Columbia Sportswear maintains its message while on the move using Microsoft Exchange Server

Anyone who likes sitting at a desk all day would not be happy working at Columbia Sportswear. More than 1,000 of its 2,700 employees spend 40 percent of their time on the road, with much of that travel taking them to remote locales where the company's outdoor clothing and recreational equipment typically can be found.


Anyone who likes sitting at a desk all day would not be happy working at Columbia Sportswear . More than 1,000 of its 2,700 employees spend 40 percent of their time on the road, with much of that travel taking them to remote locales where the company's outdoor clothing and recreational equipment typically can be found.

The company also encourages sporting retreats like a statewide bicycle trip or an adventurous trek in the woods. But none of this activity deters the Portland, Ore.-based company from its primary mission: making high-quality recreational equipment.

In fact, the need to keep employees productive while they are on the go drives Columbia Sportswear's IT strategy, which seeks to enable information access any time, from any location.

“The sooner you can put information out and get an answer back, the closer you are to making a perfect garment, and having it shipped,” says Gertrude Boyle, chairman of Columbia Sportswear. “The most important thing is contact and information.”

Columbia relies on a messaging infrastructure anchored by Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 to keep its roving employees in touch with information. This platform allows users to access both voice and email messages on whatever device is handy at the moment—e.g., a computer, phone, or PDA.

“We wanted unified messaging and the ability to store voicemail in your email inbox, cutting it down to one form of access,” says Mike Leeper, Columbia's Windows systems manager, in explaining the move to Exchange Server 2007. “While you are on the road, you can receive voicemail in your email system. You don't need to remember another set of codes and passwords.”

Columbia's messaging infrastructure initially was based on Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. Some employees retrieved voice and data messages through laptops, while others got them from other mobile devices. With Exchange Server 2007, users still have these retrieval options, but they are not locked into any of them. They can change access modes depending on their circumstances at the moment.

The Columbia Sportswear Exchange Server 2007 environment consists of two Dell PowerEdge 2850 servers with dual-core Intel Xeon processors running the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard x64 Edition operating system. One server is the central email manager; the other serves messages to individual users' client machines.

With help from a telecommunications solutions vendor, Columbia used Microsoft's Unified Messaging server software to link the Exchange Server environment to the company's telephone system. As a result, Columbia has secure unified messaging that allows users to direct both voice and data messages to a single mailbox. They also have the option of receiving both kinds of messages in text format via a computer or mobile device. Microsoft Outlook is the standard client application for viewing messages, but Exchanger Server 2007 has a new Outlook Access Anywhere feature that offers the same viewing capability through standard Web browsers.

Traveling professionals no longer rack up long-distance charges to call the voicemail system back home. The new infrastructure also boosts efficiency by minimizing manufacturing delays that normally arise when collaborators are working in different time zones.

“Collaborating across the distribution network is very critical from a time-to-market perspective, as well as a production efficiency perspective,” says Microsoft Group Product Manager Ray Mohrman.

Traveling personnel credit the system for making their lives easier. Instead of carrying universal power adaptors, users can opt to call their mailbox instead—and be confident of getting all of their voice and email messages. In countries where the phones don't work well, users can access voicemail and email through a standard Web browser.

Leeper, who notes that deploying the new system was a seamless process, observes that voice and data messaging is rapidly converging. “Those two worlds are definitely merging,” he says. “The email staff needs to understand the phone staff and vice versa.”

As global manufacturers impose tighter time frames to remain competitive, streamlined communication is crucial. “The whole area around collaboration is huge, especially concerning product development, where you have your design engineers in one country and suppliers in others.”


Company : Columbia Sportswear, a manufacturer of outdoor wear and recreational equipment

Challenge : Create an infrastructure that would allow workers to access voicemail and email messages through a single interface from anywhere in the world

Solutions : Microsoft Exchange Server 2007; Microsoft Unified Messaging Server

Benefits : Remote workers can now check both voice and email messages by either telephoning the central messaging system, or logging into that system via a computer or hand-held computing device.

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