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By Steven Peyronnin, Executive Director, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana
In early 2012, we decided to make the move to Microsoft Office 365 and it has completely changed the way we operate. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana was founded in 1988 as a nonprofit advocacy organization. We work closely with our partners-scientists, activists, policy advisors, and the public at large-to speak with one voice about the issues that impact Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.
Because we operate in the world of politics and public policy, our advocacy work tends to be fast paced, communication intensive, and constantly in flux. Our email system is at the heart of our operations. It’s the primary way our people keep in touch, share updates about new pieces of legislation, and stay connected with project stakeholders.
For a number of years, we tried to get by with an email service called SquirrelMail, which ran on a Linux server in our office, but it just wasn’t as reliable, scalable, or easy to manage as we needed it to be. One of the major headaches was how difficult it was for people to access email remotely. Staff could only log on to the system from their work computer, which restricted their mobility. And the service didn’t offer a built-in feature for sharing calendars. Figuring out staff availability and scheduling meetings usually meant sending a series of email messages back and forth. It’s hard to believe, but we actually kept our office calendar on a dry-erase whiteboard.
Because our email system was so cumbersome and unreliable, we eventually saw how important it was to have a separate, dedicated system for storing and managing documents. We track and write about legislation that continuously changes, so we needed a better way to manage multiple iterations of documents and provide our people with access from anywhere to the most current version of each position paper we develop.
With Office 365, mobility is no longer an issue. Our people access the information they need from practically any location on whatever device they’re most comfortable with-their smartphone, tablet, or PC. And Office 365 is so easy to use. We didn’t have to train people how to set up and manage their email or calendars because the interface is so familiar and straightforward.
The ability to share calendars through Exchange Online has given us much more flexibility in terms of scheduling. Our people travel frequently around the state to attend local hearings and meet with policy makers. This added visibility allows us to send staff members who happen to be nearby. And synchronizing changes in people’s schedules takes only a few clicks but allows us to better coordinate travel plans and reduce costs, and it saves us at least five hours a week on scheduling-related tasks.
We use SharePoint Online as our centralized repository for managing the production of large, often complex documents. We recently saw how incredibly valuable this capability was in creating our position paper on Louisiana’s coastal master plan. As many as 15 people inside and outside of our organization collaborated on that document, and SharePoint Online made it so much easier to track everyone’s contributions and preserve detailed version history information.
I also use SharePoint Online to manage staff workloads. I set up a site for each of my employees, which I use to help them set goals, evaluate performance, check availability for new projects, and post meeting notes. It gives me a way to stay connected and collaborate with each staff member-without having to hold 10 different one-to-one meetings. It also gives me an easy way to synchronize schedules and priorities with staff and balance project workloads across the entire team so that no one person gets bogged down with too much work.
Microsoft Office 365 directly supports our mission because it gives our team an easier, faster way to share information about all of the different issues we cover and the various community-based projects we manage. With Office 365, we’ve been able to elevate our efficiency to that of a much larger organization.