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Case Study: Global Connections Enhanced Through Office 365

Updated: May 8, 2019

Global company, global needs

Flex focuses on enabling customers to bring products to market more efficiently and successfully. A global company, Flex has customers across more than a dozen business segments—including telecom and infrastructure, industrial industries, and consumer technology products. It assists its customers with every aspect of product prototyping, development, manufacturing, and supply chain logistics. With operations in more than 30 countries, more than 100 factories, and approximately 200,000 employees, Flex has a tremendous range of expertise spread across its workforce.

At Flex, sharing information between manufacturing sites is a core part of the company’s DNA, as global customers may need different products to be built at multiple locations, based on current market conditions. “When we’re manufacturing products for one customer at 10 locations, the ability to share best practices, track the movement of material between various sites, and collaborate on the specific products we’re building makes a huge difference,” says John Wrenn, Vice President of Information Technology for Enterprise Solutions at Flex. “In some cases, we’re building multiple components that combine to make larger products, so assembly at one factory relies on components coming from multiple locations. This means maintaining forecasts and delivery schedules and meeting customer expectations through real-time collaboration.”

Many of the company’s employees are based in the factories, designing and building products every day. Traditionally, communication with these workers took place through posters in the cafeteria, verbal communication from line supervisors, and “town hall” meetings with management—all top-down communication strategies, which aren’t as flexible as digital solutions.

The easier it is to collaborate, the easier it is to deliver innovative solutions to customers. For example, the company’s quality design specialists in Shenzhen, China, may work on a manufacturing process enhancement with engineering colleagues in Guadalajara, Mexico. To collaborate efficiently, they need tools that facilitate their communication and help bridge the geographic gap.

“We wanted digital ways to communicate with our factory employees so that we could deliver information more consistently and efficiently, and create a way to gather worker input to constantly improve operations,” says Wrenn. “There’s a great deal of information sharing among factory sites, and digital solutions beyond email are crucially important.”

Strategic technology choices

To support its global communication and collaboration goals, Flex wanted to implement additional technology solutions that were best of breed, mobile-ready, and worked in the cloud. The company was outgrowing its established on-premises Microsoft SharePoint Server environment, so Flex evaluated a range of collaboration platforms with its three criteria in mind. “We looked at multiple solutions,” recalls Wrenn. “We decided that Office 365 was one of the best choices for collaboration that also gave us the flexibility to choose between cloud-based and onsite software deployments.”

Improved communication and consistency

Flex began its Office 365 adoption by establishing its governance model, including security planning, architecture and design strategy, and deployment best practices. Flex conducted a global migration to Microsoft Exchange Online, which includes built-in functionality for archiving and e-discovery, functionality that was previously provided by third-party products.

Knowledge workers throughout Flex use Office 365 ProPlus so that they have consistent access to Office applications on any device, including their mobile phones and home computers. “We used to have a mix of versions, but we’re using Click-to-Run to upgrade to Office 2016. Having our knowledge workers all on the same version helps us keep in sync,” says Tisha Reed, Vice President of Management Systems at Flex.

Highly secure access to documents and information is key for Flex employees working around the globe in multiple time zones. It’s easier to share information, whether documents are stored in Microsoft OneDrive for Business or in Box. “That’s part of the flexibility we appreciate about Office 365—we can take advantage of some components and still use third-party applications where it makes sense,” says Wrenn.

Increased efficiency through custom apps

The company has benefited from its transition to SharePoint Online, which is the basis for both the Flex intranet and a range of custom applications designed to help employees contribute more directly to the company’s success. Flex is giving thousands of employees—including factory workers who previously had no electronic access to corporate information—access to the Human Resources and policy information that they need, along with providing new communication paths to their managers and the ability to take part in the company’s continuous improvement efforts. For example, employees use the Flex ideation portal, built on SharePoint Online, to submit ideas for improvement, whether they’re small operational changes or large-scale manufacturing enhancements. Every member of the Flex workforce is encouraged to identify and voice opportunities, and colleagues vote on the ideas that they believe are most beneficial.

To make it easy for the company’s globally distributed workforce to manage quality at a local level, the company had built the Flex document management system (DMS) using its on-premises SharePoint implementation. “Thanks to the flexibility we get with Office 365, we were able to connect the DMS with SharePoint Online and create a searchable hybrid environment,” says Wrenn. “We utilize the SharePoint Online functionality for our DMS, which helps us operate as a cohesive organization.”

The company has applied the same SharePoint Online site model for its sales community and product managers, as appropriate. The site includes Microsoft Office Delve, Video, Yammer, and managed content capabilities to better connect salespeople with information and subject matter experts from across the company’s core segments. “We want to encourage finding appropriate solutions that may come from another of the dozen core verticals with which Flex works. Our on-the-go salesforce has an environment where they can quickly find and access the data and people they need, while also maintaining confidentiality. And they are doing it from their mobile devices which really enables productivity,” says Reed. “We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from our salesforce.”

A united workforce

Flex has benefited from its Yammer enterprise social network. “We’ve seen incredible organic growth in Yammer usage,” says Webb. “Employees define groups as they see fit and use those groups for collaboration, whether it be aligned to specific projects or for lateral communication among peers.”

The expanded ability to freely communicate and work together is leading to enhanced customer service. “There’s a huge sense of cooperation and accomplishment when cross-functional teams help each other succeed, and that’s enhanced with Office 365,” says Wrenn. “Customer onboarding, production line setup, materials distribution, new IT projects—all those require a lot of communication, and we’re using Office 365 to share expertise and further increase collaboration across Flex.”

As a result of the improvements that Flex has experienced with Office 365, the company is poised for even greater success. “Our experience has been that Office 365 is a great fit for Flex,” says Reed. “The ongoing improvements from Microsoft in terms of how well the services work together increase the value we derive from Office 365 around the world.”

Article By: Dave Bollard