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Land O' Lakes

By Microsoft Customer Stories on October 24, 2016

Filed under Mining, Oil & Gas

Land O’ Lakes: Cultivating connections and greater efficiency using data, from farm to table

cow newArden Hills, Minnesota–based Land O’Lakes, Inc. offers extensive agricultural services and works hard to support growth to help feed the world’s rising population. To help employees work more closely with farmers, customers, and colleagues, the company adopted Microsoft Office 365, the Enterprise Mobility Suite, and Surface Pro devices. It is also exploring the comprehensive Office 365 E5 suite to support employees, whether they’re visiting a co-op member’s dairy farm or analyzing crops in a field.

Feeding the world

Today’s farmers are no strangers to technology. From knowing exactly how densely to plant crops on an angled slope to identifying and applying modern best practices at a moment’s notice, technology is at the heart of agriculture like never before. And that’s critical as the world looks to the agricultural industry to feed 10 billion people by 2050 without an increase in arable acres. At Land O’Lakes, Inc., a national agricultural cooperative, relying on advanced technology tools is not only part of everyday business, it’s part of the company’s plan to help fulfill the dietary needs of people around the globe.

Land O’Lakes employees work with everyone from sales groups and retail development managers to growers. Many of them are often in the field, working alongside customers and farmers. And now they have constant access to all their information and colleagues, available from anywhere and on any device. “We didn’t used to be able to work together so efficiently,” recalls Tony Taylor, Senior Director of Infrastructure and Security at Land O’Lakes. “People and information were more disconnected, so it took lots of email and phone calls to share information and collaborate on projects and documents.”

Moving to the cloud

The company shifted to a more flexible, collaborative environment when it began moving to the Microsoft Office 365 suite of cloud-based services in 2013. “Our strategy is first to use software as a service if it’s available, next to buy software, and last to build it ourselves,” says Taylor. “We decided to put that strategy into practice when it was time for a Microsoft Office upgrade.”

Continues Taylor, “Our decision to adopt Office 365 was guided by our workforce’s familiarity and productivity with the Office suite and the capabilities of Office 365. The switch to Office 365 has been an easy one for our employees—they don’t always know that their information is in the cloud. They just know that now they can get to everything they need, all the time, on multiple devices.”

Land O’Lakes employees rely on Microsoft Exchange Online for email and appreciate their ability to access their messages from anywhere. “In the mobile space, we’ve found Microsoft Outlook to be a reliable mail client, regardless of whether we use it on an Android or iOS device,” says Taylor. “And the more access that employees have to a predictable email experience, the higher their productivity.” Part of that predictability is thanks to Office 365 ProPlus, which Land O’Lakes installed quickly using the Click-to-Run capability. Employees can download Office 365 ProPlus on up to 15 devices for a consistent, productive user experience across them all.

The company also uses advanced functionality in Exchange Online. “We like that eDiscovery and Exchange Online Protection are built right into Office 365,” says Taylor. “We’re a $13 billion company, and like other companies our size, we encounter a fair amount of litigation. When I compare the eDiscovery component of Office 365 with what we used to use, it’s like night and day. IT staff members no longer even deal with e-discovery for a legal or regulatory request or internal investigation. Our legal team and records manager handle it all themselves, and they believe we’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees now that we provide our outside counsel with more relevant information from the start.”

Bringing teams together

Today, Land O’Lakes employees find it easier than ever to collaborate, using many Office 365 services. For example, they share content within and across both internal teams and external organizations through Microsoft SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business. “I use SharePoint Online to jointly develop tutorials, disseminate results of user acceptance testing, and keep everyone up to date on the results of agriculture technology trials,” says Brittney Ullrich, Agriculture Technology Operations Specialist at Land O’Lakes. “Once we finalize a document, we store it in OneDrive for Business and make it available to interested parties so they always have the latest updates.”

In the past, employees used everything from Citrix ShareFile to Dropbox, Box, and other public storage utilities. “Moving to OneDrive for Business gave us a more secure, managed place for document storage,” says Taylor. “We’re able to create policies to protect our data now that we have one standard solution that’s accessible to everyone.”

Land O’Lakes has just started to launch the Yammer enterprise social network to crowdsource ideas and as a self-service solution center to garner knowledge from around the company. “When we reach critical mass, employees will be able to ask questions about everything from an IT issue to the science of cow stomachs,” says Taylor. “We’re a really dispersed workforce, and we believe using Yammer will make it easy to tap into our collective knowledge, work on cross-company initiatives, and connect teams.”

Supporting workplace flexibility

As Land O’Lakes moves toward a more collaborative culture, it is rethinking its physical environments. It’s moving away from traditional office cubes and embracing more open spaces and, therefore, greater flexibility. “We’re a growing organization, and we don’t want to add to our office space, so we’re looking to foster greater agility for teams who need to work together whether or not they’re in the same department,” says Taylor. “Of course, that means employees have to be able to carry what they need for work and for effective communications because team members won’t always be in the same space.”

That need for flexible communications is one of the reasons Land O’Lakes is interested in the Office 365 E5 suite for its International Division. “We’re looking at ways to take advantage of the complete Skype for Business Online functionality so that the telephony needs of our international teams are met by a single, unified system,” says Dan Oase, Director of End User Computing at Land O’Lakes. “The advanced Skype for Business Online features can make a real difference in our international development division, where we’re working in low-bandwidth areas to bring modern farming practices to developing countries.”

The company further supports flexibility by deploying Microsoft Surface Pro devices to workers who need the highest levels of mobile productivity. “Employees in our agriculture technology division were carrying laptops, tablets, and phones wherever they went,” says Taylor. “When we gave them Surface Pro devices with Office 365 and the Windows 10 operating system, they were thrilled. That and a phone is all they carry now, using the devices to work with farmers right out in the fields. For instance, employees might pull up crop yield data and satellite imagery to show farmers the specific valleys where their nitrogen’s running low and locations where they get really great output. And many of them use the same device to check email and make phone calls.”

Investigating advanced features

Land O’Lakes is evaluating additional Office 365 E5 functionality to determine how its security and analytics capabilities, such as Office 365 Advanced eDiscovery, would help further the company’s goals. “We’re intrigued by what we’ve seen with Microsoft MyAnalytics,” says Oase. “We already use Delve to save time on personal productivity through smarter searching, and MyAnalytics extends the time savings with insights on how we spend time at work, empowering employees to focus on what matters most. It’s interesting to see how effectively information is reaching employees. And Microsoft Power BI provides a fast and easy way for users to analyze their data in a self-service approach without intervention from IT. Giving employees the power to analyze plant production and other data themselves with Power BI will help them make valuable discoveries faster.”

The company has deployed Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection to add a layer of protection to its email environment. “With Advanced Threat Protection, we’re more aware of potential threats. We like that we can start scanning emails and attachments before they even make it into our environment, helping us identify problems earlier,” says Taylor. “That helps us address advanced malware threats that are becoming more prevalent and decreases the operational expense of resolving security issues. It also reduces our risk profile, which is critical to any enterprise organization.”

Attracting the workers of tomorrow

Land O’Lakes expects that investing in technology such as Office 365 and Surface Pro devices will heighten its ability to attract and retain new talent. “There’s been a huge resurgence in the agriculture industry, so there’s a lot of competition when it comes to talent acquisition,” says Taylor. “If you think about graduates coming out of college and the way they embrace new technology, you need to meet their expectations of continuous advancement and provide tools that help them work better. We believe that offering Office 365 and other Microsoft technologies enhances our appeal and will help us hold onto the talent we have—and need—to meet our global agriculture goals.”

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