TowerPinkster’s collaborative culture finds a great fit with Google Apps

"It is amazing to see how the capabilities of Google Drive have grown in that amount of time all without any work on my end to patch or upgrade the system. It just gets better.”

Ron Blake
Information Systems Manager

Meet Ron Blake, IT Director

When you first meet Ron Blake, he strikes you as thoughtful, keen-eyed and quick to smile. But back in 2012, Ron was facing a mounting maintenance workload including a server room full of aging equipment. Users were increasingly frustrated with inadequate storage space for email and an inability to take their email and documents with them on their mobile devices.


TowerPinkster has been committed to design integrity, quality and environmental responsibility for over 60 years.
http://towerpinkster.com/

TowerPinkster: A 60 Year History of Innovation

Since 2001, Ron has served as IT Manager for TowerPinkster, an architecture and engineering firm with a 60-year history of innovation. With more than 70 employees and offices in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, Michigan, TowerPinkster is an established leader and was named “The Best Architecture Firm to Work For in the Nation” in 2010 (ZweigWhite). The firm’s collaborative culture provides team members the freedom to explore new ideas and the tools to create innovative strategies. These ideas and strategies bring beautiful and functional spaces to life, such as their award-winning Battle Creek Area Math and Science Center.

Tired of the Complexity of Client / Server Software

In 2012, Ron was facing some challenges providing team members the tools they needed to continue their consistent track record of innovation.

“Our Exchange server was at the end of its useful life.” Ron remembers, “I had a server room full of hardware. Exchange server, anti-virus appliance, security appliance, and Blackberry server. Between that and complexity of the configuration, confusing licensing tiers and supporting two offices from a single Exchange server, maintenance was difficult. I felt trapped.”

Users were frustrated as well. As an architecture and engineering firm, large design files are the norm for TowerPinkster. Yet as the size of these files increased the capacity of the firms messaging and collaboration systems continued to be limited. This caused many wasted hours archiving email and looking for alternate ways to easily collaborate with team members and customers. Users were also excited to have the flexibility to use mobile devices to bring their tools with them to the project sites, but it was frustrating for them to hear that their system could not support these sorts of needs.

TowerPinkster Chooses Google Apps for Business

Ron and his leadership team at TowerPinkster were ultimately faced with a choice. Go through the complex and costly process of upgrading their servers and software with the thought that this cycle would repeat in 3-5 years, or to investigate new Software-as-a-Service offerings such as Google Apps for Business as a possible alternative.

At this point in the process, Ron reached out to Newmind Group to help him and TowerPinkster understand the strategic benefits of the Google Apps for Business offering. There were many questions. Would users be able to adjust to a new system? Did the benefits outweigh the risks when it came to switching to a less familiar vendor and technology set?

Because of its experience in the construction industry, Newmind was able to provide Ron and his leadership at TowerPinkster with clear details and examples of how other construction industry customers have gained advantages by switching to Google Apps. TowerPinkster also engaged Newmind to provide customized “Lunch and Learn” content to its users for the purpose of educating them and gauging their interest in the solution.

The team at TowerPinkster carefully weighed their options but ultimately decided that Google Apps for Business was a better fit for their innovative and creative team members.

Deployment and User Adoption

As deployment planning began there was some apprehension that despite the success of the “Lunch and Learn” sessions, users would have a difficult time with their new tools. Newmind team members worked closely with Ron to develop technical and change management plans for the deployment to ensure that users and systems would be prepared for the switch.

Newmind provided training services and technical data migration guidance to support Ron in the execution of the deployment. When Go Live day came all of the careful planning that the team had done paid off and the deployment went smoothly and painlessly.

“Looking back, it was great to see how team members here at TowerPinkster had such an open mind about the transition.” said Ron, “it really speaks to the innovative and open-minded culture here at the firm.”

Ron was also pleased to experience an immediate reduction in maintenance and support time due to the simplicity of Google Apps for Business. The capacity headaches that users were experiencing were removed instantly and users no longer had to frequently archive their inboxes which brought smiles to users faces and saved time across the organization.

“It felt great to clean out the server room.” Ron remembers, “All of the complexity and responsibility of those servers and appliances was no longer necessary.”

TowerPinkster Keeps Growing and Google Apps Grows with Them

It's 2014 and Ron is sitting in one of TowerPinkster’s bright conference rooms smiling and joking as he recalls the progress both TowerPinkster and Google Apps have made over the last 3 years.

“When we first started using Apps most users only used Gmail and Google Calendar.” Ron recalls, “Over the past several years, however, our more progressive users have started using Google Drive in a big way. It is amazing to see how the capabilities of Google Drive have grown in that amount of time all without any work on my end to patch or upgrade the system. It just gets better.”

TowerPinkster team members now take mobility for granted. They are able to collaborate anywhere from any device they choose. This type of freedom and flexibility supports the collaborative and creative culture that is a hallmark of TowerPinkster’s work. The team is also using Google Hangouts to collaborate on 3D design files and other important documents. It's now a given that they have the freedom to do this anywhere they choose.

“We are using Google Drive to push marketing collateral to our leaders. They have up-to-date marketing and project material delivered right to their devices. We love the power of search within Google Drive.” Ron observes, “We have a legacy intranet and we are now in the process of updating it. We are looking for a solution that will allow us to use the power of Google Drive and integrate well with our Google toolset.”
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