While small to medium-sized businesses have traditionally been asking for cloud-based productivity applications, more enterprises are jumping on the bandwagon for the convenience, perceived cost savings and low maintenance cloud applications offer. According to a Spiceworks survey, Google Apps leads the SMB market at 48% of respondents deploying or planning to deploy it, while 43%prefer Microsoft Office 365. However, connectivity issues and limited features could put a damper on cloud enthusiasm.
"Office 365 is one of the biggest we're seeing," said Aamir Shah, senior Microsoft Cloud business manager at Gardena, Calif.-based IT services and products provider En Pointe Technologies Inc., although Azure and Intune are also contenders that he expects will grow more popular. Lync has also been a big hit, despite worries that it would cause distractions, because it connects remote workers so well with the home office, he said.
"Enterprises certainly are ready for cloud-based office tools," said Brian Gay, owner of Arlington, Va.-based IT consulting firm Think Forward Consulting. Because cloud-based tools don't require installation or configuration, they make it easier for enterprises to deploy even with reduced IT staff, a huge value to any organization, he said.
According to Gay, both private and public organizations have gone all-in on the cloud, even Federal agencies, which are looking for cost savings just as much as enterprises. "Microsoft's cloud offerings are behind Google, but soon both will be viable options," he said.
Enterprises who want to use their IT staff more strategically find cloud applications helpful in alleviating the burden of day-to-day maintenance and upgrades. "We were spending a lot of time on maintenance," said Ryan Sallee, CIO at Indianapolis-based distance education company The College Network. "We wanted to get out of the hardware business and provide technology solutions to business problems."
With almost everything on the cloud, from Google Apps to storage, The College Network's over 500 users haven't been disrupted by the change. "The weekend we cut over, we asked managers and business users if anything was different, and it was business as usual for them," Sallee said.
Users are happy to jump on the bandwagon, as current cloud-based productivity applications like Google Docs foster collaboration and allow employees to complete most tasks without the bells and whistles found in traditional software. "As our company has embraced cloud docs, we have seen a dramatic improvement in daily productivity and efficiency," said Jennifer Stagner, manager of e-commerce for Warrenville, Ill.-based office products company TOPS Products.
Some of these enterprise productivity gains have included not having to wait for everyone on a conference call to find and open the same Excel file, figure out where the latest version of a document is, find and access a document from home or wait for someone to close out of a document so another person can work with it, she said. But Stagner has also found new ways of using Google Docs since her company migrated to the cloud.
Currently, Stagner is using a Google Doc as the foundation for an application program interface (API) that connects the TOPS Products website's Google Analytics to a self-updating, interactive KPI dashboard on a private Google site. This enables her to push data visualizations to executives, and the Google Doc trigger kicks off a script to refresh data every hour. "Instead of using our labor to procure the data, we leverage our cloud capabilities so that we can better spend the time on ways to optimize traffic and conversions based on insights gleaned from the data," she said.
Stripped-down tools like Google Docs can be easier for mobile workers, too, said Martin Capurro, vice president of product management and development at Town and Country, Mo.-based cloud services provider Savvis Cloud. "People are adjusting their work habits, and expectations are everything," he said. Mobile workers won't expect full functionality from cloud applications, and cloud presentation software, for example, is perfect for mobile workers who want to adjust their PowerPoint presentations on the go, he added.
However, connectivity can end up being an issue, particularly for remote employees working on airplanes or in places that don't have a Wi-Fi connection, Capurro said. Yet cloud productivity application providers are working to bridge that gap. "Most cloud suites at this point … have a light application that helps you work offline and then sync back online once you're connected," he said. For example, Google Apps supports offline text editing but not spreadsheet or presentation editing as of yet, and the Office 365 E3 subscription does come with a desktop subscription to Office Professional for users that need to work offline.