Integrated IT as a business enabler for Ostra Group.
Integrated IT as a business enabler for Ostra Group.
How do you ensure that your new IT tools meet the needs of hundreds of people who work in 11 business units of different disciplines? How do you do it in three months only?
These were just some of the challenges facing Michal Kurdiovský, a CTO of Holding Ostra Group. The holding was born by strategically merging 11 different companies with a very long tradition in the Czech market. A merger on this scale required way more than just implementing the right technology. A major cultural shift was needed in the way people work, communicate and how businesses operate.
About the company
The history of Ostra Group goes back as far as 1949, to the post-war city of Ostrava where the national company Czechoslovak Automobile Transport (ČSAD) was established. Its main goal was to provide the nation with transport services of people and goods for industrial plants, steelworks and mines. As the years went by, the region around Ostrava became the most important industrial base of the entire Czechoslovak Republic (now Czechia). Naturally, as the industry in the region flourished, the need for transportation services kept growing. Thus, a whole network of companies from different disciplines emerged, with a common goal of helping to rebuild the country’s infrastructure after World War II.
Skipping forward to 2019, 11 companies with a core business closely related to transportation were strategically merged into one large, multidisciplinary holding. As a result, Ostra Group became one of the biggest providers of services for passenger and freight transport in the modern Czech Republic.
What needed to be done
The merger was a smart move from the business point of view. But how do you achieve common goals when business units don't have efficient means of communication between them?
“ The main challenge for the IT department was the fact that each company has its own IT systems and processes. A lot of technologies are out-of-date and processes are obsolete. We needed to find a solution that would allow us to unify all the systems while still meeting the needs of everyone.” says Michal Kurdiovský
Companies needed ways to communicate online with each other, and securely share documents and files, but each of them used different tools for that.
In the attempts to deal with these shortcomings employees were using unapproved software, mainly different online messengers, and video-conferencing tools which created a whole other problem of shadow IT, and caused concerns for leakage of sensitive information.
Plus, Ostra employs a number of external workers as well. It was important to find a way to share information and documents with them without breaching security protocols.
“With the global pandemic forcing us to work from home and our current MS Office licences expiring at the end of 2020, we needed to find and implement the new solution fast” adds Michal Kurdiovský
To Google or not to Google? This is the question
Michal Kurdiovský and his team presented the board of directors with 2 proposals: Migrating to Google Workspace or Office 365.
“The only advantage Office 365 had over Google Workspace was that it would allow us to keep the continuity which would suit the more conservative people who wouldn't have to learn how to use new tools. The licencing, however, was more than twice as expensive as Google Workspace,” says Michal Kurdiovský.
But approaching this transformation in a conservative way wasn't really what the leaders at Ostra intended. They wanted to bring their company to the 21st century and improve the way people work together to help them achieve their strategic goals. For that, Google Workspace was the right choice as it is built to enable effective communication and collaboration.
After making the decision to implement Google Workspace in October 2020, they reached out to Revolgy, a trusted Google Partner to help them with this task. There wasn't any time to spare. The migration needed to be completed by the end of December, so we rolled up our sleeves and got straight to work.
It's natural for most people to be anxious about changes such as this one. This is why the whole project required not only technical excellence but also figuring out different ways to inspire people and as such igniting a significant shift in the company's culture. All this is the core of our change management expertise at Revolgy
“Google Workspace is not just a set of tools. It's an ecosystem built around the idea of technology that's sole purpose is to make people's lives easier. It is intuitive and perfectly interconnected, which in the long run allows people to work smarter, instead of working more. But to do that, people need to shift their mindset first,” says Kateřina Krajšová, project manager at Revolgy.
Getting everyone on-board
In the change management aspect of our projects, we follow a methodology that we developed together with experts at Google and that proves to be very effective. It includes activating employees themselves to find solutions that would solve their everyday problems best.
We believe that people feel way more comfortable asking their peers for advice when they're learning to use new tools. This is why, before we even begin the technical part of the project, we choose so-called “Google Guides” out of volunteers from every department. They become our early adopters’ group, who will receive thorough training and later become trainers for the rest of the company.
In the pre-migration phase, we also organise a number of focus groups with our future Google Guides and we interview the main stakeholders. The aim of this phase is to understand how the company works every day, and identify possible improvements in the collaboration between individuals, departments and entire business units.
Together with the team of Ostra, we analysed use cases specific to their business and reviewed selected business processes. Then, we designed prototypes of how these processes can be improved with Google Workspace and created a roadmap for technical migration.
Collecting feedback early for the best outcomes
In the initial phase of the project, we migrated only core IT and our Google Guides to the new solution. We supported them along the way and provided with custom training. Once they felt comfortable enough with the new solution we focused on collecting their feedback. This allowed us to uncover other processes, specific to their everyday operations that can be improved even further and also be well prepared for any questions their colleagues may have after global Go Live.
Based on this feedback we prepared custom manuals, tips & tricks and FAQs and published them on a special website. This way, the people at Ostra now have tailor-made Google Workspace learning materials available to them anytime they need them. They can come back to them and study at their own pace.
Overcoming technological barriers
The final stage of the project is called Global Go Live, where we switch everyone to a new solution. This time, the bar was set really high for our technical team. Our colleagues Dan Čech and Damien Carbonnel weren't dealing with one company only but with 11 of them at the same time. The main requirement was to switch them to Google Workspace all at the same time without any major disturbances.
“We were dealing with multiple different systems and tons of technological obstacles simultaneously. On top of that, we had a very limited time to finish the project, as Ostra's MS Office licences were expiring at the end of 2020,” says Daniel Čech, Deployment Specialist at Revolgy
Despite all some bumps on the road, and the limited time they had, our engineers managed to successfully migrate Ostra Group to Google Workspace to our client's great satisfaction.
The importance of a trusted sherpa
In projects of this magnitude, a trusted partner, who can provide you with the technical expertise and help with the human aspect of the project is priceless.
“It was great to have someone with this much experience on our side. You [Revolgy] had a clear plan, knew exactly how much time each stage is going to last, and you warned us about pitfalls and risks. Thanks to that, we felt really well-prepared” says Michal Kurdiovský
All member companies of Ostra Group now have unified, reliable communication and collaboration solution, which significantly improves the way businesses share information and work together on strategic projects. The IT systems and accesses are managed centrally so the company has full control over how sensitive data is being shared.
“In this kind of projects, communication with end-users is typically neglected, as the IT department is busy dealing with the technicalities and simply lacks the capacity to manage the human aspect of it. For me personally, the change management by Revolgy brought the most value to our company” says Michal Kurdiovský
A month after the project ended, despite the initial resistance, most employees see the benefits of new tools clearly and they come up with creative ways of solving their everyday problems on their own. To us, this is the best sign, that our job was well done.