Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Category: Office 365

How to Use 15% of Office or How to Use Google Apps

For a couple of years now, people have been comparing Google Apps for Business and Office 365. One of the common perceptions from the pro-Google side has been that most people on use 15% of the functionality within the Office software. They expand the conversation to state that the most commonly used spreadsheet features are in Google sheets, and as of late, that is possibly true. A lot of people just use the same 15% of features over and over.

Some businesses can probably get by with most of what Google Apps for Business offers. This selling premise bothers me though and raises a few questions. Is your business only operating at 15% of what it could do by going with Google Apps and, better yet, if you have Office, are people taking advantage of more than 15%?

As much as I’d like to stray this conversation away from cost, this is foremost on people’s mind. Here’s what we can talk about – the hard costs. It is most fair to compare the base Google plan to the base Microsoft plan. Guess what? Both are $5/user/month! In my experience though, companies who choose Office 365 don’t go with this plan. People who choose Office want the Office desktop software, not just web based productivity tools.

The price for the popular Office 365 E3 plan is $20/user/month compared to Google Apps for Business with unlimited storage and Vault at $10/user/month. The big difference here is the Office software itself of course. For $20/user/month, you can run Office on up to 5 PCs or Macs and have up to 5 mobile and tablet versions anywhere (not including Office Web Apps which works via any browser).

So, is Office worth an extra $10/user/month? Well, Google supporters would have you believe that it is not. After all, that 15% usage creeps in. If Google has only focused on these features though, why isn’t the price for the base Google Apps 15% of the Office 365 E3 plan?

Let’s look at some ways Microsoft makes up for this price difference and how the usage matters. Full Disclosure – I have used both Google Apps for Business and Office 365 in a professional setting.

This is where Google Apps for Business was born and where Microsoft has dominated over the last 20 years. Google Mail has been around since 2004. The other non-mail Google services have been stacked on over the years. Heck, even Microsoft used GMail in an augmented reality game for Halo 2 (that’s how I scored an invite).

Here’s one thing Google understood early on. People get a TON of email. In order to deal with it, they need a LOT of mailbox storage. I remember watching the GB counter every day with much email storage I could get with my free GMail account and comparing it to my 100MB corporate account.

Google’s solution: Search your email, don’t worry about organization or filing.

On the flip side, Microsoft understood something else. People get a TON of email. Email is content. Not all content should be consumed via email and there are different ways to foster collaboration. This is what I see when I look at Office 365 today. Different solutions for different content.

Microsoft’s solution: Put content in the right location and collaborate more effectively. Besides that, organize and prioritize your email. Microsoft knows though that not every corporate culture is savvy in dealing with email content, which is why there are tools to help you, as the recipient, prioritize and clean-up your mailbox (see Clutter, Junk, Ignore Conversations, and Filter Email).

Google actually contributes to the problem of email volume under a horrible guise – search and recall. The assumption of Google is that email is just another mass repository to dump everything and, when you need it, just search for it.


Let’s look at the Google and Microsoft productivity suites and see what else we can do.

Instant Collaboration
Both Google and Microsoft have instant messaging solutions, but they are vastly different. Even with their differences, both work for instant and impromptu communication, determining someone’s availability, file sharing and storing conversation history in their respective mailboxes.

Microsoft’s solution: Use instant messaging as a backbone for quick collaboration, but extend the functionality into meetings, audio and video sharing. Also, make it available throughout Office. As a result, Microsoft Lync is much more than chat, Lync is everywhere across the Office platform. Within the client or within other Office software, you can instantly collaborate with someone over chat, audio, video or with desktop sharing.

Google’s Solution: Just chat, well mostly. Google Talk, which had been wildly popular, was integrated with Google Mail as Lync is with Outlook, but the enhanced features of Lync, like video conferencing and desktop sharing have spawned another application, Hangouts. One thing of note though, Hangouts is not as ubiquitous throughout the Google suite and still it’s own application. Google might be driving towards a Lync-like solution, but they aren’t there yet.

