Office 365 goes consumer for growth

Redmond's cloud-based productivity suite aims to tap IT consumerization and digital natives joining the workplace and offer social, collaboration and mobile features for greater usability and traction.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Microsoft plans to give Office 365, its cloud-based productivity suite, a makeover to include more consumer-based features and user experience, which would make it more usable and appeal to the younger generation of workers to increase enterprise adoption of the tool.

Gerald Leo, business group lead for Singapore at Microsoft's Office division, said familiarity with the software giant's Office suite has helped enterprise customers transit from on-premise use to a cloud-based system.

But going forward, the next versions for Office 365 will also incorporate many consumer-based elements such as social media, instant messaging, file sharing, and storage functionalities, Leo said in an interview here Monday. This is because today's organizations are increasingly staffed by younger employees who expect to access the same functionalities and experience as the apps they use outside of work, he explained.

This would allow people to access Office 365 anywhere and work better on-the-move given the expansion into social, collaboration, and mobile functionalities across different devices, he said, although he did not elaborate further on the specifics.

As for competition with Google, Leo said Office 365 is "in a class of its own" even though the product was launched just over a year ago and after Google Apps was introduced to the market.

"Office 365 was built based on our previous experience, and Microsoft is not new to the cloud business with Hotmail, now Outlook.com. [Before Office 365 was launched], we needed to ensure we had an enterprise-grade solution," he said.

According to the Microsoft executive, adoption of Office 365 in Singapore has "exceeded expectations" with about 4,500 companies so far, out of which 90 percent are small and midsize businesses (SMBs).

He attributed the strong interest by the local business community to a combination of various factors. These include the Singapore government incentivizing productivity gains using IT, the broadening reach of its next-generation nationwide broadband network (NGNBN), and the growing awareness of cloud among enterprises, he said.

The partner ecosystem was also instrumental, he added, pointing to a bigger pool of resellers now familiar with the product and the partnership with local telco StarHub to offer Office 365 packaged with broadband services to enterprise subscribers.

Teh Chong Mien, vice president for sales at StarHub's enterprise business group, who sat in on the same interview as Leo, said bundling Office 365 with broadband access appeals to companies because of cost savings as well as the speed and ease of deployment.

Instead of spending hours dabbling with IT, companies can concentrate on their businesses since their IT is now a "turn-on-and-off utility model", Teh explained.

In terms of industry verticals, the StarHub executive revealed the majority of enterprise users hailed from distribution and logistics, support and maintenance, and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). Conversely, industry regulations regarding data privacy, security, and confidentiality meant those from the financial services, banking, and healthcare showed less interest, he added.

However, such regulatory concerns will not derail advancing the use of Office 365 among enterprises because Redmond can overcome this hurdle by provisioning the suite via a private, rather than public, cloud environment, Leo said.

Mindset must change
Instead, ignorance will be the biggest obstacle to wider cloud adoption, said Dr. Nitin Paranjape, CEO of Max Office, which specializes in productivity coaching. He said when a company buys cloud-based productivity tools but does not change the way it uses the software, they cannot reap any benefits beyond the immediate cost savings from capital to operational expenses--a return on investment he described as "pathetic".

For example, some workers move from traditional e-mail clients to a cloud-based one but avoid using the online meeting rooms or instant messaging tools also available. This is an issue of mapping the cloud tool to business users and cloud adoption needs to go beyond procurement, Dr. Paranjape noted in the same interview.

Therefore, a mindset change is necessary and something which IT vendors and their reseller and partner ecosystem need to get involved in to spur higher uptake of cloud productivity tools, he stated.

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