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Red Wing Shoe Company makes great strides with Office 365

Picture of Joe Topinka, CIO, Red Wing Shoe CompanyToday’s post was written by Joe Topinka, Chief Information Officer and Vice President Multichannel Commerce at Red Wing Shoe Company.

Tradition is a funny thing. It can set a strong tone for your brand while at the same time limiting the company in other areas. At Red Wing Shoe Company, we stay in close touch with our traditions—we are still based in Red Wing, Minnesota, where our company was founded in 1905, we have maintained our commitment to producing footwear that’s designed for rugged use, and we work in a historic building that has stood the test of time.

Because of all that history, many people are surprised when they learn that we like to position ourselves at the forefront of innovation. For example, we developed impact-resistance technology to protect the top of the foot in dangerous workplace situations, and we created a special waterproofing system to keep feet warm and dry.

We incorporate innovative solutions in business operations, too. Our recent shift to cloud technologies frees us from IT responsibilities while empowering our distributed—and growing—workforce to work better together. Red Wing Shoes has 2,500 employees in more than 500 locations, from brick-and-mortar stores to manufacturing facilities. We needed to “shrink the globe” to help employees collaborate across geographical boundaries, sharing product design ideas, conducting operations and sales planning, and handling IT projects. By adopting Microsoft Office 365, we can provide standardized, user-friendly tools that employees know and trust, without worrying about the availability of IT resources and staff bandwidth. It’s not only easier to connect existing workers with colleagues throughout the company, we’re also able to get new employees set up and productive more quickly, which is important as we expand and acquire new companies.

When new employees join our company, they are impressed by how forward thinking we are about technology. We actually had a group of new hires who came over from a big-box retailer, and they couldn’t believe how sophisticated our technology systems were—they’re blown away by the flexibility that we give our employees. Offering tools like those in Office 365 is helpful for recruiting, too, because the ability to work from anywhere comes in handy when your headquarters is in a small town. Some of the leaders of our acquired business lines have been able to fold into the Red Wing Shoes community without uprooting their lives because they can effectively connect to us from anywhere.

When I get a message from our Operations Manager in Dubai, I can easily answer his question and make immediate connections. Those sorts of capabilities have changed the landscape of how we operate, and they’ve made us more productive, too. Ten years ago it wouldn’t have been possible to communicate so easily with others around the world. Instant messages and presence have changed our world dramatically, and we’ve been able to succeed as a global company in a way that we couldn’t have imaged before these new technologies were on the scene.

Honestly, I think that there’s an important distinction between IT leadership and business technology leadership. If I spend my time focused on the technical details, I can’t add to the value of the company. Making the shift to thinking about technology as it relates to business strategy is an important step. The more I can offload some of the tactical technology elements to reliable, long-term providers, the more I can focus on what’s right for the overall direction of the company. With Office 365, I’ve handed over the responsibility of keeping systems up and running but my mind is at ease because I trust Microsoft. My attention is now fixed on larger areas where IT can help foster business growth—and these are shoes that I’m happy to fill.

Technologies involved

Red Wing Shoe Company employees use Microsoft Exchange Online for worry-free messaging and Office Online to collaborate in real time or coauthor on shared documents through a web browser. The retailer uses OneDrive for Business companywide, which employees will use to store product and project plans, and it expects to take advantage of Yammer enterprise social networking capabilities for corporate outreach to employees around the globe in the coming year. Red Wing Shoes has plans to transition other on-premises solutions to Microsoft Office 365. For example, it will replace its existing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 system with SharePoint Online, which will be the company’s intranet portal and workflow mechanism. Red Wing Shoes is also considering a move to Microsoft Lync Online for presence, conferencing, and Voice over IP.