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Finding Business Value (and Privacy) in the Cloud

Organizations often have diverse needs, but one that is common for nearly all, is the need for productivity software. For a long time, Microsoft Office has been the go-to solution for not only much of the Fortune 500, but many public-sector organizations as well. (Full disclosure: Bit-Wizards is a Microsoft Partner.) Today, the Cloud has disrupted this space and it seems there are more options than ever before. And with the need to sync and store data in a centralized location, cloud-based productivity apps are quickly becoming the norm.

Cloud computing offers organizations of all sizes the opportunity to increase agility, and reduce costs through the use of user productivity applications such as email, calendaring, document management, and collaboration. These applications are often business-critical, so using a cloud-based service requires serious consideration; reliability, security, manageability, and support are must-haves from any service provider. Oh, and they must take data privacy cloud computing seriously and support your organization’s compliance needs.

Perhaps the biggest factor for most organizations is cost. Or for the really intelligent leaders, it’s value. There’s a reason why the axiom, “You get what you pay for” has remained part of our lexicon for so long. Those business leaders who understand that are the ones taking a holistic approach to decisions like this. And it’s likely the reason Microsoft Office has been the unrivaled leader in the productivity space for so long. Now, with Office 365, the term, “unified platform” takes on an entirely new meaning.

With the applications that make up the Office Suite, Microsoft has been delivering the world’s most widely-utilized productivity tools for over two decades. Competition from Google and others has driven the “Windows” company over the past few years like I’ve never experienced. But what’s really incredible to me is the value that comes with Office 365. One example is the Office Suite of software included with an Office 365 account. Not only do you get web app versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, OneNote, and Publisher, you can also install a copy of the full version of Office on up to five devices. It’s hard to find another cloud-based service that offers a client version of their applications. This means that for most cloud-based services, an Internet connection is required for everyday tasks like document creation and editing. And when you consider the total costs, including the acquisition, management, and deployment, Office 365 is really tough to beat.

Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that the haters are likely to even get this far. But if you’re still reading, let’s look at the other players in the cloud productivity game.

Clearly, the most obvious alternative to Office 365 comes in the form of Google Apps with Gmail. While it’s true that many “millennials” have grown up with Gmail, Google Apps isn’t likely to be familiar to most information workers and many critics believe it’s oversimplified with less than intuitive naming conventions. Moreover, Google Apps seems to be an ever-changing solution, often deploying experimental features that can increase complexity and add to worker confusion. And with regards to privacy, even Google now admits don't expect privacy when sending to Gmail. Privacy and security is a big deal if your organization works with medical data. Complying with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is not something Google can provide. Moreover, the true costs of each seat, the deployment, and on-going support, are somewhat obscured through Google’s terms of agreement.

IBM’s offering, Symphony, provides a fraction of the capabilities most organizations have come to expect from modern productivity suites. And poor, user experience with Notes and a patchwork of disparate platforms, result in a solution that is far from unified. Like many other vendors, IBM attempts to stitch together siloed technologies, and does so in a way that, often, isn’t intuitive.

Other free alternatives, like OpenOffice, can, in fact, turn out to be very costly. Why? Because most of these solutions don’t offer the features like collaboration and access through non-desktop devices today’s information workers are looking for. Combine that with the limited set of productivity tools and free, ends up creating accessibility issues, placing restrictions on how, where, and when work gets done.

As you consider the productivity solution that’s best for your organization, it’s important to consider more than just price. It’s just as important to remember the core mission of each vendor. Google, for instance, is, at its core, an advertising platform; every app they build is built around creating a new market for advertisers.

Questions to Ask Cloud Vendors

  • Do they scan user emails or enable advertising to your users in any way?
  • Can they tell you where your data physically resides?
  • How do they control administrator access to the service?
  • How do they maintain the privacy of and provide security for customer information?
  • Do they use tape backups?
  • How do they integrate into your existing on-premises directory and your access and authentication infrastructure and policies?
  • What are the account policies that they support for security features such as like strong passwords, password history, account lockout, auditing, and transfer of ownership?

Beyond what’s covered in this article, Office 365 shares integration points, not only with Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync, but also Dynamics, Microsoft’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) offerings.

Business productivity solutions can simplify the way organizations communicate, share expertise, gain business insight, and find information. Or they can add confusion, unexpected costs, and frustration to what is likely an already tedious chore. What’s more, a proper solution can maximize the efforts of an organization, creating opportunities where none may have been present before.

Choose wisely.

Further reading: 

Office 365: My Five Favorite Things
HIPAA Omnibus and Microsoft Office 365
Google Apps vs. Office 365 
Office 365: More value, Most complete


Wiz E. Wig, Mascot & Director of Magic
Wiz E. Wig

Director of Magic