Google Apps Catapult BI-LO Supermarkets to the Cloud

The BI-LO supermarket chain is ringing up significant cost savings and productivity increases, following a move to Google Apps from a legacy IBM Lotus Notes system. Find out why BI-LO chose Google Apps over a Notes upgrade and over Microsoft's cloud offering, and about all the benefits the grocer is reaping. Cha-ching!

By Sandra Gittlen
Wed, August 10, 2011

CIO — A good indicator that you're in need of a new email system is when your entire executive team offers to be part of a pilot group for a new platform.

In late 2009, BI-LO, a chain of more than 200 supermarkets in the southeastern U.S., determined it had extracted the last breaths from its legacy IBM (IBM) Lotus Notes installation. IBM was end-of-lifing the version BI-LO was clinging to, meaning it would no longer support the product. This left the IT team with a choice—upgrade or find another solution.

"I procrastinated on making a change because of cost and the potential impact to productivity. We finally reached the point where something had to be done," says Carol deWitt, CIO of the Greenville, S.C.-based BI-LO.

deWitt decided to migrate to Google (GOOG) Apps, leaping from the antiquated version of Lotus Notes to the cutting-edge world of cloud services. The move has saved the company thousands of dollars annually, as it costs about 60 percent less than the company's Lotus Notes installation.

But deWitt says the benefits of Google Apps stretch beyond pure savings and to alleviating the many challenges the company faced with Lotus Notes—what deWitt's colleague Jason Breazeale refers to as "living within the legacy system."

Notes Woes

Long before IBM's end-of-life announcement, deWitt and Breazeale, who is BI-LO's senior manager of architecture and planning, were experiencing serious issues and limitations with Notes.

Front and center was the product's inability to gracefully handle Web-based access. Breazeale says working with Notes' Web client was slow and awkward. With 17,000 workers spread across four states, Web access to email was becoming critical for frequent communication.

BI-LO outfitted some users with Lotus Notes' fat client to avoid the kludgy Web version. But the fat client had problems such as limited storage levels that became more apparent as file sizes grew. "We started to have hundreds of tickets per quarter for fat-client support alone," Breazeale says.

The company decided to take advantage of Lotus Notes' BlackBerry application. It was a better option for some users, but the strain on IT was still evident. To ensure proper security and compliance, the team enacted new user policies. Email was inflexible as users could only access it via corporate BlackBerrys connected to the corporate BlackBerry Enterprise Server, according to deWitt - no personal devices allowed.

Additionally, the distributed nature of messages presented a compliance challenge. Corporate email, considered critical business records, were strewn around in individual mailboxes on PCs, rather than centrally stored. Archives consisted of a long string that was difficult to search through.

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