Manufacturing company reduces communication cycles by 88 percent with cloud services
Jemco Components & Fabrication uses Agile development and the latest robotics and automation tools to build complex parts for several of the world’s top aeronautics and space organizations. To better represent its commitment to security and technology, the company deployed Microsoft Surface devices running Office 365. Jemco dramatically reduced communication and IT management time and is well on its way to a completely digital collaboration environment for everything from compliance and calendaring to hiring.
“We make complex parts for spaceships,” says Travis Moore. “And we make them really quickly—freaky fast.” He’s describing Jemco Components & Fabrication, a certified precision machine shop and sheet metal fabrication plant based in Kirkland, just outside Seattle, Washington. Jemco serves customers in the medical, aerospace, energy, electronics, and marine industries, and Moore is its Vice President. “A jumbo jet costs its owners hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue each day it’s grounded,” he continues. “A space shuttle stuck on the launch pad represents close to a million dollars a day lost. Our job is to get that plane or shuttle flying again, whether it’s as complex as building parts for landing gear or as simple as a luggage bin.”
The need for speed
Rapid iteration means nothing if compliance and data-safety protocols aren’t observed. The Seattle area is home to Boeing and hundreds of other aerospace companies, so Jemco is accustomed to the “space race” and serving high-profile customers in the industry. Accordingly, protecting data and intellectual property (IP)—its own and its customers’—is a top priority. Jemco is one of a select few firms with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) clearance, a standard designed to restrict and control defense and military related technologies for US national security purposes. This involves complying with regulations around who has access to certain designs.
At Jemco, lead times are short and deadlines are tight, so managing calendars and adhering to schedules are essential. There are so many projects in motion at once that misplacing a file or missing a customer meeting can have serious consequences. Yet employees didn’t have reliable remote access to their work calendars, and Jemco used what Moore calls an “old-school hosting system” for email. The programming department and engineering teams both work in the same building, relying on face-to-face collaboration and a secure on-premises file system to store and edit computer-aided design (CAD) files, which are too large to be sent by email.
When it comes to technology, the company has invested heavily in robotics and automation for building parts. With all the focus on production, project management, compliance, and security, Jemco didn’t have much time to address the state of its internal tools; Moore considered the company to be ahead of the curve in everything but IT. The situation was tenable until the company had a growth spurt in 2016 and went from 30 employees to more than 50 in 18 months. Moore knew that 2017 was the year to find a new solution.
Prospective customers usually ask what internal platform Jemco uses, so Moore wanted one with a good reputation for security and reliability. ”We don’t have the budget to hire a big IT firm, yet it’s so critical that we have top security and reliability,” says Moore. “It’s the small-to-midsize company’s dilemma.” He and other company executives interviewed three or four different IT companies and decided on Microsoft.
This choice didn’t come out of the blue. Moore was familiar with Microsoft from his days as a cost-conscious startup entrepreneur, having attended several technology workshops. “The Microsoft Store hosts these monthly and quarterly workshops, and I was just astonished at how valuable they are, and what a great service they provide to the community,” he says. “So, when I took this job here in Seattle, one of my first actions was to get in touch with the local Microsoft Store. After talking with them, I felt confident that whatever solution we implemented, we were going to do it together—that they had my back.” Staff at the store recommended Microsoft Surface devices and Microsoft Office 365 as a solution for Jemco.
Reliable support and ease of deployment
Moore and his staff managed most of the deployment on their own, with guidance from the Microsoft Store. “That kind of out-of-the-box simplicity and reliability are why we chose Microsoft,” says Moore. Jemco employees now use Surface Books with docking stations. Around 20 people are set up with Microsoft Office 365 Business Essentials, and the rest of the company (roughly 30 employees) uses Office 365 Business. As of March 2018, everyone uses Microsoft Outlook for email and calendaring. Some people have also started using Skype for Business and storing Microsoft Word and Excel files on OneDrive for Business to enable real-time collaboration. Jemco is in process of setting up Microsoft SharePoint on-premises to store CAD files, linking it to Office 365 as a hybrid solution.
“We risked our IT future and the momentum of our current workload by upgrading, but the phone support has been reliable, and Office 365 has been user-friendly,” says Moore. “All the other prospective IT partners told us it would be really scary and difficult to migrate our email, but converting to Microsoft Exchange Online was relatively straightforward and easy.”
Time savings and improved productivity
IT administrators manage the solution from their smartphones or computers. ”We sign in to the Office 365 admin portal almost every day to onboard people or upgrade and downgrade accounts as needed,” says Moore. “It’s so streamlined that our unofficial support person used to spend 60 minutes a day on IT issues, and now he spends six minutes a day.”
Employees save time by using Outlook to quickly schedule meetings. “I can look at everybody’s calendars and use the presence information to find the meeting time that works best,” says Moore. “With all the projects and schedules we manage, this feature saves us so much time and so many headaches. For example, hiring someone used to take three or four days of going back and forth, and now it takes three or four hours because I can check calendars and respond quickly. Our communication cycles have become 88 percent faster.”
Moore and his staff can now accomplish most tasks from their smartphones, whether it’s managing calendars, joining Skype calls, or filling out Excel spreadsheets. Jemco teams can also access the most current version of their CAD files remotely, whereas before it was too cumbersome to log on to the servers from outside the office. Moore says, “Before, if I was home at 8:00 PM and wanted to send an email or schedule an all-hands meeting, I’d think, ‘I’ll have to remember to do that tomorrow.’ There are so many little tasks that used to get delayed, and now they don’t. I don’t know how to put a value on that, but it’s extensive.”
Steps toward a digital future
New file management and collaboration processes are in the works at Jemco. Though the setup is in its early stages, Moore says that document versioning and more organized access to files and internal news will help team members take time off without endangering project schedules. Employees will be able to share and coauthor CAD files through SharePoint and provide access to coworkers who have the correct permissions. “Now we have a connected system where everyone involved in a process can talk to each other and find the most current project files in one place, without leaving their desks,” says Moore. “Next, we plan to support remote access to the system from our mobile devices.”
Jemco looks forward to easier compliance with industry standards when it publishes its 300-page quality manual on a SharePoint site. “It’s in a binder as hard copy now, so it’s not easy to look through. Soon it will have a completely web-based layout and navigation, with impressive graphics,” says Moore.
Within a year, Jemco plans to migrate to Microsoft 365—and to a completely digital onboarding process. “No more coming in to the office to sign stacks of paper,” says Moore. “After we extend a job offer, new hires will be able to sign in through our website to read our employee handbook, fill out forms, and arrive on their first day with a head start. We don’t have to pay one of those expensive HR companies—we’ll be able to do it all in-house thanks to SharePoint.”
Recalling how he used to dread when prospective customers would ask about the company’s collaboration platform, Moore reports, “All I need to say is ‘We’re using Microsoft Office 365 and Exchange Online.’ The Microsoft brand inspires confidence in prospective customers, which makes our life easier.” And when he thinks back to 2017, he concludes, ”We were intimidated by the notion of upgrading our infrastructure. But working with Microsoft has freed our budget and our time to focus on more customer-facing things like quality and on-time delivery. It’s been so rewarding that I wish we’d migrated to Office 365 a year sooner.”
We were intimidated by the notion of upgrading our infrastructure. But working with Microsoft has … been so rewarding that I wish we’d migrated to Office 365 a year sooner.