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MARS embarks on a journey to digital transformation with Microsoft

By Microsoft Customer Stories on March 14, 2017

Filed under Retail & Consumer Goods

With bold growth goals, MARS chooses Windows 10 for its digital workspace

MARS sells a lot of M&M’s and other confections in 78 countries around the world, but that’s not all there is to the company’s success. To meet audacious goals that include 100 percent growth in 10 years, MARS has adopted Windows 10 Enterprise, Microsoft Surface Pro devices, Microsoft Office 365, and Microsoft Azure to increase employee effectiveness, enhance mobility, streamline collaboration, promote data security, and reduce IT costs. Now MARS can deliver continuous innovation, empower its Associates, and meet its business objectives.

Offering products that customers genuinely love is an old recipe for sweet success. But that’s only part of how MARS has turned iconic brands such as M&M’s, Snickers, Pedigree pet foods, and Wrigley’s into a global enterprise with USD35 billion in annual revenue. That is a lot of M&M’s, but MARS is a lot more than candy treats. Pet care products account for almost half of annual revenue at MARS.

In fact, MARS markets more than 60 brands across six business segments, from food products to biomedical research. Since the early 2000s, this privately held, century-old company has grown 100 percent, and it expects to continue to accelerate growth organically and through acquisition. MARS is justly proud of business practices that include zero waste to landfills, fair and sustainable cocoa production, and wind farms that generate enough electricity to offset all corporate operations in North America and the United Kingdom. In 2014, MARS launched an industry-leading labeling initiative that encourages portion control and other smart snacking decisions.

“We run MARS with an extremely long-term view,” says Joe Carlin, Technology Service Delivery Director at MARS. “We try to do business in a way that benefits our customers, our Associates, and the communities we work in.”

That long-term view includes a commitment to product, technology, and workplace innovation. MARS has audacious business goals and expects to meet them by using Windows 10, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Azure, and other key Microsoft services and devices to boost employee effectiveness, enhance mobility, streamline collaboration, promote data security, and reduce IT costs, ultimately transforming the way people work at MARS. “Through digital innovation, our business has the fantastic opportunity to get closer to our consumers and provide and even better value proposition,” says Vittorio Cretella, Chief Information Officer at MARS.

$4 million upgrades vs. an evergreen estate

As MARS accelerates its growth and adds new products, services, and business units to its existing operations, its Information Services (IS) department is committed to adopting new digital capabilities that will help the company continue to expand and diversify, organically and through acquisition. “We have to drive technology as a business enabler, but remain efficient,” says Carlin.

With 400 locations in 78 countries and more than 80,000 Associates, MARS wanted to avoid the cost and time of repeated operating system upgrades. Previous enterprise-wide upgrades had gaps of up to four years and had cost more than $4 million, plus the operational overhead of managing multiple systems during the long transition. “It made more sense to spend our time and money on optimizing our work environment, finding new ways to safeguard high-value corporate data, and delivering other strategic contributions to the business,” says David Boersma, Senior Manager for End User Technologies at MARS.

Yet MARS still needed an up-to-date operating system and productivity tools. In February 2016, it began to roll out the Windows 10 Enterprise operating system and Microsoft Office 365 across the global organization, to help give all its Associates the mobile, social, analytical, and cloud-based tools they need to perform effectively in today’s connected workplace. A small number of mobile Associates were given Microsoft Surface Pro 4 devices.

“We want to drive the right digital behaviors,” says Jonathan Chong, Digital Workplace and Corporate Systems Director at MARS. “So we’re using Windows 10 to build a technology environment that is comparable to or better than what our Associates use in their personal lives.”

To avoid the effort and expense of future upgrades to its very large Windows environment, MARS subscribed to the “Windows as a service” model from Microsoft and receives automatic web-based operating system updates. The incremental updates will help MARS improve platform stability, enhance security for thousands of devices, and introduce a constant flow of new tools and capabilities. “I told my team that I never want to do a big-bang operating system migration again,” says Paul L’Estrange, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Core Services at MARS. “Windows 10 will allow us to maintain a truly evergreen estate.”

Traditionally, MARS Associates often stay with the company for 25 years or more, but the company knows that to stay vibrant it must recruit millennials—and retain them. MARS invests significantly in recruiting and training new Associates. It wants value back, but it understands that young, digitally native talent expect easy access to knowledge, and that to retain new talent, MARS needs to deliver access to data with smart, simple, flexible tools. “To get and keep the best people, we want to offer the best work environment,” says Boersma. “With an advanced, nimble, easy-to-use, self-service, always-current technology environment, MARS IS will deliver a robust Windows 10 experience with Office 365 to empower and enable all our Associates.”

