Established in 2004 as a non-profit Section 18 organisation following the amalgamation of the Wildlands Trust and KZN Conservation Trust, Wildlands is one of South Africa’s foremost and widely recognised sustainable growth initiatives.
Working at the interface between environmental conservation and human well-being, Wildlands’ guiding principle is the belief that healthy, robust and resilient ecosystems underpin human welfare.
At a community level Wildlands partners with groups to develop tools to strengthen ecosystems. These include waste from rivers and other natural systems, re-forestation, maintenance of healthy grasslands and the management of conservation areas as vital links in adaptation and mitigation corridors.
In doing this, Wildlands has developed a network of ‘Green-preneurs’ in four provinces. These are individuals marginalised from conventional economic activities due to a lack of skills and training or demand for their services.
Wildlands enables their participation in the green economy by creating a platform for them to barter indigenous trees and recyclable waste for livelihood support goods such as food, building materials, bicycles solar panels and rain water harvesting tanks.
The nature of Wildlands’ daily activity demands consistent and reliable access to email connectivity. Although employees are usually based in outlying areas, this business tool enables them to receive instructions and feedback on progress made during the project lifecycle.
Traditionally, the group had addressed this requirement via an on premise Microsoft Exchange server. Introduced shortly after Wildlands was established, this asset was responsible for ensuring email uptime and catering to the NGO’s file storage and archiving requirements.
Despite this, reliability had become an obstacle. Due to the instability of the office location power failures often played a role in prohibiting connection to these services.
As the organisation began to rapidly expand the challenge grew more pronounced. The intake of 30 interns in 2012 highlighted the shortcomings of the solution by limiting mobile access and inadequately storing vital business information.
With a growing need to capture field information in a more dynamic way, Wildlands made the decision to begin investigating alternative options.
In June 2012 Wildlands made contact with Microsoft Certified Partner, Colenbrander Technology, to assess a potential upgrade to its on premise Microsoft Exchange Environment.
After reviewing internal requirements, Colenbrander Technology made a crucial recommendation to migrate services to Microsoft’s Office 365 Enterprise platform – a cloud based solution that combines consistent email access with several well-known productivity tools such as Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Lync.
Following a painless two-week migration process, Wildlands moved its email and file storage infrastructure into a remotely hosted environment – immediately diminishing its dependence on connectivity and power availability at head office.
The benefits enjoyed by Wildlands as a result of Microsoft Office 365 have been numerous, believes Andrew Whitley – Strategic Manager for Ecological Restoration.
“By moving over to Microsoft Office 365 we eliminated our complete dependence on electricity and internet availability at head office. Traditionally, an outage would have resulted in lost productivity for the whole organisation – now we can access business tools in any situation and on a range of devices. It has really had a big impact”.
The introduction of Microsoft SharePoint to the organisation has also made a positive impression on project collaboration within teams that are geographically dispersed.
“The nature of our work requires many employees to operate in disparate locations. Despite this, they still require access to information. Collaboration between project coordinators is absolutely vital. Microsoft SharePoint has made it easier to ensure better control and access to documentation and business processes. This has positively affected our productivity”, adds Whitley.
Finally, Microsoft Office 365’s close integration with mobile devices of any nature has also allowed Wildlands employees to access email and business information on the platform of their choosing.
“Mobility is an important aspect of what we do. The introduction of 30 new interns in 2012 highlighted that our existing infrastructure was not able to cater to these requirements. Office 365, in contrast, has enabled us to dynamically assign licenses as new employees join the organisation – a function that also affords them the ability to access information via mobile devices”, concludes Whitley.