C.H. Robinson Keeps its Supply Chain Experts Connected with Microsoft 365

April 01, 2022 Joe Klenotich

C.H. Robinson is one of the world’s largest logistics platforms, with $21 billion in freight under management and delivering more than 19 million shipments each year. They solve logistics problems for companies across the globe and across industries, from the simple to the most complex. When the company implemented a remote work environment in response to COVID-19, C.H. Robinson immediately accelerated its modern workplace plan, including quickly deploying Microsoft 365 to help ensure that its employees could continue to communicate, collaborate, and keep the business running smoothly.

Using modern workplace tools from Microsoft 365 like Microsoft Teams, C.H. Robinson has not only continued to thrive—it recently launched a new consumer produce brand called Robinson Fresh®. “Using Teams, we enabled virtual collaboration spaces where teams can have open conversations and are able to quickly interact while working on the new brand,” explains Michael Castagnetto, President of Robinson Fresh. “From storyboards to shared documents, we can work on a single source of truth to keep our business moving forward.”

“Using Teams, we enabled virtual collaboration spaces where teams can have open conversations and are able to quickly interact while working on the new brand. From storyboards to shared documents, we can work on a single source of truth to keep our business moving forward.”

–Michael Castagnetto, President of Robinson Fresh

Robinson Fresh offers a full line of high-quality fruits and vegetables while also providing fresh produce supply chain solutions—such as customer insights, marketing support, and category, inventory, and cold chain management—to help retailers, restaurants, growers, and foodservice companies meet consumer demand for fresh foods. After years of planning, the brand was launched on schedule during a time when the Robinson Fresh team was working remotely. This feat was supported by having the right technology in place to foster the required level of communication, collaboration, and data insights to get a new business line off the ground. According to Castagnetto, “Because we added Teams channels to our communication toolkit, the leadership team is now more active in sharing communications regularly, and we interact more with all levels of the team, all while providing quick hits of information.”

Picking the right route to digital connection with the Microsoft cloud platform

In today’s global business market, the ability to provide on-demand, real-time visibility for customers has become more important than ever, and C.H. Robinson has been at the forefront of the digital transformation in the supply chain industry.

The company has already deployed Dynamics 365 to deliver personalized customer engagement and gain contextual insights necessary to meet a broad range of customer requirements. Navisphere Vision®, a transformative solution to track and monitor shipments’ ambient conditions for shock, light, and temperature to identify any damage in real time, anywhere in the world-at a scale covering millions of products, uses Microsoft Azure IoT Central to develop, manage, and maintain IoT devices that deliver real time visibility to customers. 

Delivering a digital workplace with Microsoft 365

Because of its digital transformation successes in its core business processes, C.H. Robinson also wanted to digitally transform the way employees work. Today, the company uses Microsoft 365 to give employees access to cloud-based tools like Power BI and Teams so they can work more efficiently and effectively. When Mike Hon, Director of Workplace Technology and Services, joined C.H. Robinson at the end of 2019, he was already considering ways he could help support the company’s digital transformation with Microsoft 365. “C.H. Robinson has a team-based approach to solving problems for our customers,” explains Hon. “My role was created to define the changes needed to modernize the workplace, so my first questions were: ‘What else needs to change if everything you need is available so you can work from anywhere?’ and ‘How do we preserve the great things about our in-person culture and adapt to more flexibility for employees?’”

Responding to COVID-19 with a rapid Microsoft Teams rollout

Hon’s team kicked around the possibilities for several months, mapping out a strategy for the next few years. “Then COVID-19 hit, and our nice two- or three-year modern work road map got condensed down to six months,” says Hon. After a rapid initial response that included upgrading Skype for Business servers and VPN connections, deploying softphones, and implementing multifactor authentication, Hon and his team immediately started on the next phase to deploy a modern cloud-based solution using Microsoft 365. Although most companies start their modern work cloud journeys by deploying Exchange Online, C.H. Robinson went straight to Teams to support remote work. Microsoft helped Hon and his team plan the company’s Teams deployment during discussions about system architecture at the Microsoft Technology Center in Edina, Minnesota.

“We deployed Teams globally in about 10 weeks, standardizing the entire company on one platform for communication and collaboration,” says Hon. “Because Teams has such an intuitive interface, people found it easy to use.” To ease the transition, employees were first encouraged to use Teams for chat, voice, and desktop sharing, the same way they had used previous tools.

“We deployed Teams globally in about 10 weeks, standardizing the entire company on one platform for communication and collaboration. Because Teams has such an intuitive interface, people found it easy to use.” 

–Mike Hon, Director of Workplace Technology and Services at C.H. Robinson

Expanding the value with more workloads

Keeping the momentum going, C.H. Robinson made Teams interoperable with SharePoint Online so people could access and share files. The company also gave employees the ability to set up Teams channels for collaboration. For people who needed it, the company put a strong change management plan in place with help from Microsoft. “Our people bridged together the concepts of chat, voice, and collaboration on their own, but Microsoft also worked with our Learning and Development team to create a training curriculum,” says Hon. “We held lunch and learns and recorded on-demand videos. We’re also using Microsoft documentation in our knowledge base, so we don’t have to manage updates for that.”

Setting a course for the workplace of the future

The change to a fully remote work environment required C.H. Robinson to update its identity and security strategy. “I really like the way Microsoft thinks about identity management in Azure Active Directory because it transcends devices and considers the employee as an identity,” says Hon. “Then you can start looking at how you can deliver more personalized experiences through Microsoft 365 and other business apps at scale.”

