Strand, a specialist marketing agency in London, serves the enterprise technology and software sector with copywriting, design, social, video, and related content-generation capabilities. Based on telephone interviews with subject-matter experts and end-user customers, Strand writes case studies, white papers, blogs, thought leadership pieces and more, for global clients.  This case study explains how Strand saved over 50% on its IT costs by working with Azure and Office 365 experts Compete366.

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Business Background

Every day, Strand reaches out internationally to complete telephone interviews with clients and their end-customers. Without reliable telephony, a very large proportion of Strand’s work would cease.

Some years ago, Strand ran a traditional in-house IT set up, with on-premises Microsoft Small Business Server and other file servers, and a separate Voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephone system. Software was individually licensed per-system or per-user, and physical desktops and servers were upgraded or replaced on a three-year cycle. Staff generally worked from the office, occasionally logging in remotely via RDP and using the company’s VoIP telephony network.

Toby Chapman-Dawe, Managing Director at Strand comments, “We’re always on the lookout for ways to simplify administration so that we can focus on our core skills. The turning point for us was when Microsoft launched Skype for Business with integrated PSTN connectivity within Microsoft Office 365 packages. We could simplify the management of user software licensing, and replace our costly telecoms contract with low-cost calling from Skype.”

He continues, “Each VoIP handset cost more than £250 to purchase, and we paid additionally per user and for call volumes.

But selecting the correct Microsoft 365 licence packages and enabling Skype for Business PSTN connectivity was a diversion from our core business, so we looked for an expert partner with the right can-do approach and technical capability to handle this for us.”

The Solution

Strand chose Compete366, a Microsoft Gold Partner and a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider, to advise on licence options, provide user set-up and configuration, enable the PSTN connectivity (at the time completing its first UK rollout from Microsoft), and, ultimately, manage the switchover.

As Toby explains, “The great thing about Compete366 is that they really understood our business objectives, and proposed a solution that fitted perfectly. Compete366 handled Strand’s migration to Office 365 and Skype for Business calling seamlessly, with everything working first time – much to our delight.”

He remarks, “The per-user licence for Microsoft Office combined with integrated Skype for Business PSTN connectivity was actually lower per month than our VoIP-per-user cost, delivering cost savings from day one.”

Managing change, supporting growth

As with many businesses, nothing stays still for long at Strand. The original Office 365 user licences ran for fixed yearly terms, but new users and role changes rarely, if ever, coincided with the renewal cycle.

To solve this, Strand switched to purchasing its Office365 licences through Compete366. As a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider, Compete366 offers total user configuration flexibility, allowing Strand to add and change licences at any time, or remove users at just one month’s notice. At the same time, Compete366 guided Strand through the transition from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams, with integrated messaging alongside customer interviews, screenshares, chat, and more.

As Toby explains, “When we want to review and change our licences, Compete366 advises on the options and in many cases handles the operations, too. By purchasing our Office 365 solutions through Compete366, we can retire unused licences without penalty, and add new licences at any moment. For both user management and the move to Teams, working with Compete366 means I do not worry about technical management, and focus purely on running the business.”

Remote working made easy

With the cloud-based Microsoft solutions in place from 2016, the Strand team members were already familiar with working from home when the initial COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed in 2020. With Microsoft Office 365, key productivity applications were already fully mobile, and with the switch to Teams, online meetings rapidly became natural.

The only remaining issue was Strand’s reliance on an in-house file server. As the key company data store, the server included RAID to protect against physical disk failure and files were backed up on an hourly basis. With staff individually connecting remotely to the server, all their collective inbound and outbound traffic travelled through the company’s internet connection, causing a bandwidth bottleneck when working with large graphics and video files.

After discussing options with Compete366, Strand decided to deploy a new file server on Microsoft Azure. Choosing the file server route would enable Strand to continue running specialist applications that relied on embedded file server directory links without the need for complex reconfiguration. In addition, Azure’s data protection tools would provide the same or enhanced business continuity capabilities.

