Today’s post was written by Marc Kermish, chief information officer at Red Wing Shoe Company.
In business for 115 years, Red Wing Shoe Company embodies its staying power in each pair of Red Wings produced. That brand tenacity and the family-oriented culture of caring for customers—whose work boots are as important a tool as a hammer—attracted me to the company. I also like that this traditional, midmarket U.S. manufacturer is expanding globally in a retail space that’s stagnating at best. Fifteen years ago, everyone who worked here lived in Red Wing, Minnesota. Today, we have 700 retail locations, two footwear manufacturing facilities, one tannery, and three U.S. warehouses, with an additional 45 global retailers and sales offices in Norway, Scotland, Dubai, and Japan.
When I came on board, our IT team wanted to support expansion into new markets, while retaining our corporate culture and delivering a workplace tool set that would empower 2,300 employees to excel in a digital world. Red Wing chose Microsoft 365 and Azure to advance these business strategies.
Shifting to this cloud-based tool set has had an immediate and tangible impact on the way we do business. We use Office 365 apps to reduce silos and connect people everywhere. For example, marketing folks in Houston, Scotland, Norway, and Dubai collaborate on RFPs faster than ever using Office 365 video capabilities, Microsoft Teams, Office mobile apps, and OneDrive file storage. Now that we replaced shared files with cloud storage, accessing corporate information takes one click, and everyone knows where to get the latest updates and financial, inventory, and month-end reports.
Today, our 200 sales reps stay hugely productive on the road because they use the Outlook mobile app and other Office mobile apps to work on price lists and product catalogues. And, to safeguard corporate data, we are starting to use Microsoft Intune to manage sales reps’ mobile devices.
As the hub for teamwork and project management, it’s a fantastic platform for collaboration internally and with our partners, retailers, and supply chain. For instance, our reps, accountants, controllers, and business process specialists created Teams channels to take advantage of persistent chat and track conversations—streamlining a complicated project that included a partner in Kansas City. We also saved 10 to 15 percent of total project time when we launched a new billing process for customers who provide vouchers to their employees to buy Red Wing work boots—that’s about 60 days of labor. In what could have been a chaotic environment, we shared and collaborated on files to build a set of deliverables, assign and track tasks, and meet our report deadlines—all from one highly secure Teams workplace.
Mobility has also affected how we structure our work weeks at Red Wing. Thanks to the easy virtual collaboration with Office apps, more people work from home—a preferred way of life for many of our employees. Our marketing team, almost all of whom have long commutes, particularly appreciate the flexibility and ability to work from home. Our teams are starting to loop in outside agency partners by inviting them to Teams channels for close collaboration.
Maybe the most exciting story for me is how we’re using Microsoft cloud-based tools to support innovation at Red Wing. We started using Azure for our Cobble IT Hacking for Value initiative, where we create apps to bring to life ideas from the business. As we iterate back and forth on new ideas, we use Office 365 apps to collaborate better between IT and the business.
One of our most promising innovations takes advantage of Azure Machine Learning and infrared camera technology to augment our workers’ capability to analyze the quality of the leather we use for our boots. The more hides we can turn into finished inventory, the better it is for our bottom line. We visualize and share company data through Microsoft Power BI, which we’ve made available to employees as our analytics engine. I can also see Teams as a strategic tool; for example, we can use it to drive collaboration between our manufacturing, quality, and product teams to get answers quickly on any given issue.
Individual productivity is also up at Red Wing. For example, after using MyAnalytics to review how we work, IT staff have reduced by approximately 10 percent the number of conversational emails cluttering our inboxes by switching to Teams. We get a boost from the artificial intelligence throughout Office 365 as well. Thanks to PowerPoint Designer, my decks rival those in marketing! And we are investigating how to use voice commands for our store associates to ask Cortana about our inventory for a shoe style, so they can respond faster to customers.
All this collaboration happens in a highly secure work environment, thanks to the multi-layered security approach Microsoft takes. As I move data to the cloud, I’m automatically improving my security posture versus what I could’ve done with my limited IT budget. I’ve got identity and access management plus data loss protection capabilities and protection from phishing attacks—all inherent in Microsoft 365. And to further protect our executive staff, we use Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection.
At Red Wing, we equip working people with footwear that lasts. And with Microsoft 365, we’re not only able to empower our employees to work more effectively, we’re innovating and expanding. This will further support our staying power and push us to succeed in this digital world.