When you think of Microsoft, you naturally think of operating systems like Windows for the desktop and server. You also think of Microsoft Office and probably use one of the applications every business day. Today's business IT climate is going through another period of transformation, this time driven by a move to cloud-based applications. Microsoft is right in the middle of that transformation and wants to be one of your primary, cloud application vendors.
Microsoft Office 365 for Business brings the best-selling productivity suite to the cloud, along with other products like OneDrive and SharePoint. Microsoft's Dynamics offerings have a cloud component as well, making it possible to completely move core applications off premises should you so choose. Making that kind of move has been a tough choice for many organizations. While Microsoft has seen traction in the small-to-medium business (SMB) space, it hasn't seen the same level of adoption at the enterprise level
Best of Breed Apps and Integration
One trend used by many sales teams over the years is to push a particular product as being the "best of breed." Salesforce.com is one of the best at using this technique and has been out in front of the CRM pack for years using this approach. SAP holds a similar distinction in the world of ERP and has weathered many attacks by the likes of Microsoft and others to take away market share.
Managing products from multiple vendors is not without its problems. Keeping track of licensing, product updates and support can be time consuming and costly as opposed to a single vendor approach. Microsoft uses this to their advantage to offer pricing bundles for multiple products which makes them extremely competitive from a cost perspective. While cost is certainly on the minds of many budget-constrained IT managers, it doesn't always dominate the discussion.
One thing many, if not most, of the cloud-based application vendors offer is an application programming interface (API), providing an opportunity for third-party developers to build solutions which integrate with the existing application. Cirrus Insight is one company which has done just that with an application that integrates Microsoft Outlook and Office 365 with Salesforce.com. This tool makes it easy to save emails directly to the Salesforce platform, create new leads and contacts and update opportunities.
Traction on Demand is a Salesforce.com implementation partner and user of the Cirrus Insight add-in for Office 365. "We use the Cirrus Insight product internally and resell it to our customers," said Chris Peacock, VP of strategic alliances at Traction on Demand. "We have seen an increasing interest in Microsoft Office 365 from our customers who also use Salesforce.com," Peacock said.
"I don't see how any startup in today's environment can avoid using cloud-based services like Office 365. Who has the time or money to build out email servers and such when you can get it all online," said Robin Hunt, CEO and founder of consulting and software development company ThinkData Solutions. "The biggest resistance we've seen to cloud-based applications comes from highly regulated industries like banking and health care."
Microsoft Cloud Options
One of the biggest advantages in moving to a cloud-based application is the ease of access from virtually any device. It makes it possible to take advantage of personal devices, including tablets like the Apple iPad, where there was resistance to such usage in the past. While Microsoft introduced a version of the most popular Office applications for the iPad earlier this year, it has been possible to edit Microsoft Word documents or Excel spreadsheets using a Web browser for quite a while.
Office 365 brings the power of the Microsoft Office suite of tools to the cloud. It also brings with it a cloud integration point to connect with other cloud-based apps such as Salesforce, as mentioned earlier, and other Microsoft offerings. Microsoft OneDrive for business is included as a part of both SharePoint Online and Office 365. Microsoft offers OneDrive for Business client apps for Windows desktop, Windows 8 and RT on tablets and on iPads running iOS.
Microsoft recently released a new version of its Dynamics NAV ERP software that brings with it many new features including a touch-first client version for iPad, Android and Windows 8 devices. This cloud ERP release also boasts new features like the ability to quickly and easily populate a Word document field from Dynamics NAV. An example of using this feature would be a quick and easy invoice generator template or an order template you could use to build, view and even print from a tablet.
Microsoft vs. Best of Breed
Microsoft has a broad portfolio of high-end enterprise applications to meet most business needs. The majority of that portfolio is now available as a cloud offering, with new features and capabilities being added on a regular basis. There's a lot to be had in the way of convenience and cost savings when you go with one vendor for your software needs.
However, the best-of-breed approach does appeal to many organizations, especially when it comes to things like managing the sales process. Most companies don't make any money unless somebody sells something. The more productive you make the sales team, the more money a company typically makes.
That's where Salesforce shines, as their tools are used by many of the top-performing sales organizations across the board. In the end, it really is about making money, and the cost savings from a single vendor might not make a significant difference in the long run.
Paul Ferrill has been writing in the IT trade press for over 25 years. He's written hundreds of articles for publications like Datamation, Federal Computer Week, InfoWorld, Network Computing, Network World and PC Magazine and is the author of two books. He is a regular contributor to ServerWatch.com and several other QuinStreet Enterprise properties.