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Great communication between employees is crucial, especially as CEOs demand that firms grow while becoming leaner and agile. Tools like Jive, Yammer and Skype is changing the way employees work and increasing their value to the organisation. ComputerworldUK speaks to two very different firms, Grant Thorton and Graham’s dairy, about their cloud-based collaboration tools.

Graham's - a larger butter producer than Lurpak - is using Microsoft’s Yammer, 365OneDrive and Power BI to keep its expanding dairy business “feeling small”, its director says.

The dairy has 250 cows and pulls in supplies from 98 smaller local farms to produce 700,000 pints of milk a day. It needs to ensure that this milk gets to its customers including large and small retailers – like Tesco – Scottish prisons, hotels and restaurants ina timely manner.

Having grown from a traditional, tenant farm in 1939 to a business that has its own brand and over 6,000 deliveries per day – it turned to technology to stay competitive.

Robert Graham, the firm’s director and grandson to the original Graham, decided to opt for the cloud through Microsoft’s OneDrive and Office 365 in 2013 – and hasn’t looked back.

“We had a combination of servers onsite, hosted some servers doing different things, Blackberry severs, tape backup, lease line broadband – all with varying degrees of clunkiness.

“We had virus issues, remote site issues, vulnerability and once we moved to the cloud we have not had any outages – it’s been more reliable and enabled us to have larger mailbox storage so it works so much better.”

The firm, under the insistence of their service provider, also deployed Power BI and Yammer, both of which have allowed Graham’s to use traits usually attributed to smaller, traditional organisations.

“As a family business, it is important to feel small as we get bigger and Yammer has been a big part of that. As a business that is growing, being able to touch and feel and look at live data is really important.”

The dairy producer uses Power BI to input data around transportation and deliveries as well as sales. It previously used “lots of spreadsheets on lots of different servers” causing complications with financial and customer costing coming from different sources.

“Now we are able to do it through Sharepoint and Power BI to dashboard company performance”, Graham said.

Delivery drivers with ruggedized handsets can input data on the move which gets sent to employees who input it to Power BI.

“It has given us our resilience and reliability back we don’t need to use tape backups anymore”.

Yammer

Deploying Yammer “took a bit of work” as most of Graham’s employees don’t sit at a desk. Typically, the sales team will use it in the field to feedback what products are on shop shelves or reactions from Graham’s customers.

“It’s helped customer service because more are involved in the discussion so they can feed back immediately while in conversation with a customer, and one of the 200 working in distribution can look into it back in the office”, Graham says.

The firm also deploy sales teams to check shop shelves to see what promotions rivals are offering and to ensure they are providing competitive costing. With Yammer, this job has been opened up to every employee, who can simply send a message when they are in a shop and spot a rival’s marketing campaign.

Graham said the tool was so simple his 97-year-old mother was active on it. “She’s all over it.” 

Communication and collaboration tools in the enterprise

ComputerworldUK recently spoke to another firm: accountants Grant Thorton, about its rollout of Jive’s employee social network tool that replaces the traditional intranet.

It rolled out its version of the software, called ‘Jam’, to its 4,500 UK employees, “90 percent which are active,” UK CIO Greg Swift says.

It is currently integrating cloud-based HR tool Workday and its staff are using Jam to ease the deployment.

Grant Thorton invested in Jive as part of a refresh of its technology to attract an increasingly digital, younger workforce.

It operates a “boundary-less” workforce policy, and has a BYOD strategy to allow flexible working for all its employees.

Despite the success of the Jive rollout however, Swift said that being closer to employees and hearing their opinions could be difficult at times for the IT team.

Referring to feedback on the recent migration to Windows 10 the team undertook, he said: “some of the feedback is difficult to take, its constructive but it can be a little uncomfortable”