Customer Story

NII Holdings: Standardizing on G Suite for savings and security

Simpler licensing, simpler management, lower costs: since moving to G Suite several years ago, South American telecommunications company NII has reaped the benefits of an increasingly cloud-based approach.

Reduced email support requirement from 30 dedicated staff to just 3, while saving 25% on license costs

• Replaced 6 on-premises email solutions with Gmail in the cloud

• Benefitted from 20% cost savings compared to incumbent’s cloud offer

• Provided employees a simple interface, allowing them to retain their preferred look and feel

• Achieved more secure and controlled storage and file sharing

• Improved collaboration across locations, languages, and time zones

Renowned for its push-to-talk service DirectConnect® as well as 4G voice and data, NII Holdings provides wireless communication services under the Nextel brand. Since 2012, it has relied on Gmail as its company-wide email platform, making it one of the longest-standing enterprise customers for G Suite. Throughout a period of extensive change G Suite has been a constant, offering a dependable and increasingly valuable collaboration tool as the business evolved.

Today, following a program of successful divestments, Nextel operates solely in Brazil, where it serves millions of the country’s most demanding mobile customers. In 2012, the company had operations across five of Latin America’s biggest markets, all connected through a head office in the United States.

The in-country operations had been built up separately, each with its own IT team and internal infrastructure. That model led to duplication of resources across the group as well as some practical challenges.

“G Suite offered a more streamlined transition process than the other options we considered. Connectivity was easier, management would be easier, and the client software was less demanding in terms of bandwidth.” - Antonio Escobedo, Senior Director, Corporate Information Technology, NII Holdings

“When we first considered moving our email to the cloud, we had around 20,000 colleagues, but because of the different systems, even something simple like organizing a conference call was a challenge,” says Antonio Escobedo, Senior Director, Corporate Information Technology at NII. “You couldn’t see people’s availability, and there were different time zones, so what was convenient for me might be dinnertime for someone else.”

While all the sites had the same email platform, they were all separate on-premises solutions that had to be maintained at each site. Though NII had a corporate contract with the provider, it still faced inefficiencies with duplicated spend across areas.

Moving to the cloud

Antonio and his colleagues proposed an alternative model: a company-wide, cloud-based email platform that would eliminate maintenance headaches, reduce overall expenditure, and centralize storage. They looked at three options: a full outsourcing model, a cloud service from their existing provider, and Google Cloud.

“G Suite offered a more streamlined transition process than the other options we considered,” says Antonio. “Connectivity was easier, management would be easier, and the client software was less demanding in terms of bandwidth, which appeared to be a big issue for the other options. We realized that the easiest and most convenient solution was to go with Google Cloud.”

Better still, Google was able to offer NII suitable terms and conditions for a multinational operation, particularly in relation to responsibility for cloud storage, which meant that the legal teams in all six countries were satisfied.

Winning over users

“In each of our six markets, we had dedicated teams managing each aspect of the email platform: console, backups, infrastructure, and e-discovery. There were probably 30 people across the business tasked with it. Now, we are a team of three managing email services company-wide.” - Antonio Escobedo, Senior Director, Corporate Information Technology, NII Holdings

Although the IT and legal teams were convinced, some end-users, including at senior levels, proved more problematic. “In every country, we had push-back,” Antonio says. “We had VPs resisting change, so we asked them why they didn’t want to change.”

In general, it boiled down to having tools with different looks and feels, so Antonio offered them a simple solution. “I’d say ‘Fine, stick with your old platform.’ They looked at me like I was mad: the entire corporation had gone through this major transformation and I was telling them they didn’t have to change.”

Antonio had an ace up his sleeve: a simple interface, provided by Google, that would allow anyone resisting the change to continue using their preferred client software, running on top of Gmail. Users could then continue to copy and paste text or data into emails, with no formatting issues, and feel more productive. “Instead of complaining, they became the happiest users,” Antonio noted.

Clear financial gains

With the employee issues addressed, NII was able to complete the move to Gmail and reap the financial benefits, which it continues to enjoy. “The cost component has been really efficient,” Antonio confirms. “When we first signed the contract, Google was as much as 25% lower in cost than the rival cloud provider. The billing is centralized, all coming through the United States, which is far easier for us than having to pay individual contracts in each country.”

The simplification of support and maintenance also freed up the IT team. “In each of our six markets, we had dedicated teams managing each aspect of the email platform: console, backups, infrastructure, and e-discovery. There were probably 30 people across the business tasked with it. Now, we are a team of three managing email services company-wide, with others freed up to focus on different roles.”

Enabling a cultural change

“The way that information is managed, backed up, and encrypted on Drive makes it a perfect solution for us, from both the operational and the security point of view.” - Antonio Escobedo, Senior Director, Corporate Information Technology, NII Holdings

The move to G Suite, including Drive, Hangouts Meet, and Calendar, also underpinned a cultural change. “It sounds so simple, but just having visibility into who can attend a meeting made such an impact on our productivity,” says Antonio. “It meant we could schedule meetings at times that worked for everyone. It also reduced the friction of people feeling their time wasn’t being considered: in a multi-cultural, multi-country environment, those things are important.”

Over the years, NII has made greater use of G Suite tools – notably Drive and Hangouts – to nurture collaborative working. Drive has replaced multiple shared drives and file-sharing facilities on the corporate WAN. It means that there’s now a single environment through the cloud. Instead of needing to grant access to a shared drive, view and write permissions can be set on a per-file basis, making the process simpler and more flexible. It also meant that when country operations were sold, access to shared resources was instantly controlled.

“The way that information is managed, backed up, and encrypted on Drive makes it a perfect solution for us, from both the operational and the security point of view,” Antonio says.

Hangouts Meet, meanwhile, has become an important tool for internal meetings among the Brazil team, which covers thousands of kilometers, dozens of cities, and four time zones. “Previously, people needed to travel to discuss business plans, strategies, and projects; now they’re doing it with Hangouts Meet,” Antonio explains.

Showing clients the way

Increasingly too, it’s becoming used as a tool for client meetings. “At first, some of those outside the business seemed confused; they thought we were trying to sell a Google solution,” notes Antonio. “Then they’d worry that they couldn’t use Hangouts Meet because they didn’t have a Gmail address. We’d explain how easy it was to set one up and then use Hangouts Meet.”

Similarly, the ability to access business information instantly from Drive while with a customer – for example, to provide specific service details which would normally only be available via VPN access – has proven popular. “Customers tell us they don’t just want the Nextel solution, they want exactly what we have, including G Suite,” says Antonio.

In good hands

NII itself is now a very different business since it first opted for G Suite, having successfully sold its operations in Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Mexico. The 20,000 users it had in 2012 are now reduced to under 5,000. Although as Antonio notes, every time an affiliate was sold the IT team argued for keeping Gmail because they saw it as the best option for them.

For NII, meanwhile, the benefits of using G Suite have been reinforced. Along with the collaboration tools, most users are now using Gmail across multiple devices, with a single inbox being easily synchronized and managed. The advantages for the bottom line keep accruing, including simplified management and lower licensing costs.

Yet for Antonio, these savings are only part of the story. At contract renewal time a couple of years ago, the former provider approached Antonio and asked him what it would need to do to win back NII’s business. Despite the business change and divestments, and the promise of a highly competitive price, his response was unequivocal: “We stayed with Google. It’s working really well and despite the price we were offered, the complexity of going back would not be worth it. With Google, we’re in good hands.”