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ABM Cleans Up on UC&C with Skype for Business

When it comes to communications and collaboration, global facility solutions provider ABM faces an interesting challenge. While IT is in the enviable position of having a corporate mandate to improve communications and collaboration among the company's 118,000 or so employees, it's also in the difficult spot of trying to figure out how to make that happen when no more than 10% of the workforce comprises information workers in need of UC&C tools on a daily basis.

Speaking at Microsoft Ignite earlier this month, Andre Garcia, assistant vice president of Global Infrastructure Services at ABM, discussed this dichotomy in context of the company's journey to Skype for Business. Several of his team members joined him to talk about use cases and lessons learned (view the presentation here).


ABM, which Garcia called "the largest company nobody's ever heard of," has about 12,000 information workers, people in departments such as finance, human resources, and IT. But the bulk of its workers are feet on the ground, providing facility services across a number of verticals in about 30 countries. These are the folks who load baggage onto planes, sanitize hospital rooms, maintain industrial HVAC systems, smooth the divots on golf courses, run electric charging stations for battery-powered cars... and the examples go on and on. Within a company of such size and scope it's certainly not unusual for some employees to feel as if they're not a part of the whole. "They get lost ... so our goal is to make a large company feel like a small company," he said.

Toward that end, the company is getting ready to roll out a set of services it's calling "ABM Anywhere." Microsoft Office 365, including Skype for Business, is part of the solution -- but not because it's a cloud offering. Rather, what's so important about using Office 365 is "the idea that users will have a rich set of tools to actually start communicating with each other, and be able to leverage Skype for Business and have that be an integrated and known experience because of the Skype UI," Garcia explained.

"That is going to drive adoption and interaction among our 12,000 information workers and the roughly 108,000 people we have who do not have accounts but can use a consumer version of Skype and still communicate," he added.

ABM's commitment to Microsoft as a communications provider dates back some nine years or so, when Garcia arrived at the company and walked into what he called a "locked down, fixed environment" that didn't allow for much mobility. At that time, ABM had an IBM Lotus Notes/Domin environment for email, with a bit of Sametime tossed in for chat. It relied on Citrix Systems for access.

"If you were an executive, then you might have had a BlackBerry. But most people, even if they had a laptop, still couldn't access email. ... So if you were a traveling executive and you were about to get on a plane, you couldn't take your email with you and work from your BlackBerry. That was not very productive," Garcia recounted.

Although the situation sounds ludicrous to us today, ABM certainly wasn't alone among global corporations having highly limited communications capabilities. But at ABM, Garcia saw the opportunity to move the company forward, joined the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program (TAP), and began its communications and collaboration transformation. The timeline for the company's communications platform shows the journey:

All of ABM's information workers are on the Lync platform, and, as of early May, about 2,000 users had already transitioned to Skype for Business, said Patrick Murphy, enterprise architect at ABM. Geographically dispersed as ABM is, interaction among employees is hard. "What better platform than Lync/Skype for Business to keep people in touch?" he asked (rhetorically, of course).

Murphy, who joined Garcia during the session, said ABM uses the full range of Skype for Business capabilities to enable "rich collaboration." This includes IM/presence, voice, video, document sharing, and federation, he added. In using the communications platform to its fullest, ABM stands out among other enterprise organizations. This we know anecdotally, but also from results of a recent No Jitter reader survey on Skype for Business adoption trends. Only a quarter of our survey respondents said their organizations are using Enterprise Voice and have federated Skype for Business, for example (see a results slideshow).

As to why ABM joined TAP and lives on the communications and collaboration edge, Garcia explained:

"In my personal experience, companies that wait a long time to upgrade have a very hard time retaining their staff. Engineers, architects -- they want to be using that next thing. They want to be cutting edge, and, yeah, that brings pain and suffering with it -- we all to get bumps and bruises and scratches on our knees from trying new technologies -- but that makes us better at what we do. That makes us experts in our field."

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