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Serving the public interest and reducing fixed capital costs with Office 365

Howard Kourik, Director, Information Systems, San Diego County Regional Airport AuthorityToday’s post was written by Howard Kourik, Director, Information Systems, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority manages operations at one of Southern California’s busiest regional airports, San Diego International. We were created to serve the public and have a mandate from the state of California to address the local area’s long-term transportation needs.

While we are a public entity, we function very much like any other business. In fact, we don’t accept any tax dollars to support our operations. Instead, we rely on landing fees, the rent we receive from tenants, and a percentage of the profits from concessions-the restaurants, newsstands, and other shops located in the airport-to fund our growth. And like every business, we’re constantly looking for ways to bring down our costs by operating more efficiently. We evaluated a lot of technologies to help us trim costs, but we selected Office 365 because it not only saves money, it gives us what we need to meet future IT demands.

With our eyes on current and future needs, we did some modeling to gauge regional demand for our airport services over the next decade. It quickly became clear that we needed to add runways, terminals, and other “bricks and mortar” facilities, and upgrade our network infrastructure. Still, the only way we could budget for that expansion was to reduce or eliminate some of our fixed capital costs.

I knew that one important way we could trim expenses was by taking a closer look at the technology we use and how we manage it. Our email system offered a prime example of how, by rethinking the way we deliver core IT services, we could cut down on operational “drag” and potentially save our IT team lots of time. Historically, we’ve managed our email in a clustered environment across four physical servers. So, we were not only worrying about the cost of the servers; we had to invest in mirroring software and an antivirus solution, plus the time required to handle firmware updates and other regular maintenance tasks.

To make the case for transitioning our email system, we compared the total cost of ownership to keep the servers running on-premises versus moving to a cloud service. Right away, we saw that we could save up to US$40,000 a year, plus 75 percent of the cost of a full-time employee by taking our email to the cloud.  

Then it was a decision about which provider to go with. We rely heavily on Microsoft technologies throughout our business, and I’d heard a lot of good things about Microsoft Office 365. As part of my research, I asked a peer of mine who had recently deployed Google Apps across his organization for advice. Between the stories he shared about the lack of support that Google offered and what I knew about our organization’s need for enterprise-level productivity tools, I knew that Office 365 was the clear choice.

The applications in Office 365 provide the same familiar interface that our people are accustomed to-with high fidelity across a variety of mobile devices. And services like antivirus protection and Active Directory are integrated right into the solution for comprehensive data protection. Plus, it puts my mind at ease when I think of all of the steps that Microsoft takes to ensure the physical security of its data centers.

Originally, our main goal was to migrate our email service to the cloud so that we could reap the significant cost and labor savings that we estimated. But with Office 365, we get so much more-all rolled into a single subscription, including collaboration and instant messaging tools and standardized desktop applications that are essential for staying productive. And the process of deploying Office 365 was very straightforward. By working with Microsoft Cloud Vantage Services, we felt very well prepared for the transition. Any time we had a question, we just reached out to our assigned Cloud Delivery Executive and got it answered right away. With help from Microsoft on the deployment planning and execution, we probably saved close to six months.

Our people love having access to email-anywhere, anytime, across multiple devices-that looks and feels like the email they have on their work PC. They also appreciate not having to constantly clean out their email folders to make room, because every account now has 25 gigabytes of storage.  

And I’m amazed at how creatively people are using some of the other applications in Office 365, like Lync Online, to save time and stay better connected throughout the day. Because we’re located at the airport, we have a pretty large facility and need to run shuttles to get people back and forth between buildings. The other day, I was riding one of our Wi-Fi-equipped shuttles and saw a staff member on his tablet holding a videoconference through Lync Online. There’s no bigger thrill for somebody like me than to see people using the technology we invested in to do their jobs more effectively.

In addition to the productivity benefits for business users, our IT team has been able to focus on higher-value, strategic projects since we made the move to Office 365-mainly because we don’t have to manage email servers anymore. When you only have two server adminstrators, that’s a big deal.

Now, our team can put more time and effort into implementing our Common-Use Passenger Processing System, or CUPPS as it’s called. This system will be a game-changer for our operations because it will allow us to make much more efficient use of our gates. With a common network infrastructure in place, any airline can plug into the computer system at any gate and access its own proprietary systems. So instead of assigned gates that are left idle when a designated carrier’s flight is running late, we can use those gates to help passengers get on and off flights more quickly-while taking in more revenue for the airport.

Now that we have Office 365, we save money, we save time, our people are more productive, and we can direct more of our attention toward improving efficiency. I’d say that’s a pretty good return on investment.  

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