Customer Success Stories

Feeding a growing business – real-time interaction and control in the cloud

World War II bunker transformed into an urban farm.

Commercial urban farm, Growing Underground, operates 100ft under the streets of Clapham in London. But the team need to stay connected and share information quickly and easily no matter where they are. Struggling with different devices and limited connectivity, they turned to Microsoft. Cloud-based Office 365 applications and Windows 10 devices give them the perfect small business package, enabling them to work efficiently and securely with real-time information and the promise of a core IT platform that will grow with them for years to come.

Deep under the streets of London something unexpected is happening. Entrepreneur Richard Ballard and his business partners have transformed old World War 2 bunkers into a place of creation. ‘Growing Underground’ is a commercial urban farm unlike any other – growing sustainable micro greens and salad leaves 33 metres under the busy streets of Clapham in an environment which is water efficient, energy efficient and pesticide free.

Unlike traditional farm owners, Richard can maintain complete control over his environment, so every leaf tastes equally amazing and these mouth-wateringly fresh products can be delivered to markets, restaurants and food retailers around London within 4 hours of being picked and packed. In such an unusual location, control and communication are vital for success, and as the business looks to expand further into the tunnels increasing product range and output, Microsoft technology has been helping them to keep close contact, stay agile and be ready for anything.

Goal – Stay connected from any device, in any location

An average farm day is systematic and follows a predictable pattern, but the 4-strong Growing Underground team has to be in many different places working in a variety of different ways. In the tunnels there are no phone lines but contact must be maintained with the office, where enquiries are handled. Regular updates on the farm’s climate need to be readily available to everyone, even those who travel extensively between customers and suppliers and those working remotely.

When the business started, there was a wide variety of PCs, laptops and devices in use so sharing information was not always straight-forward. Richard wanted to make the day-to-day running of the business as efficient as possible. He came across Office 365 and the Windows 10 Surface Pro tablets from Microsoft which sparked a journey to further explore the power of the cloud.

Richard recalls “It’s important that we can get information about the farm to everyone wherever they are and freely share documents. As a small business, having servers onsite wasn’t realistic from a space or cost perspective but we needed a system that everyone could log onto and use no matter what type of device they had. Office 365 seemed like a very attractive option for us with a mix of Windows and Apple users.”

Solution – A platform for real-time information sharing

Growing Underground invested in Office 365, light-weight Microsoft Surface Pro 3 devices and Lumia Smartphones, powered by Windows 10 - an integrated suite of Microsoft cloud services and devices that helps them to communicate freely, as well as create and share real time data at any time through any device. OneDrive for Business and SharePoint combine to form a central location where documents are saved and where the team can edit the same document, at the same time, without worrying about whether they have the latest version. Previous telephony and communications challenges have disappeared thanks to Skye for Business. Instant messaging helps the farm and the office to share quick updates about the environment, while remote and mobile users can talk to one another and customers using audio and video calling.

Remote workers no longer need to carry weighty laptops - armed with sleek Surface Pro 3 tablets and Lumia smartphones, they can enjoy a unified user experience using their favourite apps on powerful yet lightweight devices perfectly suited to any working environment. Richard comments “As a small business, we just can’t operate with everyone in the same physical location but with Microsoft technology we can be synchronized wherever we are. We can work together on the same documents from different places and we’re always connected and up-to-date with what’s happening on the farm. Without that immediacy we couldn’t have taken the business so far, so fast.”

Benefits & Value

Connected team productivity

  • With documents stored securely in the cloud in SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, everyone accesses one common set of documents from which they can make updates quickly without risk of duplication
  • Home and remote workers now enjoy the same IT experience as those in the office with access to everyday productivity apps like Word, Outlook and Skype for Business on all their devices
  • Growing Underground has been able to introduce new ways to foster better information sharing in the business, running weekly team meetings over Skype and creating discussion forums within SharePoint
  • Powerful Surface Pro 3 tablets provide the team with one device for every working environment and requirement – switching between tablet and laptop mode with ultimate portability and offering the latest productivity and security features of Windows 10

“The Surface Pro 3 is so light and portable. I love how it changes between tablet and laptop mode and when I’m working from home I can even connect it to my TV for large screen working.”

Big muscle for small business

  • Microsoft cloud services give Growing Underground large-business capabilities at a small business price, delivered as a flexible monthly payment to help streamline monthly cash flow
  • Microsoft online support for apps and devices helps the business to get maximum value from the technology and overcome challenges which hinder productivity without additional cost
  • As the business grows, Growing Underground will be able to add users easily and take of additional communication and collaboration features on offer within their subscription

Real-time information, faster decisions

  • Whether people are in the tunnels, on the road or working from the offices, accessing and sharing information is a breeze thanks to the friendly and easy-to-use interface in Skype for Business instant messaging and audio/video conferencing
  • Growing Underground no longer face the risk of information locked into individual PCs and inaccessible systems – updates from the farm climate control system are saved into SharePoint alongside operational, marketing and financial information
  • SharePoint enables Growing Underground to give each person access to the most pertinent information by setting Director, Manager and Operational access levels within the site
  • With insights readily available at all times, Growing Underground are empowered to react fast when required and make quick qualified decisions to make the most of every new opportunity

Security all wrapped up

  • Office 365 applications provide Growing Underground with an immediate data back-up solution - should they face hardware failure they can access information from any other device
  • Outlook’s advanced SPAM filters and email management feature, ‘Clutter’, ensure that everyone’s inboxes are kept secure, relevant and free from unwanted communication

Richard’s Favourite Features

“I’m really surprised and impressed with the Surface Pro – it’s just as powerful in laptop and tablet and the battery life is so good I can literally carry it with me all day without worrying about charging.”

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