File Storage
Microsoft’s solution: Let people collaborate in teams or spawn collaboration from the individual. SharePoint/OneDrive has come a long way in reducing emails and even file sharing content. This software has been massively popular due to the intuitive interface backed by real time collaboration of documents, spreadsheets and presentations. SharePoint does so much more than document management though and is great at other content management (Discussion Boards, Polls, Shared Calendars, Lists, etc.). OneDrive is more like your personal home drive, built on SharePoint Online and allows for easy sharing of documents.

Google’s solution: Individual file storage and sharing via Google Docs and Drive. The organization is geared towards the individual, not team or project based. Google Docs is really more like DropBox – a simple file repository. Google also has Sites for more team based collaboration, but the end user setup is confusing, requiring more web authoring skills than SharePoint, not to mention, the samples are extremely lame and look about 15 years old.

Enterprise Social
Businesses are starting to leverage social connections within the organization to distribute data and collaborate. This adoption can drive email message volume down and provide a way to easily collaborate with familiar tools from their personal life.

Microsoft’s solution: Familiar is good, natively adopt the best features of personal social media networks and develop an Enterprise class solution. Yammer is for real collaboration and simple broadcasts that are best kept out of email. Sick of ‘Congratulations’ emails? Just look to Yammer’s Praise feature. Yammer is a great place to disseminate static information and the best part is that the recipient is responsible for finding the content. This flips the email scenario on its head!

Yammer could stand some improvements though and better integration with Lync, instead of its own chat client. There’s also an overlap here with SharePoint that folks are expecting will get fleshed out soon.

Google’s solution: Well, no one really knows because everyone avoids it like the plague. With Google, we’re back to Hangouts and Google+, which, again, is just a disaster. Google seems to have a problem discerning consumer solutions from enterprise solutions. There’s a great post about Google+ from a former Googler (watch out for the language). You can see the emphasis on the consumer side throughout his article, but the enterprise conversation (and lack of direction for Google+ in general) is missing.

Good Enough
So, with all the Office functionality, looking at content in a new way and clear cohesiveness throughout the suite, is working at 15% with Google Apps going to work for your company? Office is really worth the money, but you have to make it work for you. Don’t be content to let your end users use only 15% of the suite. Set up some governance and controls to make the most out of your investment. You will find that your users will figure out how best to use the features and they will do some amazing things. I’ve seen it happen!

If there’s still any question about what’s possible, go watch the latest Sykpe for Business video from Microsoft and then go re-visit Google’s intranet Site sample.

Too Small to Jump – Office 365 and Smaller Businesses

Some new details emerged this week with the launch of FastTrack for Office 365. This solution, focused on business over 150 seats, aims to help you get your tenant up and running quickly. You can even go further and leverage FastTrack to get you with a partner if you need help migrating email.

Silhouette of hiking man jumping over the mountainsWhat about companies under 150 seats though? Surely, they need email that isn’t as generic as or! Let’s call them smaller businesses, shall we? I have family members that work at 3 such businesses and I’ve noticed something, probably you’ve noticed it too. Smaller businesses are either:
1. Stuck with a legacy on premise mail system
2. Worked with a partner to get into Office 365 or Google Apps

Isn’t there a better way though? One that can be supplemented with a FastTrack lite? Well, it can’t be too cumbersome because it might just be cost prohibitive for Microsoft. On the other hand, we can’t push the costs off to the customer either. A smaller business shouldn’t necessarily need a partner to get them there. That is just a one time cost for hardly any work, especially if they can manage certain things on their own. For this article though, I’d like to assume they can’t.

I decided to sign up for trials of Google Apps for Business and Office 365 to find out how easy or hard the process was for a small business.

Sales Practices
From a sign-up perspective, Microsoft and Google were similar enough and dropped you into your tenant in similar places after the initial registration. It was what happened next that surprised me and I want to talk about it first because it represents an area where Microsoft needs to step it up.

