Today’s guest blogger is Faisal Zafar, director of operations for LiveRoute, a Dubai-based technology company that delivers IT solutions to companies throughout the Middle East. A Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, LiveRoute was the first cloud solution provider in the Middle East region.
 
From the beginning, we decided to focus our business on the cloud, and that decision has turned out to be a successful one.

When we first began operating three years ago, momentum for the cloud was slow as we were a little ahead of this trend in the Middle East region. In the last couple years, however, interest in the cloud has surged. Our revenue has increased by about 160 percent since 2010, and we’re anticipating even greater growth during the coming year.

The Middle East is a very dynamic place. A lot of new businesses are springing up, and many companies are buying other organizations, being merged or acquired.  The cloud is the perfect solution for companies that are growing or shrinking because it gives them the flexibility and agility to add or subtract employees to their IT system very quickly without incurring large capital costs.

Office 365: More Professional than Google Apps
To date, we’ve migrated more than 40 clients to Office 365, and we’re completing an additional four to five migration projects every month.

Most of our clients are migrating to the cloud from on-premise infrastructures. And in many cases, they decide upon Office 365 after evaluating Google Apps. When comparing the two cloud-based services side-by-side, most realize that Office 365 offers a more enterprise-ready solution. Unlike Google, Microsoft has been in the enterprise market for 20 years. The features included in Office 365 are far richer than Google Apps, reflecting the company’s enterprise experience. And since most business users have Exchange and SharePoint backgrounds, it’s a lot easier for companies that choose Office 365 to integrate new employees into the organization.

In addition, customers often choose Office 365 because it a far more integrated solution than Google Apps. For example, employees can work from the familiar environment of Outlook to edit calendars and contacts stored on SharePoint sites, and to track progress on projects. And because SharePoint is integrated with Lync, users can see who’s present and initiate an online meeting right from within SharePoint Online. Integrated features like these really help employees to be more productive.

In a handful of cases, we’ve helped dissatisfied Google Apps customers switch to Office 365. For example, we recently helped an events planning company in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) migrate to Office 365 after a negative experience with migration from Exchange to Google Mail. The company had moved its 150 employees to Gmail but users were soon frustrated after they lost email messages. They also found that the Gmail interface was cluttered and difficult to use. The learning curve was steep, and users were frustrated by the level of technical support that Google provided.

We also helped a multi-service company in the UAE switch to Office 365 after it experienced significant problems with Gmail. For example, the company’s  350 employees weren’t able to attach previous email items to other email messages, a standard industry practice for confirming account details with customers and partners.

By switching to Office 365, both companies were quickly able to resolve these challenges. They now have what they feel is an easier-to-manage and easier-to-use cloud-based service.

Improved Support, Reduced Costs
Every customer that we’ve moved from Google has been far happier with the level of technical support that Microsoft provides. With Google, the support UAE customers receive is email-based. By contrast, Microsoft provides phone-based support and a local phone number in Dubai, and that makes a big difference. 

We’ve recently started circling back to our customers to ask about their experience with Office 365, and the feedback has been very, very positive. Many customers tell us they’ve been able to save money by reducing IT management and travel costs. They like the greater predictability they’ve been able to achieve by eliminating capital expenses in favor of more stable monthly operating costs. IT administrators have had their time freed up for more strategic initiatives such as business process management. And employees like having mobile access to email from a single platform with synchronized calendars and contacts.

There are a lot of benefits our customers are reaping from Office 365. It’s pretty phenomenal. We are looking forward for the new service update which will allow our customers to upgrade to 2013 versions of Office products within their existing subscriptions. There are many promising features that will be made available very soon in our region.