THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

29 March 2017

Tech to boost your growing business

Technological advancements have now made it easier for small businesses to grow than ever before. The ability to find solutions to age-old problems using technology has meant that businesses can realise their potential and reach a wide audience at an affordable cost. An example of this can be seen 100 feet below the streets of Clapham in South London, where something quite unusual is happening. Read on to discover how Microsoft’s cloud-based Office365 package has helped to create a commercial urban farm in a very unconventional setting.

Entrepreneur Richard Ballard and his business partners have transformed old disused underground tunnels into places of creation. ‘Growing Underground’ is a commercial urban farm unlike any other – growing sustainable micro greens and salad leaves 33 metres under the busy streets of Clapham, in an environment which is water-efficient, energy efficient and pesticide-free.

Unlike traditional farm owners, Richard can maintain complete control over his environment, so every leaf tastes equally amazing and these mouth-wateringly fresh products can be delivered to markets, restaurants and food retailers around London within four hours of being picked and packed. In such an unusual location, control and communication are vital for success and, as the business looks to expand further into the tunnels increasing product range and output, Microsoft technology has been helping them to keep close contact, stay agile and be ready for anything.

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Goal – Stay connected from any device, in any location

An average farm day is systematic and follows a predictable pattern, but the 4-strong Growing Underground team has to be in many different places working in a variety of different ways. In the tunnels, there are no phone lines but contact must be maintained with the office, where enquiries are handled. Regular updates on the farm’s climate need to be readily available to everyone, even those who travel extensively between customers and suppliers and those working remotely.

When the business started, there was a wide variety of PCs, laptops and devices in use so sharing information was not always straightforward. Richard wanted to make the day-to-day running of the business as efficient as possible. He came across Office 365 and the Windows 10 Surface Pro tablets from Microsoft which sparked a journey to explore the power of the cloud.

Richard recalls “It’s important that we can get information about the farm to everyone wherever they are and share documents freely. As a small business, having servers onsite wasn’t realistic from a space or cost perspective but we needed a system that everyone could log onto and use, no matter what type of device they had. Office 365 seemed like a very attractive option for us with a mix of Windows and Apple users.”

Solution – A platform for real-time information sharing

Growing Underground, invested in Office 365, lightweight Microsoft Surface Pro 3 devices and Lumia Smartphones, powered by Windows 10 - an integrated suite of Microsoft cloud services and devices that help them to communicate freely, as well as create and share real-time data at any time through any device. OneDrive for Business and SharePoint combine to form a central location where documents are saved and where the team can edit the same document, at the same time, without worrying about whether they have the latest version. Previous telephony and communications challenges have disappeared thanks to Skype for Business. Instant messaging helps the farm and the office to share quick updates about the environment, while remote and mobile users can talk to one another and customers using audio and video calling.

Remote workers no longer need to carry weighty laptops; armed with sleek Surface Pro 3 tablets and Lumia smartphones, they can enjoy a unified user experience using their favourite apps on powerful yet lightweight devices perfectly suited to any working environment. Richard comments “As a small business, we just can’t operate with everyone in the same physical location but with Microsoft technology, we can be synchronised wherever we are. We can work together on the same documents from different places and we’re always connected and up-to-date with what’s happening on the farm. Without that immediacy, we couldn’t have taken the business so far, so fast.”

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