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Before starting her own company, Tammy Dickerson's professional event planning resume already included several incredible international events. Between working as a corporate event planner for the Coca-Cola company and leading the production of an inner-city economic summit in L.A. headed by former Vice President Al Gore, Dickerson's passion and expertise in event planning continue to grow steadily.
"Seventeen years ago, I was doing lots of traveling and managing large scope projects—everything from the Olympics that were held in LA (1984), to the World Cup (1994), and other national trade events," recalled Dickerson. "That's really where I fell in love with event planning and event production. I really enjoyed the work I was doing but I got that entrepreneurial itch and decided to take that leap of faith."
That leap of faith came soon after successfully managing the scale and visibility of former Vice President Al Gore's economic summit. The experience motivated her to leave her corporate job, and in 2000, Dickerson founded The Baker Group, a nationally-recognized, full-service event production firm. The L.A.-based, woman and minority-owned firm is made up of a team of four full-time employees, and 10-12 additional consultants working with the firm on a regular basis.
"We're a small company but we crank out big things," Dickerson adds.
With years of corporate experience, the firm maintains very high standards despite their small size, cultivating a client list that is 20-30% Fortune 500 companies. Seventeen years into owning her own business, the firm's CEO has kept their values intact, making it a point to support, collaborate with, and patron other women and minority-owned businesses as well.
Looking for a solution to support a mobile team
In recent years, Dickerson realized that digital transformation was a necessary investment to maintain a competitive edge, improve the firm's business agility, and continue delivering high-quality services to their clients. The Baker Group's small team was frequently mobile, traveling between clients, event venues, or working on-site during the latter stages of the event production process. As a result, they needed a solution that would enhance the team's flexibility and mobility, enabling them to remain connected whether they were working on an airplane, from a coffee shop near a venue, or in a client's office.
"We're moving throughout the day. It's not the kind of firm where we're just sitting behind our desks like a typical nine-to-five job," Dickerson explained. "So, for us, the portability and the accessibility of the Surface Pro was critical."
Before their digital transformation, employees primarily used desktops or laptops. Although their laptops were certainly the more portable of the two options, the laptops were still difficult to travel with, uncomfortable to use on planes, and lacked the mobility and versatility to adapt to varying work settings. Thankfully, one of their clients suggested a cutting-edge, mobile solution to address their business agility needs: Microsoft Surface.
Journey from technology beginner to Surface Pro advocate
Dickerson was immediately interested in trying out a Surface device. The size, portability, and ability to convert from a laptop to a tablet made the solution an ideal fit for her business agility needs. After purchasing the device, Dickerson struggled to optimize the touch screen features and understand the device's tools. Her tight-knit technologically-savvy colleagues encouraged her to enroll in Microsoft's training classes to get to know the product better.
Located in one of Microsoft's nearby brick-and-mortar locations, the training classes are designed to help attendees discover new insights and learn how to make the most of their solution's capabilities. According to Dickerson, the classes were small and welcomed a diverse group of users, from beginners to those well-versed in Microsoft products, allowing Dickerson to feel comfortable asking questions.
"The instructors were very friendly and were able to answer any of the questions we had," she explained. "They really opened my eyes in terms of all of the functions that the Surface device could do."
Although Dickerson was generally familiar with common programs like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, Microsoft specialists helped her fully maximize capabilities she hadn't yet discovered. For example, by learning ways to enhance PowerPoint functions beyond presentations, Dickerson eliminated the need for hiring a graphic designer, and saved the firm money. In addition to those insights, Dickerson learned how to use the Sticky Notes tool to annotate documents and explored Skype's multiple communication features.
"That's when I really fell in love with the product because I became familiar with how to use it. And now I love it—I use it for everything," Dickerson said.
The training also provided follow-up support, allowing participants to contact Microsoft instructors even after the training ended. With such a comprehensive customer support experience, Dickerson says she absolutely recommends Microsoft training classes to new and seasoned users to ensure customers are taking full advantage of their products.
Enhancing business agility with Surface Pro and Office 365
As Dickerson recognized the key benefits of her Surface device, she realized it would be the perfect solution for the rest of The Baker Group's team. She used a fun, incentivized strategy to drive adoption throughout her team, allowing members to transition to a Surface Pro device once they met their sales quotas. Soon, the entire staff was leveraging the devices, along with the most updated version of the same Office 365 tools to ensure compatibility amongst the team.
The Surface devices offered a range of new opportunities to streamline the team's most essential processes and improve their agility. The device's camera feature allowed employees to easily take photos of the venues and record videos of event production in real time. Now, not only could they easily document the set-up and production process, they could also showcase the success of the final event. They could even upload everything straight to their social media accounts, delivering more engaging visual content to their digital audience. The camera also allowed the employees to photograph and email essential details like floral samples, color swatches, and venue features straight to the client—all from one portable device.
"Now we can show our clients how we transform a space," Dickerson said. "We can record throughout the day, from when we go in in the morning and it's a completely raw space all the way through the end of the night. And then we can upload it on social media to show people."
With OneDrive, all the images and other documents are easily stored and organized in one, digitally accessible, centralized location. Using Office 365's cloud technology—rather than relying on email threads and flash drives—OneDrive ensures instant-update capabilities and access from any device, while improving collaboration between traveling employees and the firm's remote staff. The innovative solution also streamlines sales presentations and pitches, empowering the firm's staff to showcase their best work at a moment's notice.
"As a small business owner, having quick access to files is critical," explained the firm's CEO. "If I'm in a meeting with a client and they're looking for a specific file, I can go right into my Surface device or my phone, access OneDrive, find the file, and re-email it to the client—versus telling them I'll make a note of their request and send it to them later in the day."
The Baker Group's transition to Surface devices also transformed their on-site registration process. The firm previously rented iPads to complete in-person registration, using 4-5 devices at an average rate of $100 per day for each event and conference. Instead, the team can now simply upload the registration software to their own Surface devices, allowing for a flexible, streamlined registration process while saving money. According to Dickerson, switching to Surface devices has already paid for itself.
Using technology to expand the firm's future growth
From Dickerson's perspective, the key is to not be afraid to embrace the latest technology. Leveraging digital innovation can be hugely impactful for small businesses, allowing limited teams to transform efficiency and productivity and reach new milestones of success. With so many tools, training, and resources available to a wide range of users, Dickerson says the necessary support is easily available to empower any small business interested in exploring the opportunity and transforming their business' agility.
"Don't be afraid of change, and don't be afraid of learning new things. That was a real eye-opener for us," she said. "Don't be afraid of embracing what the digital transformation can do for your business."
Over the next few years, The Baker Group plans to embrace a more active social media and digital marketing strategy to increase their online presence. Surface and Office 365 both enhance the team's ability to stay flexible and connected, making the entire event production process more dynamic and engaging with seamless social media updates. Dickerson explains that her long-term goal for the firm is keep digitally transforming right alongside Microsoft's cutting-edge technology.
"From a visionary perspective, we want to transition all of our products with Microsoft. As they grow their devices and technology, our team wants to do the same," Dickerson said.
By staying at the front end of innovation, The Baker Group can continue successfully managing massive conferences with the level of quality, service, and event planning support the firm consistently champions.
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