Toby says, “Compete366 provided outstanding advice, and helped to design the new Azure services, configure user access, test before go-live, arrange backup and DR components, and set up billing management. Strand replicated production files to the Azure file server, and then switched users over with zero disruption.”

He continues, “Importantly, the Azure service includes comprehensive data protection solutions with automated file backup and file copy features. And with far greater bandwidth available, the Azure solution delivers improved file access times, too – a welcome practical user benefit. “

Invisible IT is good IT

As well as the technical and user solution, Compete366 consolidated all of Strand’s Microsoft Azure services into a single administration console, providing a single point of billing management.

As Toby explains “We want our IT to be reliable, robust, and invisible. The Compete366 team always listens to what we are trying to achieve, figures out the best solution, and then delivers it with minimum fuss.”

He concludes, “Working with Compete366 and Microsoft ensures that Strand is able to provide the best possible service to our clients, with great mobility for remote working, total security for business protection and – of course – low operational costs.”

Business Benefits

30% reduction in telephony costs

Compete366 showed that Office 365 with integrated telephony would achieve a 30% cost saving per user compared to existing VoIP systems.

File server cost savings

By removing two in-house file servers and eliminating the backup/recovery control software, Strand saves around 50% on monthly costs.

Reduced administrative workload

By eliminating servers, file servers, and desktop licensing management tasks, Strand saves on IT administration, and simplifies finance administration with a single billing point for all services.

Enhanced mobility

Using Microsoft Office 365 and Azure has removed Strand’s dependency on a physical office, and enabled remote working from any location – key advantages during the pandemic and for the future.

If you’d like to find out how our Azure and Office 365 Experts can help you migrate to save IT costs simply get in touch. We’ll be pleased to help.


Contact our Microsoft specialists

Phone or email us to find out more – or book a free, no-obligation call with our technical consultants using the contact form.

“It’s great to work with the Compete366 team, the team members are really knowledgeable, helpful and responsive. No question is too difficult for them. They have really helped us to manage our Azure costs and ensure we have the right environment. When we bring a new customer on-board we can scale up immediately via the Azure portal and quickly make environments available to our customers.”

“We also find that there’s never a heavy sales pitch from them – they are technically focused and recommend what’s right for us.”

Paul Coyne, Rusada

“We had great support from the Compete366 AVD expert, who was really helpful, and guided me through options to tackle issues that arose.”

“The great thing about our AVD set up is that we have a custom set up for each project which Compete366 showed me how to do. And with the scalability and flexibility of AVD – we can meet clients’ expectations and get project users up and running more quickly.”

Amir Dangol, Senior IT Manager, Integrity

“We were immediately impressed with the advice that the Compete366 specialists in Azure Architecture were able to provide. This was all new to us and we really needed some external expertise that we could use to get our questions answered. The beauty of working with Compete366 is that we transferred our Azure consumption to them, and at the same time received all of their advice and guidance free of charge.”

Tim Entwistle, Head of Software Development, Herrco

“Working with Compete366 has been like extending our own team – they are extremely and easy to work with. Right from the outset, it was clear what was on offer – everything was presented to us in a straightforward and uncomplicated way. They also provided just the right level of challenge to our developers and saved us time and money by suggesting better ways to implement our infrastructure.”

Oliver Mackereth, Project Director, Hanse

“Compete366 were able to help us leverage some useful contacts in Microsoft. We really value the expert advice and guidance that they have offered us in setting up a highly scalable infrastructure. We are also setting in place a regular monthly meeting which will allow us to further refine our architecture and ensure we keep on track as our requirements grow and change.”

Matt Brocklehurst, Technical Director - AWOL Adventure

“I have been delighted with the migration, where my team worked very hard, supported by expert advice from Compete366, and achieved everything in the timescale we had set out. Compete 366 made sure that we didn’t make any expensive mistakes, and guided us through the process”

Darrell Cann, Managing Director, APEX
Jon Milward
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