Yesterday morning (June 28), I , along with a small group of Microsoft customers, partners, and members of the technology and business press, sat in a SoHo, NY, gallery to listen to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announce the release of Office 365, the long-awaited successor to Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS). In his remarks, Ballmer positioned the product set as a way for businesses of any size to facilitate communication and collaboration. What he and all of the multimedia presentations in the gallery stressed was how Office 365 addressed the productivity and collaboration needs of IT-constrained small and medium-sized businesses. While smart business (it helps Microsoft tell a compelling story against Google, which is doing well in that part of the market), the natural question I heard from people in the room was, "What about the enterprise?"

For content and collaboration (C&C) professionals in enteprises, it's best to think of the components of Office 365 (Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online, and Office Professional Plus) as a replacement for some on-premises collaboration workloads and an adjunct to other workloads. What do I mean by that? For many enterprises, Office 365 will provide a low-cost email solution that will allow IT departments to rapidly get out of the business of managing email. Likewise, for those businesses interested in rolling out instant messaging and audio/video/web conferencing to their employees, Office 365 gives IT leaders the option of providing these capabilities without running it from their data centers. However, when it comes to the robust SharePoint implementations that many enterprises have, Office 365 will not be able to completely substitute for an on-premises implementation. For more standardized use cases — MySites, team sites, some intranet pages — SharePoint Online provides a strong solution. But for areas where the business has invested in lots of custom development and deep integrations with back-office systems (say a time-tracking application built into the HR team's SharePoint page), IT departments are advised to keep those things on-premises. So what does this mean to a C&C pro's collaboration technology strategy?

The key word for enterprise C&C pros is flexibility. With 62% of the workforce working from multiple locations during a month, C&C pros need to provide tools that suit the individual needs of mobile workers. The value of Office 365 is that it allows C&C pros to be flexible in how they:

  • Provision tools for specific groups of workers. As our data shows, there are different types of mobile workers whose needs are different. For example, in the oil & gas field, a large portion of that workforce works outside of a corporate office and does not spend a great deal of time working on a computer. However, they still have a need to access email and productivity apps. With Microsoft's kiosk worker pricing options, C&C pros in that industry have the option of providing those employees slimmed-down versions those tools for as low as $4/user/month. This type of pricing means that a business can give certain groups of workers exactly what they need to be successful without over-provisioning them.
  • Provide access to applications to mobile workers. We talk to many business leaders who are attempting to make it easier for their employees to access information and tools from whereever they are located. Accenture, for example, has made many of its applications browser-based to allow its consultants to reach applications from behind a client's firewall. A C&C pro could leverage something like SharePoint Online for similar purposes: using it as a document repository and social site to let remote consultants access information that would be difficult to reach in the premises-based SharePoint implementation.    
  • Facilitate certain collaboration scenarios. Because Office 365 can replace some on-premises collaboration workloads and compliment others, it gives C&C pros ways of being creative in how they allow employees to do certain things. For example, for consultants who spend the bulk of their time with clients (5% of the workforce according to our data), sharing information with external parties is key. Microsoft has positioned SharePoint Online as a solution that can act as a DMZ, allowing collaboration between businesses without having to allow external groups behind your firewall.

So as you look at Office 365, how do you think it can help your business? And what aspects of the suite do you find most compelling?


For a view of what Office 365 means for infrastructure & operations professionals, check out my colleague Chris Voce's post.