With the launch of Microsoft Office 365 in June, your options for providing your employees with advanced email and collaboration services improved. As promised, Microsoft has responded to Google’s lead in this space with their Google Apps for Business. Office 365 is now out of beta and generally available and supported.
There are service packages for every taste. The upside to that is that there is an opportunity to optimize the service level and associated costs for each user. The downside is added complexity in selecting and administering plans and the potential for hurdles when migrating between plans in the future.
Microsoft Office 365 plans start with a $4 per user per month for a K1 “Kiosk Worker Plan” for those that need email but spend little time on a PC. It’s also an inexpensive way for people that have Microsoft Office and Outlook on their PC and want to take advantage of Exchange capabilities like push email to mobile devices and Outlook integration. With cloud based Microsoft Exchange, there’s no need for the otherwise significant infrastructure investment, IT administration and complexity associated with setting up Exchange on-premise. This is a breakthrough for SMBs that have longed for Microsoft Exchange email on a small scale at the cheapest possible price. The closest Google Apps equivalent is free Gmail, which doesn’t support push email although you can use Gmail with your Microsoft Outlook client.
For enterprise users, or more accurately knowledge workers that need more storage, features and collaboration capabilities, there are services between $10 and $27 per user per month. At the high end of the spectrum is the E4 Enterprise Plan loaded with features like Office Professional Plus, advanced administration capabilities, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and the ability to use Lync Server on-premises. Google Apps offers a simple $5 per user per month, or $50 per user per year, and includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, Cloud Connect, Sites and Apps Marketplace. With Cloud Connect a plug-in permits Office documents to be shared, and Outlook supports Gmail.
For many, the options are clear as, well, mud. Beyond the features and price points, also take into consideration preferences and soft costs when factoring in your ROI. If you are just getting started and don’t need to migrate Exchange email, comfortable with a self-service approach, and not Microsoft centric on your desktop or your mobile devices, Google Apps gives you a simple, fast and cheap way to take advantage of cloud based services. If, on the other hand, you have Exchange email that you need to migrate, like Microsoft Office apps, maybe have Outlook, and either want to add Exchange email to your mix or add killer apps like Lync to your arsenal then the Microsoft services may provide you with more continuity.
Speaking of continuity, if you or your staff is familiar with Office applications, the cost of ramping up on Google Apps is something to account for. If they tend to be Gmail users and walk in with Android and iOS devices, that might tell you something else. It’s expensive enough to get a new hire up to speed on the business, it’s more so if they need to learn a new set of GUIs and applications and email paradigm. I love labeling and archiving my Gmail email in the browser and powering through high Gmail volume in Outlook. I like to collaborate in shared spaces and interactive sessions. Others prefer sorting by folder in Outlook Web App (OWA) and iterating documents by email. Know the preferences of your employees and it will help you know what email and collaboration system will be a hit.
If you foresee a desire or need to get onto the latest and greatest Microsoft services, including Lync and SharePoint, maybe even looking to avoid or replace a traditional phone system, consider the value of starting off with or continuing with the Microsoft suite and avoiding disruption now or in the future.
Both Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 are cloud based offerings. They both allow you to leverage great email and collaboration services. Google Apps has the edge in platform independence, supporting Microsoft Office document collaboration with Google Cloud Connect and similar treatment for all the major mobile platforms. Microsoft Office 365 goes broader and deeper with enterprise proven services and more seamless integration with ubiquitous Microsoft Office applications and Exchange email.
For the increasing number of SMBs that are fending for themselves in the IT department, you have options galore. And your choice extends to the vendor from whom you buy your cloud based services. If you are self-reliant or driven by cost savings, or just plain brave, you’ll be drawn to the Google and Microsoft websites to choose your services à la cart. If you already purchase from a cloud service provider or you value higher levels of customer support and a single throat to choke, you would do well to acquire or expand your services with your existing hoster or reseller, whose entire business is based on your satisfaction and recurring purchases. When purchasing from hosters, you also have the ability to single source a spectrum of services, such as virtual servers, storage and other SaaS applications.
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