When talking to customers about the advantages of “cloud” computing the story usually focuses around the cost of running their own email server vs a hosted exchange cost. The experience of not running your own IT infrastructure has its upside as well with the reduction of risk to your business with the enterprise level support you get with todays cloud providers.
The Microsoft Office 365 suite provides a great story, offering real value in a per user per month cost of Office 2010 and the “back office” products; Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync. The one story I still struggle with is the use of the Sharepoint component. Recently it proved to become easier when I linked it with a CRM deployment story, using Sharepoint as the common document repository for all customer data. This in my view is still selling the story of Sharepoint short, it doesn’t quite create a compelling reason for a customer to adopt the Sharepoint way of life. Sharepoint requires effort from the customer to set it up and architect the data it stores, more importantly it needs adoption by the end user to be a success and this part will in my opinion become easier.
The imminent release of Windows 8 excites me, not for the simple reason it is the “next version” of Windows, but the fact that it will fundamentally change the way in which people work. I believe the most important part of the Windows 8 story will be Office “wave 15″ or the next version of the ubiquitous productivity suite from Microsoft. With the current version of Office 2010 (wave 14) and the release of Sharepoint 2010 we saw the introduction of Office Web Apps. This delivered an experience of Office 2010 to the browser, and for the most part it delivered. It provided users with the ability to work ad-hoc in a browser environment, if only to collaborate with others or simply for convenience the browser version of the Office apps allowed users to approach collaboration in a different way. This was much much more than a compete play against Google apps. The next version of Office will deliver the office experience to any user on any device, and by any device I’m looking at you iOS.
It would seem that the adoption of the Apple iPhone and later on the iPad was much to Microsofts dismay. In my time at Microsoft (2008 – 2011) I owned an iPhone and an iPad and was constantly frustrated with the way in which my fellow employees considered the device. Rather than just a competitor I saw it as an opportunity, another platform which Microsoft could deliver its productivity suite to. With the release of iOS 2.0 Exchange ActiveSync was licensed by Apple allowing a rich email experience on the iOS devices. This meant many ”enterprise” customers were now able to consider the iPhone as a smartphone platform and indeed it became the CEO showoff device of choice.
I predict the next version of Office 15 will become available as a fully fledged “app” available on the iOS devices, both iPad and iPhone, this isn’t hard to guess as there are already apps for the Lync and One Note clients. It will be the browser version of Office Web Apps will take the connected touch experience to the next level. This isn’t necessarily something that will be driven by iOS but more by the touch driven interface of Windows 8. The Metro interface has been hugely successful on Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 consumer preview. I predict Microsoft will introduce the Metro interface to iOS users in the next version of Office, by way of apps or web apps. Metro offers a clean touch experience that most users today expect from their smartphones. Taking away the clutter from tool bars and re-focusing the productivity apps for touch will see end users using their devices more. Both Apple and Microsoft are making changes to offer a more simplified experience to users of their desktop operating systems, OSX and Windows respectively. Apple are approaching it gradually by introducing features from their iOS platform to their desktop operating system with changes appearing in Lion and soon to be released Mountain Lion. Microsoft on the other hand are making a much bolder statement with the Metro interface from their mobile platform being the “default” for Windows 8.
Interfaces aside the constant connection to information will be the main driver for customers to choose a cloud solution. The Sharepoint story will make more sense with the next version of Office, further enhancing the experience for the end user. Users will expect to have the same experience on any device and be able to access their data from wherever they are.