many FTP accounts had turned into an administrative burden for his IT group.
"It took us a ton of time, just to manage something as simple as changing passwords and adding users to job sites and projects," he says. "We needed to find something different."
Might the answer be in those intriguing billboards? After a few weeks of driving past them every day, Sarubbi decided to open a personal free Box account. After spending some time playing around with the file sync & share, cloud storage service, Sarubbi had an epiphany: something like this could be a viable replacement for FTP.
So he and his staff got to work trying out and evaluating Box and similar products. But in the end, they picked Box for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it was the one that employees found most intuitive and easy to use.
"I gave it to just one job site and told them: 'Just try this out and let me know what you think. It's different from FTP,'" he says. "By the next week we had more than 80 users in Box. I couldn’t put out the fire. I got adoption without even lifting a finger. My people loved it."
This was about 4 years ago. "We bought in and never looked back," he says.
Cloud computing has taken off, and SaaS in particular
Like Webcor Builders, many other businesses in recent years have taken the plunge into cloud computing, signing up for platform, infrastructure and software services delivered from vendor data centers via the Internet and billed usually through annual subscriptions or on a per use basis.
Companies have primarily adopted Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps for email, office productivity, collaboration, CRM (customer relationship management) and cloud storage with sync & share capabilities.
Companies have embraced SaaS for various reasons. They have seen the opportunity to save money on hardware and reduce IT maintenance work. They get access to modern apps that are continually enhanced and are designed from the ground up for information sharing and collaboration. They boost their mobile and remote work capabilities, because most SaaS apps are built to be accessed via web browsers and from a variety of devices, including tablets and smartphones.
In November of last year, Gartner declared that SaaS products had graduated from smaller pilot projects to production deployments for tasks critical to the business.
Here are some case studies that look at how companies are using SaaS products in the real world.
Land O'Lakes goes all in with Office 365 for communications, office productivity and collaboration
The giant farm co-operative adopted Microsoft's Office 365 about three years ago for 6,000 information workers, and it is taking broad advantage of the suite, unlike other companies that limit their use to certain components, like the Office productivity apps -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint -- and Exchange Online's email and calendar.
Land O'Lakes employees are also actively using the SharePoint Online collaboration software, the OneDrive cloud storage service and Skype for Business for IM and presence.
In most cases, the IT department makes available to users as soon as possible new features and applications that Microsoft adds to the suite.
One example is Delve, a new search and discovery tool that uses the suite's Office Graph machine learning engine to analyze how people work on Office 365. Based on that knowledge, it searches for employees in a visual, card-based interface, showing their most relevant colleagues, documents and data at any given point.
Another new app Land O'Lakes turned on for its users recently was Sway, a futuristic presentation app designed for mobile devices, cloud computing and social media. It uses algorithms to auto-format the presentations and suggest layout options.
"We're using it all," says Tony Taylor, the company's Senior Director of Infrastructure and Security.
With Office 365, the IT group was able to eliminate a lot of grunt maintenance work, such as tuning servers and managing storage.
"It really relieved a lot of that back end admin stuff that my guys were spending a significant amount of time on," Taylor says. "Once I moved that off of our workforce, I got people working on much more important things."
When deciding to adopt Office 365, Land O'Lakes also had in mind the many young people it has been hiring.
"We thought it important that we portray that we're a leading edge company when it comes to enabling the workforce to do their work effectively," he says.
Prior to Office 365, most collaboration was done by sending email attachments back and forth. "We collaborate in a completely different way now," Taylor says.
With OneDrive and SharePoint Online in particular, Land O'Lakes encourages employees to share files, documents and data "anywhere, anytime from any device and securely," he says.
This mobile capabilities are critically important for Land O'Lakes -- between 1,500 to 2,000 of the Office 365 users are road warriors.
And the company attorneys like that Office 365 makes it possible to do e-discovery across the entire suite. "Our legal department is really excited about that capability," he says. "It's a big deal for us."