What do a factory, a small retail chain, and a law firm all have in common? “Not much,” may be the first answer that comes to mind, and you would be right. These three types of businesses all make money in different ways. One produces goods, another resells them, while one produces a service rather than a product. Their physical spaces – one comprised of a group of storefront locations, another a manufacturing facility and another a more traditional office setting – will be vastly different as well. What they share, however, like most modern businesses, is the need for a core suite of productivity applications (word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet creation) and services (email, calendar/ file sharing, and storage) to get basic administrative work done.
From the dawn of the first PCs to the mid-to-late 2000’s, businesses who required these types of services had to buy licensing for products like Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes and build a server infrastructure to support them. In addition to the cost of the licensing and physical hardware to run these services, companies would have to pay systems administrators to configure and maintain them as well. On top of that, physical application media and licenses would be required to install software for end users to access these services. Today, however, the barriers to access have been significantly reduced by what is known as the hosted service model. Hosted or cloud services are not internally maintained by the companies that utilize them, but rather by a service or hosting provider. Today, we will be comparing the two biggest hosting providers in this space, Google and Microsoft.
Google Apps for Business enhances Google’s familiar consumer services like Gmail, Hangouts and Google Drive with certain enhancements and centralized management features aimed at organizations rather than individuals. The Apps for Business suite tends to be most popular among the Education and Non-Profit verticals as it is extremely cost effective, relatively easy to manage, and offers a degree of familiarity to users. On the application side, Google Offers cloud based apps for creating and manipulating word documents (Docs), spreadsheets (Sheets), surveys and forms (Forms), presentations (Slides) and even basic websites (Sites). Because Google’s apps are all 100% cloud based, there are no associated costs for additional desktop software to be installed or maintained on end-user computers. The only thing required to access these services is an internet connection and a web browser (preferably Google Chrome).
Microsoft has been the gold standard of productivity software with its Microsoft Office suite for nearly two decades. In the late 2000’s, they introduced their hosted service offering for email, at the time called the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), which after multiple upgrades has been rebranded as Microsoft Office 365. Unlike apps for business, Office 365 has multiple different product levels and allows you to buy into certain features reserved for enterprise-level customers like hosted Voice over IP (VoIP) or specific application licenses a la carte (and more importantly on a per user basis). Office 365 provides email and calendaring functionality via long-time industry standard Microsoft Exchange, collaboration and file storage via SharePoint/OneDrive for business, and chat/video services via Skype for Business. The strongest selling point of Office 365 is in its seamless integration with the newer versions of the classic Office Suite of Apps, which include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Access and Publisher. While Google has analogues for most but not all of these applications, for power users and task based users more familiar with the Microsoft suite of apps, user familiarity is one major factor driving businesses toward Office 365. Working on a Mac? Learn more about Microsoft Office 365 for Macs.
While the similarities and differences between these offerings are easy to point out, the harder task is determining which suite is right for your organization’s particular needs. To keep it as simple as possible, the main factors to consider when choosing a solution are functionality and familiarity. When it comes to function, if your business requires highly advanced spreadsheets and presentations you will likely find the Microsoft Office applications meet your needs best and as such Office 365 is probably your best bet. That said, if live collaboration on simpler documents is more in line with your organizations workflow, then Google Apps may be a better fit for you. From a familiarity standpoint, the question to ask is what type of software your employees are most comfortable with. If you have an office of mostly younger users who didn’t grow up glued to the PC for getting work done and are highly familiar with Google’s cloud suite of apps like Gmail and Drive from using it personally or in school, that may be the path of least resistance. But if your users are died-in-the-wool MS Office veterans since the 2003 version, they may be extremely resistant to having to relearn their entire workflow in the Google Apps suite. User buy-in is critical when it comes to productivity – happy employees are productive employees.
While the above criteria attempts to simplify the decision making process, the truth is that choosing a hosted service provider is a difficult decision with many contributing factors. Key personnel should be consulted to determine organizational priorities. If you are startup there is no migration to take into account, but if you are an existing business the cost and difficulty of a migration also need to be factored in. As with any IT decision this important, it is never a bad idea to speak to a Managed Services Provider to help you evaluate your needs and make a plan for success.
If you are ready to take advantage of hosted services, contact us today so we can learn more about your business needs. We have an in-house team dedicated to helping you make the right decisions for your business.
By: John Prenderville, Client Services, The TNS Group