Ford driving Exchange 2010 deep into collaboration plans

While Thursday's release-to-manufacturing of Exchange 2010 marks an end to development of the software, it's just the start of deployment for Ford Motor Co.

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The company plans to eventually move 100,000 mailboxes onto Exchange 2010 as part of its Digital Worker program, which aims to improve collaboration globally across the company. The company is upgrading from Exchange 2003.

"Increasingly we are more dependent on people around the world to contribute to our success long term ...that is a business driver," says Nick Smither, CIO of Ford Motor Co.

Fueling success isn't a throwaway line for Ford these days. The overall new car market is suffering through its worst slump in 25 years. Ford, the only U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy, is hoping its collaboration advancements will fuel its global workforce and help it navigate a market seemingly out of gas.

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E-mail, file sharing, team workspaces and social networking are only a handful of the technologies that Ford plans to roll out as part of its unified communications and collaboration platform, which will be anchored by Microsoft technologies -- Exchange, SharePoint, Office and Office Communications Server (OCS).

"Ford's long term strategy is to integrate our communications infrastructure," Smither says. "To this end, we will be integrating over the next year our SharePoint, OCS, Office and Exchange for a rich user experience." Smither says the goal is a single communication point that looks the same whether users are on the road or in the office.

For example, SharePoint Server will be the heart of virtual communities that provide collaboration tools for developers, designers and sales.

Ford plans to deploy the 2010 versions of SharePoint Server and OCS as soon as they are released next year. Those projects will run alongside Exchange mailbox migrations, which could run into 2011, Smither says.

"Unified communication is an integral part of our Digital Worker program," he says. The program will provide voice, conferencing, messaging and presence across all applications and devices. "Exchange and OCS provide a cornerstone to our unified communications strategy with the ability to integrate with other key components."

While the plans will encompass a lot of work and coordination, Smither says the integrated products will offer more sophisticated tools for employees.

"Today's Generation Y coming out of school and entering the workforce have an expectation around connectivity all the time, always on, whether at home, traveling or in the office," he says. "There is a focus on more sophisticated tools in the collaboration space to enable the flexibility to work anywhere."

The road to the end-goal began in September with Ford's Exchange 2010 pilot. The company is a member of Microsoft's Rapid Deployment Program (RDP). Ford plans to have the bulk of its back-end Exchange production rollout peak in mid-year 2010. The infrastructure is being designed to handle Ford's load of 1.9 billion e-mails per year.

With that kind of volume, Smither says a major design goal is availability based on redundant data stores. On the client side, a major focus is on rolling out an improved Outlook Web Access (OWA) client.

OWA 2010 has a number of features that align with Ford's goal of anywhere access, including support for the Safari browser on Mac OS X and Firefox on Mac and Windows. Safari and Firefox will support the full OWA feature list including drag-and-drop, spell checking and notifications.

In addition, OWA 2010 will include integration with OCS, support a threaded conversation mode, and feature a new set of display options that reduce the number of browser refreshes needed to see additional e-mails.

Smither says OWA and other Exchange 2010 features speak to a younger, global and mobile workforce. He says the benefit to Ford is "more sophisticated tools for employees."

This story, "Ford driving Exchange 2010 deep into collaboration plans" was originally published by Network World.

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