The two giants of the computer industry are competing on making your office completely mobile with their highly competitive prices. Both are eying SOHOs, medium-size businesses and enterprises. Both have their own solutions. But how will you choose one over another?
When you are evaluating Software as a Service (SaaS) plans, you need a 360 degree perspective about the offering and your business. Unless these two provide a fit, you either need to reevaluate your business (you may need to review your inner working styles to fit the cloud, say “make your business cloud-ready”) or the cloud offering. Here are the bases that you need to cover when you are evaluating Google Apps and Office 365 (or any other cloud offering for that matter).
Your Current and Future Business Environment
The hardest part of doing anything is evaluating your environment: where you are now and where you are going. You may be on the verge of a big investment, you may be employing or laying off a large number of users, you may be expanding to different geographical locations, considering deploying a VoIP solution or simply moving from a file server to a document collaboration server. Many businesses fail to understand that the little projects they are doing today can prove to be big in the very near future.
Suppose for a moment that you are moving from a traditional Windows-based file server to a Sharepoint Server. In your IT infrastructure this may be a short-term project that is not assigned high resources and will be completed in a very small amount of time. You think about the project for a second and then decided not to consider it in your cloud evaluation. And you are about to make a big mistake: what will be the situation for offline users? How will they be able to edit documents offline? What about traditional desktop users? See the point here? Even the small project that you are not considering may bring a lot of questions to the table.
Feature Set and Additional (Third-party) Applications
You are purchasing Software as a Service and you have to know what you are paying for. You need to study (and study a lot) about the individual features of the products, which is closely tied to your current and future business environment. You need to know about the productivity applications, e-mail space, instant messaging, calendaring and be able to compare each and every individual application. This is the easiest step because both Google and Microsoft are competing head to head on the individual applications.
The hard part is evaluating the additional features (or applications if you will). What will you do about your CRM application? Your e-commerce application? Project management? What if one or more of these are not provided by one vendor? Again and again, you need to carefully evaluate your business environment with the features offered by the vendors.
No, your users will not be able to fire up Office from the start menu (or the taskbar) and no, you will not be using the Exchange Management Console to open up new user accounts. You need training: both your users and you. Your users need to understand that the company has undertaken a strategic decision to move to the cloud, and things are a little bit different (albeit very close) to what they used to be doing. Although we, IT professionals can switch to another application and get used to working with it very quickly, this is not the case with the majority of the users. You need to account for their training. Not only to lower the costs of the help desk calls but also to lower the lost productivity for the business as a whole. You, IT pros may be inclined to think that cloud is a piece of cake, but you are wrong. I strongly recommend you to log on to Microsoft Virtual Academy and take the Office 365 course and see what you are heading to.
By now you have already seen clearly that migrating to Office 365 or Google Apps is not a simple export-import operation that is two “next”s, one “finish.” It is a rough road that you need to consider the steps, the environment, third party applications and the like. Once decided, you are not done although you have gone a long way: you need vendor’s support. During the migration you will be moving a large amount of files, both in size and number. You will be rewriting some of your firewall rules. You will be reconsidering your network infrastructure. You will work on document compatibility. You will tackle with many unforeseen problems. And you will need support during those times.
You are moving to the cloud because you believe that your business will be saving money, either in the medium or the long term. This is your primary concern but it is at the bottom of my list because it is not going to Google and Microsoft and say “I have this many users, give this plan to me and here is your $$$$.” The cloud is not an off the shelf product that you purchase, make monthly payments and done with it. Yes, there is an initial and a predictable investment. But there is also your business’s expansion, additional users, your requirements, mobile access that you need to think about. Most probably you need to invest in more bandwidth to have better connection to your cloud office. It may be that you need to budget for additional mobile data plans for your mobile workers and your executives. It may also be that you need to be investing in Android / Windows Phones instead of Blackberry smartphones.
In whatever the case, the financials is not the starting point nor the end point. It is a point in the overall evaluation chain which receives and gives feedback until every item in the evaluation chain is optimized. Do not let financial evaluation cripple your requested features or your requested features cripple your financials.
Who is the Clear Winner?
The title hints an article on the clash of the titans in the cloud office market by the two giants but we still did not announce a clear winner. This is not because I am refraining from making an announcement, it is because the clear winner heavily depends on your business requirements and financials. Since nobody knows about your financials better than you do, I can only comment on what I see from the offerings. Here are my overall evaluations and preferences:
Productivity applications (Word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, collaboration, versioning, revision, offline editing): Office 365
E-mail and instant messaging (e-mail storage space, mailbox organization, chat, video conferencing, voice calling, social networking): Both.
Calendaring (calendar, tasks, appointment, meeting request): Office 365
Document management (collaboration, offline editing, offline sync, company site, company wiki): Office 365
Additional (Third-party) Applications: Google Apps.
I want to emphasize once again that your cloud migration will not be easy, you will spend a lot time in planning and migration but at the end you will see the benefits in a very short time.
Featured Image: http://blog.vistage.com