@Rias NPO Support Center heightens efficiency with Office 365

From revitalising local shopping streets to reconstructing Kamaishi after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, @Rias NPO Support Center has a stellar record of supporting disaster recovery efforts. This expanding regional NPO, located in the Iwate prefecture, chose Office 365 to improve operations.

Established in 2004, @Rias was launched in Kamaishi City with the objective of revitalising the city centre. Its role changed following the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011, as the organisation responded to immediate needs by evolving into a hub to connect the government and support groups with disasteraffected communities.

Maintaining efficient collaboration among staff became a pressing issue. As the scale of activities grew larger, it became evident that the legacy communications system was unable to support their new project management needs.

Office 365 implemented to meet expanding scale of projects
On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, near Kamaishi City. A two-storey-high tsunami later inundated the city, causing massive destruction. Almost all office and communication equipment in the city was destroyed, leading to an information blackout. @Rias used the limited number of smartphones it could access to communicate the situation to those outside the city.

“Kamaishi City once prospered from the steel manufacturing industry, and many of Japan’s business, social and political leaders hail from here. Though now based in various cities across the country, they responded immediately to our appeals with overwhelming humanitarian support and encouragement,” said Junichi Kano, Representative Director of @Rias.

@Rias was able to lead reconstruction activities, including the restoration of communications infrastructure, and was quickly recognised as the first point of contact for corporations and groups that wanted to launch disaster reconstruction and recovery activities.

Simultaneously, Microsoft, along with other computer manufacturers and telecom carriers, started an “Information and Communications Technology Caravan”, a vehicle outfitted with IT equipment that travelled around the affected areas to provide Internet connectivity to NPOs and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating there. In addition, the companies provided @Rias with laptops and mobile Wi-Fi routers to support the disaster recovery efforts.

“Since the PC community is well-regulated, cooperation was very smooth, including the management of logistical support and information sharing. Activities such as the emergency job creation business and applications for subsidies had to be properly recorded. It was really helpful to have the latest notebook PCs and, above all, the communication infrastructure in place,” Junichi explained.

As @Rias continued expanding the scale of its reconstruction activities and its number of employees topped 100, information sharing and collaboration were no longer as smooth as before. They had “artificially combined” existing online services and business systems, such as Evernote, Dropbox and Google Calendar, to manage operations. In addition, the offices were located in three different areas, with most project workers working remotely. It was impossible for the management, staff and vendors to meet daily.

Junichi consulted a Microsoft representative who proposed building a robust, agile and scalable communications and collaboration system using Office 365 when he realised they could no longer continue to operate like a small grassroots organisation.

Staff independence and leadership developed through information sharing
At the start of 2014, @Rias began migrating its business operations to Office 365 through a phased migration plan, anticipating that not all staff would be able to keep up if everything was changed at once. Of particular importance was the new email environment, for which the organisation prepared a migration manual and training sessions to help staff become familiar with the new platform. They then progressively introduced functions such as SharePoint Team Site, OneDrive and Lync Online. By using Office 365, activities such as file-sharing and communication became more efficient.

“Once the staff got used to the new systems, they quickly bought into it. It has only been a few months since the official implementation, but it is now second nature for them to use Outlook for communicating schedule adjustments and Lync Online for discussions,” Junichi shared.

As the number and scale of projects increased, the need for ground staff to undertake greater responsibility became evident. The organisation saw the importance of a bottom-up approach, and a more efficient information sharing mechanism to support it.

Junichi said, “In the past, all project information was within the purview of only the Administrative Department. With access to information and support from management, field teams were empowered to make informed decisions effectively and efficiently.”

Overall, Office 365 serves as the ideal solution for NPO workers who are active out of the office, as it enables information access as long as the Internet is available. Even for Junichi, who is often out of the office and travels frequently, it makes for stress-free work.

According to Junichi, @Rias has achieved 70 percent of its system efficiency objectives by implementing Office 365. In the future, he intends to incorporate other functions such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Linked with Office 365, a more strategic business model can be achieved, raising the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

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