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Apex Hotels

​​Apex Hotel adopts Microsoft SharePoint as its content management and collaboration platform

When Apex Hotels needed to take its deployment and use of Microsoft SharePoint to a higher level, Core was able to provide the professional expertise and skills transfer required to maximise the potential of the company’s intranet and enable easy collaboration between teams


Keeping it in the family

Apex Hotels is a family-run business that runs nine luxurious, contemporary hotels in prime city centre locations across the UK. Refined accommodation and friendly, personalised service means customers always enjoy the very best experiences. Apex Temple Court in London and Apex Waterloo Place in Edinburgh are amongst its most renowned locations and the company will open a new, custom-built hotel in Bath during 2017.

With around 100 Head Office support functions and 930 employees in total working in different locations, one area of particular importance is collaboration. Teams need to be in constant communication with each other across all nine hotels in order to share information and provide a consistent experience for customers. The ApexNet system, as it is called internally, provides a way to share standard operating procedures, policies and customer notices, work-shift rotas, staff notices and other information across the whole business.

Until the end of 2013, Apex Hotels had been using a freely-available software system (which was broadly modelled on Microsoft SharePoint) to manage this function. This had served its purpose well enough, but the continued expansion of the business and the need to be fully-compliant with Payment Card Industry (PCI) guidelines and other industry standards prompted a review of software being used in key areas of the business.

It was vital that software was fully-supported and the company decided to upgrade all its Microsoft Exchange and Office solutions and to adopt Microsoft SharePoint as its content management and collaboration platform.


Reaching out with SharePoint

It was anticipated that moving onto SharePoint would deliver significant benefits, said David Crosbie, IT Systems Engineer at Apex Hotels, who was responsible for the project. 'While we have 930 staff, only about 340 are using computers every day. One of the big attractions of SharePoint for us is that we do want to involve those 600 people in the rest of the business much more. Moving to the cloud and creating mobile versions of ApexNet, with the help of Core, allows us to reach out to the whole of the business.'

Apex Hotels wanted to be able to make full use of the software's capabilities. It also wanted to add some more powerful search capabilities to the intranet system and make use of more of SharePoint's advanced features. While its own six-strong IT team could manage most of the work required to upgrade internal systems themselves, it needed – and was given the opportunity to access – additional help on SharePoint, as Crosbie explains.

'When you enrol onto Office 365 with Microsoft you get access to FastTrack funding, which you can use to engage a Microsoft Partner to assist you with deployment and we topped that up, so we could get the assistance we needed. Microsoft gave us a list of three companies that they were aware of who could do the work. We looked at what all three of them had to offer and picked Core, mainly because they were willing to be very flexible and accommodate the approach we wanted to take, which was very much one of skills transfer.'

A good choice

Pooling its own investment with the Microsoft FastTrack funding, Apex Hotels purchased 15 days consultancy from Core for development, coaching and implementation services on SharePoint and the InfoPath forms system. Crosbie and his colleagues would need to attain the ability to manipulate key functions of SharePoint and thus redevelop ApexNet to deliver a rich and consistent experience to all staff.

It proved to be a good choice, as Core, which is a Microsoft Gold Partner and has one of the most experienced and specialised SharePoint teams in the UK, met or exceeded Apex Hotels' expectations in every way. 'You find very few IT companies who are willing to train you. They were willing to use every one of the 15 days, not only to get the job done, but also show us exactly how it was done, as they were doing it', said Crosbie.

With Core it was the personal touch. It was that ability to relate directly to what we were trying to do, to be willing to discuss it one-on-one. We were able to pick up the phone and have a chat with them at any point and they were very responsive'

Core's open and flexible approach also meant that Apex Hotels could get make the very best use of its limited budget. 'While we had some experience in SharePoint, we could not afford to engage Core for 60 days and have them design our entire intranet', he pointed out. The focus throughout the training was on giving Crosbie and his team the skills required to complete the redevelopment of ApexNet and train end users to make the best use of the intranet. 'For us, it was all about taking SharePoint, giving it a theme and a presence and making it look like it belonged to Apex; making it work for us rather than just being another tool.'


Proving the concept

As Apex Hotels' headquarters are in Edinburgh and Core is based in London, most of the consultancy and training was conducted remotely, using Microsoft collaboration tools. 'It worked perfectly. It was actually proving the very concept of the tools we were moving onto', said Crosbie. He also spent some time at Core's offices in the City to complete the project. The training was spread over a period of several months; Apex Hotels built most of the new ApexNet system after the first few days of tuition and came back to Core for the additional consultancy and training when it was required.

The tuition programme was completed in September 2015 and Apex Hotels completed its redevelopment of ApexNet a few weeks later. This has yielded some very positive results. Apex Hotels has been able to build new functionality into the intranet and make it easier to use, with friendlier and more powerful search capabilities.


Full focus and attention

Crosbie was hugely impressed with the service Core delivered. 'I genuinely enjoyed working with them. They have a great team of friendly, like-minded-people who are happy to be helpful. Our early impression was that they were friendly, knowledgeable, presentable and very much aware of the solution and how to engage with it and with us.'

There was never any suggestion that the job would perhaps not be too big or important-enough for Core to give it anything less than their full focus and attention. 'They were genuinely happy to be helpful and genuinely professional at all times. Every single person I met at Core was extremely generous in terms of their time and willingness to share information. I think it was that combination of professional knowledge, flexibility and willingness to share that made the collaboration extremely fruitful.'

The engagement with Core shines out for Crosbie when set alongside his previous experiences. 'We engaged with two other companies and with one of them we went quite far down the path, before we settled on Core. With Core it was the personal touch. It was that ability to relate directly to what we were trying to do, to be willing to discuss it one-on-one. We were able to pick up the phone and have a chat with them at any point and they were very responsive. The other companies were a little more distant, you had to go through one person and they weren't particularly great at tailoring the solutions they were offering to assist us.'

In Crosbie's view this was somewhat short-sighted. While the project was not of a grand scale in budgetary terms, Apex Hotels is a growing business. 'It wasn't {a big project] and I guess that might put off some companies, but who's to say where we will be in the future, We had a turnover of £9 million last year but although this was only a small investment this time round, we may have more to invest in the future.

'That kind of approach, where the supplier is happy to be flexible and be personal, works for us. We are a family business, we're not huge. We're quite happy to be flexible ourselves and I think we appreciate that in other companies. We like them to have that more personal and familiar nature and viewpoint, because it reflect how we operate and treat our staff and customers.'

Apex Hotels always felt that the work was important to Core and the two companies built up a good rapport and relationship.

I genuinely enjoyed working with them. They have a great team of friendly, like-minded-people who are happy to be helpful

The ApexNet project has allowed the hotel chain to vastly improve its internal communications and teamwork with very positive benefits to the efficiency of the organisation, helping Apex Hotels to maintain and enhance the high standards of customer service for which the group is renowned and continue to build its reputation for excellence. 



Collaborative Working   Retail Microsoft SharePoint