As some developers tell it, the cloud is the best thing since sliced bread. Local installations are out and cloud applications are in, they say. Hosted cloud-based apps — like Office 365 — offer convenience, easy access and mobile compatibility. But are cloud-based solutions like these all they’re cracked up to be? Is switching to an application suite like Office 365 the best move for your company? Do you need to move from desktop applications to a cloud-hosted solution?
Any change to your operations is bound to bring on this kind of pendulum thinking. You ricochet between the pros and the cons, desperately searching for something to steer you one way or the other. In this guide, we’ll illuminate some of the most important differences between Office 365 and older, locally hosted versions. We’ll highlight both the benefits and the drawbacks of cloud-based applications, specifically those available in Office 365 — and help position you to make the bigger plunge into cloud networking.
Pro: Office 365 Allows Workers to Access Documents and Email from Anywhere
Employee brainstorm at 2:00 am? It’s hard to know when or where inspiration will strike. With Office 365, your staff doesn’t have to wait until the morning to piece together an idea from a bunch of scribbled notes. They can open their laptop and start working directly on that big presentation or tricky company email — no matter the time of day or where they happen to be. Not only that, their coworkers can join in the conversation with collaborative features like document sharing and editing through the cloud-hosted software SharePoint Online. That’s a huge win for productivity, and it may have big implications for how your workers manage their day. In fact, you may find yourself easing up on restrictions on working from home, or saying yes to more conferences and conventions. After all, if you know workers can be online from anywhere, why not give them the power to work where they want? Imagine that people can add comments, highlights, and other annotations to PDF files (and of course with Word, Powerpoint files) directly within the Office 365. Sounds cool, right?
Con: Online Applications May Have Limited Features
On the flip side, however, some workers may experience setbacks when they try to work in browser applications. For instance, the browser version of Office Word doesn’t allow users to access password-protected documents, nor can they run macros inside a document when working online. (For a full list of available features, see the Microsoft help article, “Differences between using a document in the browser and in Word.”) Excel users can’t set up data validation in browser workbooks, and some features, such as the TODAY function or the INFO function, behave differently online than they do when working locally. (Check out the full list of differences in the Microsoft help article titled “Differences between using a workbook in the browser and in Excel.”) In certain cases, the loss of functionality could make online work confusing, if not impossible.
Pro: Cloud-hosted Applications Save Your IT Team Time with Troubleshooting and Updates
Your IT team is probably busy enough as it is. Among the soft benefits introduced by Office 365 is the ability to take application installation and troubleshooting off those team members’ plates. That frees them up for more valuable work and boosts productivity, to boot. Instead, this kind of IT work gets passed to the experts: Microsoft’s admin center spells out the whole setup process, which is a lot easier than configuring an exchange server. And new updates occur automatically, the minute new releases are available, although you can turn off automatic updates if you prefer.
Con: Storing Your Data on the Cloud Makes It More Vulnerable to Security Threats
The savings in IT administration might not be worth it, however, if you have to worry about security flaws. Microsoft does work hard to keep your data safe from hacks and security threats, and it employs techniques like Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) to ensure that its cloud is protected. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t flaws that could jeopardize your security. For example, in a highly publicized instance earlier this year, Google’s Project Zero security research team discovered a high-risk security concern in Edge, another Microsoft product. According to the researchers, the bug allows attackers to control information saved in the application’s memory, which has potentially devastating consequences for data security. Another critical bug, reported just the week before news of the Edge security flaw, exposed potentially sensitive data stored in Windows servers. And it took Microsoft several months to release a patch for that vulnerability. Although Edge is not included in the Microsoft Office 365 suite, it is worth weighing these risks as you consider the switch to cloud-based applications.
Pro: You May Save Money After Moving to a Subscription Payment Model
Money talks, and if the cost savings are right, security vulnerabilities may not be a deal breaker. Microsoft has been in the business of providing powerful commercial software for years — and for the most part, it is able to put its money where its mouth is. A joint study executed by Forrester Consulting and commissioned by Microsoft found a 154 percent return on investment for a small- to mid-sized company switching to Office 365. On average, most businesses achieved payback in 5.1 months and were able to lower overhead by $8,100 by eliminating third-party software and services. Typically, companies experience lower licensing costs when they purchase and install Office 365, since there’s no need to buy all-new software and licenses every time a new release becomes available. Instead, businesses pay a per-user monthly subscription fee. While recurring, this fee typically includes product updates, patches and new releases.
Con: You’ll Have to Continue Paying Subscription Fees for the Duration of Your Use
On the other hand, very small or large businesses may not observe as many cost benefits under a subscription-based payment model. Office 365 Enterprise E5, Microsoft’s most robust Office 365 platform, has a $35.00 per month user subscription fee and requires an annual commitment. Additionally, most people find they only use about 20 percent of the functionality — and there are certainly more affordable (and, in some cases, free) cloud-based word processing tools available, such as Google Docs. While these programs do not have all the bells and whistles of the full Microsoft Office 365 suite, many companies find that they don’t need the additional features. All in all, it’s worth investigating your staff use cases and working up a full cost analysis before you decide to make the switch.
Pro: Switching to Office 365 Prepares You for the Future of Cloud Computing
Cloud-based services like Office 365 aren’t going away anytime soon. If anything, they’re the way most businesses are moving with new products and services. Integrating with a trusted product like Office 365 is often a business’s first introduction to cloud computing, a sort of soft launch that lets you experience the benefits — and examine the risks — without moving too many of your operations online. At Taylored, we help businesses take this leap every day, drawing from our solid background of networking and IT services to make the transition as smooth as can be. If you’re serious about implementing a cloud network — or just have questions as you transition to more online applications — we’re happy to take the call. The cloud may not exactly be the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s no flash in the pan, either.