C.H. Robinson uses the Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) provisioning agent to manage the identity life cycle of users from its Workday Enterprise Management System to keep employee records up to date. Azure AD then provides single sign-on access to applications across the business. Building security around identity rather than the traditional perimeter offers the company an opportunity to maintain a hybrid work strategy as people begin to return to the office.

Providing a hybrid work experience across devices with Microsoft Endpoint Manager

“I really like the way Microsoft thinks about identity management in Azure Active Directory because it transcends devices and considers the employee as an identity.”

–Mike Hon, Director of Workplace Technology and Services at C.H. Robinson

With a strong identity and access management solution in place, C.H. Robinson employees can work across device types according to their needs, allowing them to be more mobile and agile. To provide more security at the device and application level, the company also implemented Intune (part of Endpoint Manager), which it uses for mobile application management. “Moving away from our previous mobile device management solution and implementing mobile application management with Endpoint Manager helped increase mobile usage of Microsoft 365 apps significantly,” says Hon.

Enabling better collaboration and learning through Teams

Today, C.H. Robinson employees are using Teams to communicate with voice and video, share screens, and collaborate on documents. For Chris Cutshaw, Director of Commercial and Product Strategy at TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson, his role relies heavily on face-to-face interactions, so Teams meetings using video have been invaluable. “I spend a lot of time meeting with customers, and I went from traveling 50 to 60 percent of my time to no travel,” he says. “Seeing people in Teams and getting a sense of people’s overall dynamic or how they’re responding to what we’re presenting or discussing has been critical.”

But the company is also using Teams in innovative ways to continue building a culture of learning that Hon wants to see thrive. “Our Finance team built a virtual learning management system called ‘Finance U’ in Teams to teach employees the basics of finance,” says Hon. “We use Teams and Microsoft Stream to host, record, and distribute meetings, trainings, design sessions, lunch and learns, fireside chats, and events of all sizes all the way up to our global town hall, which our CEO hosted using Teams live events. It’s been described by numerous employees as ‘a game-changer.’”

“I went from traveling 50 to 60 percent of my time to no travel. Seeing people in Teams and getting a sense of people’s overall dynamic or how they’re responding to what we’re presenting or discussing has been critical.”

–Chris Cutshaw, Director of Commercial and Product Strategy at TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

Providing a platform for growth with Yammer communities

The company also launched Yammer, on which it built a tech support community. Having an enterprise social platform where people can easily share information and support each other is a big part of the digital transformation that Hon is enabling at C.H. Robinson. “You have to keep learning—that’s a key element of our modern workplace journey,” he says. “Technology changes on a weekly basis, so you’re never going to memorize it all. Our goal is that people will use the Tech Talk Yammer community to answer each other’s questions and provide support, which helps them get answers faster and learn from the community. That’s already starting to take root.”

C.H. Robinson is using Yammer as more than just a technical support community, however. It also hosts employee resource groups, social issue forums, and other key initiatives, including the CEO’s channel, Connect with Bob, an open-door community where employees can interact with the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Bob Biesterfeld. Cutshaw believes that Yammer has been a critical tool for creating transparency and keeping people connected during the pandemic. He explains, “Through our Yammer communities, we’ve gotten clear information about what leadership is prioritizing and what actions we’re taking as a company, which has been incredibly impactful because people feel a lot more connected to what’s going on.”

“You have to keep learning—that’s a key element of our modern workplace journey.”

–Mike Hon, Director of Workplace Technology and Services at C.H. Robinson

Driving efficiency and innovation through insights and automation

Providing a platform for its customers to have better insights into their data has been a key initiative for C.H. Robinson. The company’s Navisphere Vision platform does this by providing customers visibility into all the sources of information about its global supply chain in one place. As part of the platform, C.H. Robinson uses Power BI to create automated, up-to-date reporting dashboards to provide insights that help customers make faster, smarter decisions. “Power BI has been a tremendous help for us to visualize data,” explains Cutshaw. “We can create our own queries and continue to evolve them based on what our customers need to see instead of having to redevelop a static report each time.”

Using Power BI and Teams together, global teams have been able to work together seamlessly. “We have many people supporting the business all around the world in Shanghai, Amsterdam, São Paulo, Chicago, and Seattle,” says Cutshaw. “We have a Teams channel that updates constantly as things ship out of China and land in the United States or Europe, and team members can easily collaborate to track activity and resolve problems quickly.”

Power BI has also been a critical tool for Robinson Fresh to understand the consumer market during the pandemic because it can plug into multiple internal data sources, including weekly and monthly data dumps from its consumers and web-scraping pipelines built by its engineers. “Power BI helps our teams analyze year-over-year data to determine which trends might be tied to COVID-19 and which are part of the natural seasonality of produce,” says Castagnetto. “We create reports comparing internal sales and market baselines for all of our account managers and supply managers to help them make quick decisions and communicate with our end clients.”

Carrying the business forward across three clouds

“Our strategy revolves around putting the right tools in place through Microsoft 365 to support modern ways of working,” says Hon. “By doing so, we can maximize individual productivity by making tasks more efficient, teams through improved communication and collaboration, and the entire organization by automating business processes. With these focus areas in motion, C.H. Robinson is well positioned to evolve and adapt at a speed that exceeds our customers’ expectations.” 

With Microsoft 365 in place for better collaboration and productivity across its organization, C.H. Robinson has expanded its investment to include all three Microsoft cloud solutions: Azure, Dynamics 365, and Microsoft 365. And the next step? “We’re getting out of the datacenter business and looking to move our critical applications to Azure,” says Hon. “Our modern workplace journey is incredible, but it’s really in service to our larger strategy of becoming a cloud-first organization so that we can better meet the needs of our customers for the next 100 years.” 

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Republished from Microsoft.