Technology provider Johnson Controls virtualised its Tech Challenge in 2020 using Microsoft 365 and Teams. “We had 50 percent more attendees, more global, diverse contestant teams, and more engagement than any other year,” said Rahul Talim, group head for execution excellence at Johnson Controls.
When Covid-19 spread across the globe in early 2020, Johnson Controls had to change its plans for the annual in-person event.
“Ideas had been submitted, and people were planning their display booths, when we had to send everyone home,” said Talim. “But then our leaders decided that we should not let our culture of innovation lapse because the world is at a standstill. Normally, we host Tech Challenge in expo halls in Milwaukee in the US, and Mumbai, India. But then we thought, ‘Why not make it one virtual event for the entire company?’”
With a new focus on remote work and collaboration, Johnson Controls managed to roll out Microsoft Teams across the whole company in just four months.
“Covid-19 accelerated everything,” said Talim. “Teams is an intuitive and immersive experience, so there was no need to train anyone.”
With the swift and simple deployment of Teams, the company decided to use the platform to host the Tech Challenge.
“There was a preconceived notion that Teams would not be the way to accomplish the virtual Tech Challenge, but when we saw the cost of virtual trade show software and the time to market, we realised the advantage of the Microsoft cloud tools we already had,” said Gary Gavin, director of engineering for connected products at Johnson Controls. “It was a big decision. We were determined that the virtual Tech Challenge would be special and engaging for our employees. With Microsoft 365 and Teams, we delivered on an event that was a highlight of the year.”
Johnson Controls worked with partners at Microsoft and Skyline Technologies to deliver an end-to-end virtual experience covering everything that would have happened during an in-person event, within 60 days. Together, they created a solution hosted in SharePoint which provided registration functionalities and a daily schedule of event, and contestants were able to use Power Apps to upload materials.
“We used Power Apps to replicate the virtual hall experience, where visitors could click a landing page for a category that interested them – for example, Building Automation – and it would take them to contestants participating in that category,” explains Gavin. “It was as close as we could get to replicating the experience of walking up to a booth in an expo hall and talking to the contestants.”
Microsoft says that the virtual event was a huge success, and “because no one had to travel to attend the event, more than 6,500 visitors came to the virtual platform, racking up 40,000 site visits during the four-day event.
“The Tech Challenge was a great comment about our culture,” says Miller. “The challenges we’ve faced and the activities that we’ve continued with the help of Microsoft 365 and Teams have strengthened our unity. We’re staying connected to democratise innovation—there’s no better future-proof strategy than that.”
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