Your office in the cloud Ė dream or nightmare?

Martha Bennett, originally published on CIO

Published/updated: May 2012

Considerations for SaaS-based email and office productivity tools

Why go to all the trouble of installing and maintaining your own email system and office productivity tools when you could instead get them Ďfrom the cloudí, on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis? This is the question thatís been posed for some time now, in particular by vendors keen to challenge Microsoftís dominance on the desktop. And it can be argued that the assault has been successful to a degree, given that Microsoft now offers its own web-based solution set. But does this mean cloud-based office applications are now widely accepted and adopted as an alternative to on-site deployments?

The answer to that question isnít entirely clear-cut. Research carried out by Freeform Dynamics suggests that very few are ready to embrace a cloud-only approach. Equally, weíre not looking at an environment of wholesale rejection. When we asked IT and business professionals in an online survey about their attitudes to SaaS in general, and SaaS-based office productivity tools in particular, the majority of respondents felt that web-based desktop office applications may have a place as a complement to tools deployed in-house, or dependent on user requirements (Figure 1).

Figure 1

It should be noted that our survey was focused on companies with fewer than 1000 employees, and itís likely that a survey of this sort is more likely to attract respondents with an interest in SaaS. This implies that the market as a whole may well be less ready for web-only office solutions than indicated by the numbers shown in Figure 1. Itís also worth mentioning that of course ĎSaaSí and Ďweb-basedí arenít synonymous. Hosted email services can be accessed via locally installed clients, and in-house email can be accessed via browser-based interfaces. While some speculate that pure web-based tools will be the future, weíre likely to continue to see a variety of approaches in the near to medium term.

Aside from ingrained preferences for doing as much in-house as possible, the key reasons for being sceptical about web-based applications include worries about security, loss of connectivity, service quality, back-up and disaster recovery, as well as data governance issues.

In addition to those concerns, migration and integration with existing systems can be an overriding worry, given how widely office productivity solutions are used, and how deeply embedded they are in many of an organisationís most critical business processes. If a process canít function, or canít function effectively, when a critical element is missing, then the risk of disruption to the business is commensurately more likely. As can be seen in Figure 2, email in particular has become very closely associated with the effective working of many of an organisationís key processes.

Figure 2

So what could motivate people to look towards the cloud for their office productivity software? As might be expected, cost savings come top of the list for many. But other factors are important as well. These include the ability to do new things more easily, enjoy greater overall reliability, and generally benefit from a more modern environment. Many organisations would also place high priority on having support for all relevant mobile devices. One aspect that plays less of a role, according to our survey respondents, is fitness for purpose. Comparatively few feel that their current office productivity suite simply isnít up to the job.

Whatever the considerations and views may be in favour of, or against, adopting a SaaS-based office productivity solution, it remains paramount that organisations go through a very thorough process of assessment and selection (Figure 3).

Figure 3

In particular, itís essential for business and IT management to take into account the impact on core processes in order to minimise the risk of disruption, and to analyse in detail which challenges and risks need to be mitigated, and how. It also means being very clear about the potential business benefits expected from any move to the cloud.

If youíre interested in a more in-depth view of SaaS-based email and office productivity tools, you can download the complete report free of charge.



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