Every year we’ve heard the promises of cloud computing: “your information will be everywhere!”, “it will save you time”, “it will be more secure”....well, the bandwidth, devices, and apps are finally here to make these promises come true.
As Google Apps and Docs became more widespread, Microsoft was forced to take notice and start bringing their business products into the cloud. Now, there are good solutions from both vendors and custom solutions available from other vendors for specific industries that provide all the benefits of the cloud including cost-savings for businesses.
Let’s take a look at some of the offerings and what they can do for your business. Our suggestions are based on our experience providing for the needs of different types and sizes of businesses. We’re happy to talk with you about your specific needs to help you find the best fit for your business and your budget.
Incidentally you won’t see iCloud listed below. Apple’s product still lags significantly behind other vendors in the capability and reliability of their cloud offering.
Google Apps for Small Businesses
Google Apps was a bit rough around the edges when it was introduced, however, it’s now a more polished Office suite that provides a great set of features for small businesses from 1-10 people.
Device support: Google Apps is available across all devices including Google’s Android platform, laptops and desktops via the web, and Apple’s iOS platform on iPads and iPhones. Configuring Gmail accounts and access to apps is generally an easy task.
Things to watch out for: Google’s Administrator interface is not the easiest to use. While there are plenty of Google results with tips, support is a little lacking and there are some complex configurations possible.
Google Apps is not HIPAA compliant: This is critical for businesses that handle patient information or for businesses that work as contractors for these businesses. A cleaning service for a doctor’s office should be HIPAA compliant according to the new standard. Lastly, Google Apps seems to run better in the Google Chrome browser.
Compatibility in the Office: While compatibility has improved with different document formats, some formatting can still be lost when working on Microsoft Word documents in Google Docs. Excel and Google Sheets are further apart and take different approaches to spreadsheet use-cases for more complex tasks.
Microsoft Office365 for Small Businesses
Microsoft was a bit slow to get up to speed, though, they’ve now got a reliable and scalable cloud platform that starts with Office365, which can support small businesses ranging from 5-500 people and more.
Google Apps is also scalable, however Microsoft and Office365 offer a more seamless transition for organizations which currently use a Microsoft Infrastructure. Familiar apps such as Outlook for email can still be used along with new web versions of Outlook, Word, and Excel.
Microsoft is HIPAA compliant, so this is the only cloud solution for businesses that handle patient information or work for a healthcare provider and don’t want to take the burden of HIPAA compliance on themselves for their IT.
Device support: Microsoft’s cloud platform was lacking in good device support for some time. On the Android platform, Google Apps is still a better experience largely due to it being from the same source. However, on iOS, Microsoft Office is now getting great reviews, especially for the iPad app. And, Office365 is the best platform for using the Microsoft Surface tablet with a cloud platform for the same reason that Google Apps are good on Android. Microsoft Office is better on Windows too. On the Mac, the experience is acceptable, however, it is a separate software in many ways. For the full Office experience, you’ll need to run Windows PCs.
Things to watch out for: Microsoft’s online products don’t have the same functionality as the desktop. This is especially true for Excel. New features are being added constantly, however, many hardcore users will still want the desktop apps. There aren’t a lot of Microsoft devices, so Microsoft is running on Apple or Android which means you’ll have another vendor relationship and other complexities for those platforms independent of Office365. Some of this is par for the course with more staff using their own devices for business computing, but it should be noted.
Compatibility: Microsoft wins here as all the traditional office docs from their suite can now be uploaded and easily moved around online. One note is that some desktop versions of the Office applications may need to be upgraded to take full advantage of any new cloud features.
Azure: In addition to replacing many small business server needs with Office365, Microsoft can also handle many enterprise server needs and help businesses transition from on-site data handling to working in the cloud with their Azure platform.
The cost of both platforms is similar. With some Office365 packages you get the ability to download the Office desktop apps, and these packages cost more than Google Apps. Both platforms will save you time and money vs. maintaining a local server, there’s simply no comparison there now. Cloud computing is more cost effective for nearly all businesses that run a local server.
The applications for Google Apps are free for all platforms, so this is the cost winner when you add everything up for small businesses with a small number of employees who don’t have compliance concerns. Google Apps also offers an interesting solution for large enterprises who can handle more of the support and compliance burdens.
For most small and midsize businesses, Office365 offers the best cost savings because it reduces overhead and long-term cost, while also reducing liability. There are fewer costs when transitioning from legacy Microsoft products. And it’s the only solution to keep you HIPAA compliant at a reasonable cost.
Software as a Service and Dedicated Providers
Along with Microsoft and Google, there are other software as a service or SaaS providers who deliver cloud solutions for businesses. Perhaps the best known is Salesforce.com which provides an online sales platform.
There are also many traditional software vendors in specific industries who are moving their products to the cloud. It’s worth checking, you might be surprised that even a small proprietary piece of software you run now has a subscription based cloud offering.
When it comes to evaluating these products, we’re happy to help you. With more niche offerings, there is a bit more evaluation that includes checking to see how long your current software is supported, and how much you paid for the last copy, which operating systems are supported, etc. However, in general, the trend we are seeing is that most software is making the move to the cloud and that even the smaller vendors are making it cost effective so it makes sense for your business.