Going off-the-grid with Office 365—selling local energy generation with cloud-based IT tools

Today’s post about Office 365 was written by Greg Staky, director of information technology at Veriown Energy.  

Going off-the-grid with Office 365 profile pixVeriown Energy began as a typical startup, in August 2013. Instead of an office, we held ad-hoc meetings in each other’s condos and homes. Everyone used whatever devices they had, and we all traveled a lot to meet with researchers, investors and potential customers. Today, we have a head office in Chicago, but that startup work style—mobile, agile, available and productive—remains. One of my first responsibilities was to find the right business tools to match our way of working and our corporate culture. We’re in the business of selling sustainable, clean, local energy consumption—imagine Veriown turning your roof or parking lot into a solar power plant, with almost no capital expense on your part, so you could lock into predictable, long-term energy rates.

Given our business, we chose technologies that were cloud-based business tools. We looked at Google Apps for Work, but everyone in our industry uses Office. Cloud-based tools that work anywhere, and on any device, suited our mobility requirements. And, there’s a growing number of apps for Office 365 that you can use to extend your business platform. There’s plenty of enterprise-level functionality to build workflows and repeatable business processes. There are also cost benefits—we saved $30,000 by retiring third-party products and avoiding an on-premises PBX solution. If you replaced the word “energy” with “computing” in our slogan, “Energy the way it should be. Where you need it. When you need it. Your very own,” you would get an idea of why we went with Office 365.

We use the collaboration sites you get with SharePoint Online to build better relationships with investors. Investors go to a designated portal to track the progress of their investments in individual installation projects, or to review corporate information before they decide to invest in our company. We had such success with our collaboration platform that I began looking for a CRM-type app that worked with SharePoint Online. We wanted our sales reps to manage their pipeline online, rather than working with Excel spreadsheets. That’s when we discovered the SideKick365 xRM App from SkyLite Systems in the new Apps for Office marketplace. It was an excellent fit because it offered additional CRM and project management features built entirely in SharePoint Online. We worked with SkyLite Systems to create a simple process for onboarding external people into the SideKick365 xRM app and assigning appropriate access to our corporate data. It worked like a charm. And the real kicker is that external users get to use Office 365 and the SharePoint collaboration platform for free. All we pay for is the SideKick365 xRM app license. Suddenly, the business value of our online collaboration platform took a quantum leap forward.

For example, some of our consultants and contractors bring sales to us. We wanted to capitalize on these opportunities, so we invited them to join our CRM site and they, along with our own sales reps, are using the SideKick365 xRM app to manage customers and analyze the sales pipeline. We also created a SharePoint site for project management activities for each customer. Now we can invite construction and engineering contractors onto these sites to use SideKick365 xRM app’s project management features so they can more easily manage their construction projects. The faster we can take our customers off the grid so they can start benefiting from clean energy consumption at a predictable price, the better.

The business value of this extensible platform is huge. We needed CRM capabilities. We needed project management capabilities. We needed to show potential investors that our business systems were up to the job. Yet I didn’t have to go outside the Office 365 platform. I used a SharePoint app that was built on the platform we already owned to deliver a seamless and economical way to extend our IT investments that will scale with us as we grow. In a little more than a year, Office 365 has proven itself to be an extensible business platform that’s generated a lot of positive energy at Veriown.

—Greg Staky

To find out more, watch their self-shot video:

To read the rest of Veriown’s story and the stories of other business owners like Steve Johanns, download our eBook, “What I wish I knew.”

Free eBook

Key links