Migrating Office to the Cloud

Mark Horbal, CIO, SpringBIG Inc.

MS Office: The Corporate Standard
As a historically dominant leader in the Office Suite space, Microsoft Office has always been the obvious go-to solution. Introduction of Office 365 brings the solution to the cloud, a much-needed move for Microsoft. This introduction creates a new contender in the space previously dominated by Google. Both products are now aligned with Google’s vision of thin-client computing, epitomized by Google’s visionary, but perhaps too-early introduction of the Chromebook. 

There are perhaps two parallel trends here. The first is the users’ desire to be able to work on their documents at any time and on any device, whether in the office or not. The second is the unstoppable shift of applications from the local machine to the cloud, which simplifies software life cycle management, data storage and backups and reduces performance requirements of the user’s device. In the end, everyone wins.

There has been an increase in the adoption of Office 365 in the market today. This as a gradual change that will continue to evolve and Microsoft Office 365 will continue to steadily gain market share in the Office Suite space, as it competes with Google Apps. This will be a war simultaneously waged on the fronts of features, compatibility and pricing. The sheer presence of two contenders in the space will inevitably result in steady improvement of both platforms. Each one must transparently read and write each other’s file formats (already somewhat true) and understand progressively more complex document formatting. Finally, the pricing of the two platforms must align more closely.

Points to Bear: Enterprise Licensing 
While individual users could theoretically make the shift very rapidly, institutional users have a bigger challenge. While Office 365 provides new functionality and arguably a more convenient licensing model, organizations must consider a number of factors before rushing to deployment. These include evaluation of support for features needed by the organization, transition plans, analysis of ROI on current desktop licensing, interoperability with other platforms, evaluation of archive migration, security and a myriad of others. 

Needs and technologies go hand-in-hand, and they have always been as a great push in providing organizations a devil’s haven to assess, innovate and execute. While Office 365 offers the benefits of the cloud, flexible pay-as-you-go licensing model, collaboration, support for multiple device and cloud storage, these benefits must be weighed against licensing already in place, features, interoperability with other systems and security.

Ongoing Trends
While the presence of enthusiasm triggered by new technologies is undeniable, it must be tempered by a sober Risk/Benefit analysis and an objective assessment of the Total Cost of Ownership. While this may be simple for some organizations, it can be a very substantial undertaking for others, especially in cases where document controls and security come to the forefront, with government agencies, insurance companies, law offices and others being obvious examples. We are still missing a comprehensive analysis of how Office 365 would play in the Sarbox or HIPAA scenarios.

With its 35-year history, Microsoft Office is the undisputed leader in the office suite space. Over this time, it has become the de facto standard for document processing both in terms of features and file formats. Together with Adobe’s .pdf, the .docx and .xlsx formats are probably the most recognizable and pervasive file types in offices across the world. Until now, these documents were always created and processed using desktop software. The migration of this paradigm to the cloud, as Office 365, has to overcome a significant momentum and the inevitable resistance to change. In some cases, this will not be difficult—the ability to read and modify Office documents from anywhere and on any device will likely gain converts rapidly, especially in view of the simplified licensing model. Aggressive pricing will definitely accelerate the process. It remains to be seen what Microsoft has in store for enterprises that will resist migration for security reasons. It seems reasonable that Microsoft should be looking at native support for private clouds.