Associated Industries of Massachusetts: more efficient member services with Microsoft Office 365

Today’s post about Office 365 was written by Cindy Lyman, chief financial officer at Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

AIM logo

It’s not always easy to age gracefully. As an association that’s nearly 100 years old, Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) has always adapted to changing member needs, governmental structures and—now more than ever—technological expectations.

AIM is the largest statewide association of Massachusetts employers, with a mission to improve the financial performance of member employers through a unique combination of lobbying, management and human-resource services. The 4,500 members and 49 employees of AIM work together to create economic opportunity by reducing business costs, shaping state and federal regulation, and ensuring an educated work force.

Cindy Lyman chief financial officer at Associated Industries of MassachusettsOne of our primary challenges at AIM is to respond quickly to member needs and changing conditions. We have a mobile staff located throughout Massachusetts so that we can respond from anywhere—from Beacon Hill in Boston, a member’s facility in Springfield, an AIM training event, or even at home.

Our technology systems in the past presented accessibility barriers that were tough to overcome, making it difficult for us to be responsive. We had older servers and disparate systems that didn’t always play nicely together. We had to jump through multiple hoops just to remain effective. I recall having to email documents to myself so that I could work on them at home because I wasn’t confident I’d be able to get consistent access to our shared files.

Staff members would log on remotely only to be disconnected from our network for no apparent reason. Allowing the right people to access the right information at the right time wasn’t something we could always achieve. We were frustrated that many of our members were moving ahead with advanced communications capabilities—instant messaging, web services and e-commerce—and we just weren’t there yet.

That’s why we began to explore what it would mean to upgrade our IT environment so that we could better serve our members. We made the decision to look beyond merely upgrading email or an isolated system here and there and chose instead to identify productivity software and database systems (for example, an association management system) that could give employees and members a more cohesive experience. It was pretty easy to see that moving to the cloud was the way to go, both from user and management standpoints, giving employees the “anywhere” access they needed. And we knew that a cloud-based solution for an organization of our size would be cost-effective both today and in the future.

We evaluated a range of options and concluded that we could provide our employees a better experience and a tighter level of security by adopting Microsoft Office 365. Our employees were already accustomed to using Microsoft products, so we knew that adopting the more robust set of tools in Office 365 would be easy. We also knew that Office 365 was the right choice because it could interoperate with the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform (our choice for an association management system), and it would work seamlessly with our existing financial system, Microsoft Dynamics GP. We believed that Office 365 would support a better member experience, too.

With the decision made to move forward with Office 365, we engaged a local Microsoft Managed Services Provider, iCorps Technologies, to help us make the leap into the cloud. We were understandably nervous—it was a very different way for us to think about communication and data—so it was helpful to have consultants with expertise there to ease the transition.  iCorps was great to work with, they created a customized O365 demo experience for AIM, developed the O365 technical vision, led the migration, trained our end users and partnered with us through the journey  to ensure success.

Although still in the early stages of our Office 365 deployment, we’re already seeing the benefits. I no longer email documents to myself. I store them in the cloud using Microsoft OneDrive for Business and access them instantly from anywhere. Our employees have taken to OneDrive for Business, Microsoft Lync Online and Exchange Online. They are confident with its accessibility and use new features every day.

We are setting up Microsoft SharePoint Online team sites for members to access relevant documents and information without waiting for staff to email them, and we are establishing policies for how to use Lync Online and Exchange Online to share availability so that we can work better as a team. The future is now, and we see exciting opportunities. Perhaps we will soon convert our in-person member committee meetings to videoconferences using Lync Online, saving travel time and cost and encouraging collaboration while improving productivity.

As we approach our centennial, we have confidence that we’ve taken a major step toward moving at the pace of today’s business by adopting Office 365. Embracing technological innovation will help us continue to look out for our members’ interests while giving our staff the tools that we need to make the most of our time and resources.

—Cindy Lyman

Technical summary

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) is using a range of Microsoft Office 365 tools to increase productivity, especially among mobile workers. Employees now have Microsoft Exchange Online for reliable, accessible email and calendaring, and they use Microsoft Lync Online for both scheduled and spontaneous meetings, instant messaging, presence, and videoconferencing. AIM provides employees with access to up-to-date Microsoft Office programs through Office 365 ProPlus, and the organization relies on Microsoft OneDrive for Business for centralized document storage to make it easy to access documents from member locations and from home. AIM will share real-time updates on member issues and support member self-service through Microsoft SharePoint Online team sites. The organization supports the use of Windows Phones and Microsoft Surface tablets for its mobile workforce.