An enterprise digital workplace

The MARS IS team worked with Microsoft Services to help architect the solution and with VDX, a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, to help prepare the MARS infrastructure and roll out Windows 10. By September 2016, 5,000 MARS Associates were using Windows 10 and Office 365. More than 500 field Associates and high-level mobile executives had Surface Pro devices.

“Our Associates appreciate the familiarity, reliability, and ease of use of the Windows 10 experience,” says Boersma. “The Surface Pro users love the flexibility to switch from desktop to tablet mode and enhanced mobility features such as the touchscreen and Surface Pen.”

As a global enterprise, MARS has always valued human interaction and high-touch collaboration. With tools like Yammer social networking and Skype for Business messaging and video conferencing, MARS Associates can bridge geographies and time zones to take down barriers, engage in real time, and connect with people, knowledge, and resources. Almost 4,000 MARS Associates are already using Yammer to post subjects, canvas for feedback, and collaborate live every day. Global teams use Skype for Business to meet and communicate meaningfully without flying halfway around the planet, reducing costs and helping people spend more time at home—and still do what needs to get done.

With Windows 10, cloud-based Office 365, and an early evaluation of Windows Intune, MARS intends to expand its on-premises capability for mobile device management in the Microsoft Enterprise Mobility Suite to manage mobile devices and applications. MARS Associates can choose between using Surface Pro devices, PCs, tablets, and smartphones, or easily move between devices, locations, and even regions across the whole company. Field teams can connect with each other to be more productive and improve customer engagement. “With Windows 10, MARS Associates finish things on the road instead of waiting until they get back,” says Carlin. “For example, field associates use their Surface Pro devices in store walk-throughs, and if necessary, use Office 365 to connect with other team members and resolve display issues in one day instead of a week.”

New safeguards and a cloud transformation

After MARS IS prepared every device for a 64-bit version of Windows 10, the MARS security team recommended replacing an existing legacy security solution with Windows Defender endpoint protection. This will save the cost of a third-party solution and avoided the hassle of moving the legacy technology to the upgraded operating system. Windows Defender has since passed two MARS security audits, and to help further safeguard all the company’s devices and reduce risk to its corporate data, MARS intends to combine existing BitLocker Drive Encryption with other Windows security features such as Windows Information Protection, Credential Guard, Device Guard, and Windows Hello biometric multifactor authentication on its Window 10 devices.

As part of its transformation to a new digital workplace, MARS is also aggressively expanding many line-of-business and other workloads to the cloud. The company manages two datacenters, one that is almost 25 years old. To reduce the associated capital and maintenance costs, promote efficiency, and increase reliability, MARS has moved more than 100 workloads to the Microsoft Azure enterprise cloud platform, including a critical SAP retail application solution. The company expects to transfer up to 500 workloads to Azure over the next year.

By early 2017, the company had deployed Windows 10 to 12,500 seats, adding Associates through device attrition. Boersma estimates enterprise-wide adoption before the end of 2018.

Sweet business value

By eliminating future full-scale upgrades, MARS will save millions of dollars that it can spend to transform MARS IS into a strategic center of innovation and business value. It will save $250,000 on third-party licensing and maintenance each year. As MARS continues to build its digital workplace and offer professional tools such as Office 365 and advanced devices such as the Surface Pro, it will attract a new generation of Associates, help them serve customers more effectively, make their careers at MARS more rewarding, and preserve the human, employee-centric culture that MARS is so proud of—and that it is convinced has contributed to its long success.

“Initiatives like Windows 10 and our new digital workplace help MARS direct IT investment dollars toward unlocking greater potential across our organization,” says Chong. “Rather than tying up investment and time to just get through the next product release, we can focus on enhancing key aspects of our culture at a digital level, across divisions, borders, and time zones—so we can preserve what is special about MARS and help all our Associates be more productive and agile.”

When it adopted Windows 10, Office 365, and Azure, MARS streamlined IT management, made it easier to safeguard all its devices and data, and took some of the guesswork out of its IT spending. As MARS expands its cloud environments and decreases its on-premises IT footprint, it can focus on solving business challenges and using data to generate insight—and value. It can support ongoing innovation, streamline processes and access to information, empower MARS Associates, and meet its ambitious business-growth objectives.

“At MARS, we meet our goals,” says Boersma. “This company will continue to accelerate growth organically and through acquisition , and we’re using Windows 10 to build the flexibility and capabilities we need to get there.”

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