Today’s guest blogger is Reed Wilson, founder and president of Palmetto Technology Group (PTG). PTG is a Microsoft Cloud Accelerate Partner and Tier 3 Cloud Champion that provides business technology solutions that enhance productivity and increase profitability (including Microsoft Office 365 and Exchange Online).  Based in South Carolina, the firm offers collaboration tools and desktop support to small- and medium-size businesses across the U.S. and Europe.

We’ve been engaged with online services since the beginning, and it’s been a great business for us.  There’s not anywhere we can’t do business now, thanks to the cloud. Right now, online services represent about 75 percent of our total revenue, and we’ve been experiencing 115 percent year-over-year growth.

There is tremendous interest among our clients in moving to the cloud. Even though many don’t know exactly what that entails, they do know that cloud computing represents less risk, less cost, and in some cases, less complexity—so it’s usually an easy conversation to have.

“Google Apps just doesn’t cut it; it feels like a substandard experience.”

Over the past 12 months, we’ve migrated 250 to 300 customers to Microsoft Office 365. About half of those clients previously hosted their own IT systems on-premises, whereas the other half used other cloud services.

Office 365 = Familiarity and Trust
We tell our customers that Office 365 is really an extension of what their users are already experiencing. They can continue to use Office the way they’ve always used Office. They can continue to use their mobile devices the way they’ve always used their mobile devices. And they can continue to manage their users through Active Directory the way they’ve always managed their users through Active Directory.

Using Office 365, companies experience less risk, less complexity, and less push back from users. Employees can work in Outlook and Word just like they always have. And when the organization’s ready to take collaboration to the next level, SharePoint is ready and waiting.  

We also ask our customers, “When was the last time you read about Microsoft getting in trouble on the front page of the Wall Street Journal for violating trust?” It rarely happens. “But when was the last time you heard about Google being on the front page of the Journal for violating trust?” And nine times out of ten, it’s been that week. It seems like every week we hear about Google stealing wi-fi passwords or changing its terms of service. So there’s certainly a feeling that Microsoft represents greater trust and lower risk.

Google Apps: A Substandard Experience
The vast majority of our clients evaluate both Office 365 and Google Apps before making a decision. While Google is good at telling the “we’re cheaper” story, we find that companies that adopt Google Apps often go into it with the expectation that the experience is going to be substandard. We recently had a conversation with one client who said, “You know what, Google Apps is good enough.” But the question is whether good enough is really good enough for your business. For example, if I’m a prospective hire, and I say, “Tell me about your investment in your business and in technology?” and you say, “It’s good enough,” I’m probably not going to be too impressed.

Over the past year, we’ve moved about 10 customers from Google Apps to Office 365. The three big issues for these clients were incomplete functionality, difficult user management, and Google’s lack of a product roadmap.

Google Apps becomes more difficult as your organization grows. If you’re looking to write a letter to your grandmother, Google Apps is great. But as a salesperson, when I’m putting together a business proposal that might have tables, pictures, a table of contents, and embedded Excel spreadsheets inside of a Word document, try creating that in Google Apps. And by the way, if you’ve created that proposal in Word and try to send it to someone using Google Docs, you’ve just lost a lot of fidelity. Google Apps just doesn’t cut it; it feels like a substandard experience.

Likewise, user management is more difficult with Google Apps. With Microsoft’s Active Directory Federation Services, there’s one password and a single sign-on that’s easy to implement and manage. By contrast, with Google Apps, every time you turn around there’s some new plug-in or third party add-on that you need in order to have seamless integration with Microsoft Office.

Finally, Google Apps customers eventually become frustrated with the company’s lack of product strategy. Google makes 96 percent of its money from advertising. So where does the cloud services stack fit? And just what is Google’s product strategy? When customers press Google on these points, they don’t get good answers. Just recently, for example, Google announced that it would no longer let Google Apps users export to Office 1997-2003 file formats and then said, by the way, you’ve only got three business days to prepare. Customers don’t like that. As a result, Google was forced to delay the feature retirement.

Moving from Google Apps to Office 365
We recently helped a 180-employee publishing company move from Google Apps to Office 365. The company’s employees rely heavily on workflows to exchange documents, which they couldn’t as easily do with Google Apps. They also really like Microsoft Lync and the ability of presence information to light up across all of their Office applications. It gives them richer productivity.

We also recently helped a 275-employee furniture company migrate to Office 365. The company initially chose Google Apps because of price, but once executives began pilot testing the service, they decided they preferred the familiarity of Office 365. By choosing Office 365, they’ve been able to incorporate Outlook Web App into their stores without having to maintain any software or retrain their workers to use Google Apps, which, in my opinion, offers a very confusing interface. When employees open Outlook Web App, it looks and feels just like Outlook on the desktop.

Once clients move to Office 365, most are blown away by the phenomenal value. Whether they go with a small business subscription plan or one that’s designed for midsize businesses and enterprises, the value is phenomenal. Our clients tell us they like the ability to collaborate wherever they are. And when they start to use Lync—and see the ease with which they can pull people into discussions, collaborate on documents, and make decisions—they wonder how they ever lived without it. Office 365 is a great product offered at a great value. Our customers simply love it.