I received 2 calls over the first week and 5 calls total from Google during the first 30 days. Some of these were voice mails, but all of them were from the same sales rep. He called and wanted to understand my business to see how Google Apps would work for me. He also sent me several non-form emails from his own account, not a Google system account. I explained that I was really just checking into the process to see how easy it was and that the account was really a personal trial. He didn’t press me on this, but did follow up a few more times. I did receive some form emails from a system regarding the tenant expiration, which contained specific resources to check to update my DNS records and add payment information (of course).

After I signed up for Office 365, I received no phone call. There was an initial welcome form email from the system, but no other communication until a few days before my tenant was going to expire. I received another form email about the expiration and then another one regarding adding other accounts to the tenant.

I was surprised at the difference in sales approaches between Google and Microsoft. Now, I did sign up prior to FastTrack, so I can only hope a Microsoft rep would now call me and ask if I wanted to be in that program at least. What made the biggest impact on me though was that Google actually asked what my business was. This showed the person wasn’t just trying to make the sale, but trying to determine how their solutions could fit my needs.

For Microsoft, the recommendation is clear – be more aggressive in your sales calls when someone registers for a trial. I could have been a company of 10,000 seats for all they knew! Also, this would be an opportunity for someone to explain the next thing…

Domain Name Verification – Full Stop on the Sign-Up Process
This is really where Microsoft could shine. Once you sign up for an email client tenant, you have to prove that you own the domain you are trying to use. To work through this requirement is difficult because it requires an understanding of what DNS is, where it is hosted and who manages it. For a smaller businesses, DNS is configured when their website is done and for mail routing. No one has checked it in years and it just works. So, which company does a better job at communicating what is required here?

Both Google and Microsoft direct you to help pages for domain ownership. I found Google’s page easier to understand and better organized. They also defer the steps to do this step until after you’ve signed up. In contrast, Microsoft’s page has a ton of text and is more technical than a tech-saavy person or prospective business owner can understand. My assumption is that FastTrack could help here, but it isn’t for these smaller businesses.

Here’s where the pre-sales team can help. Having a follow-up call within a week of sign-up to check in is invaluable. Train the pre-sales folks to understand this particular issue and how Microsoft addresses it until it is confirmed (with a secondary email name). Just a 10 minute conversation that goes through this script would be helpful.

I see you’ve signed up for an Office 365 account. I want to ensure that you get up and running as soon as possible. If you’re comfortable with the plan you’ve selected, your next step would be to update your DNS record so that you can prove to us who you say you are. Do you know how to update your DNS? No? OK, let’s talk about DNS and maybe I can help you figure it out (pre-sales person could even do a whois query).
Do you know who manages your website or do you have a staffed IT person? That would be where to start. I can send you the steps on what they need to do.

That took less than 2 minutes to write and could really help someone out. The plan conversation is an important one to have, but I’m assuming someone at least picked the right one. If not, obviously the pre-sales team should be versed in the plan and maybe even have access to change the plan type on the back end on the fly (or make a request with a confirmation to the registered account).

Buying In
For those self starters, make it even easier to sign up. Right now, you can’t purchase Google Apps for Business or Office 365 from the mobile applications (at least that I’ve seen). With the success of Office 365 for iPad, Microsoft seems to have missed out on a huge opportunity. Right now, when the Office 365 for iPad app loads, it prompts for an account. If your email address is not an Office 365 account, it just sends you away. Why not build in intelligence and use that rejection as an opportunity to sell something? The login form should recognize the email address as a non-Office 365 customer and give the person some options to purchase (maybe not the E3 and E4 plans). At least link them to more information!

Return on Investment
There were a lot of interesting discoveries in going through this process. If you’ve read any of my other articles or know anything about me, you’ll know that I think Office 365 is clearly the leader for Enterprise collaboration. What concerns me in Microsoft’s lack investment in the smaller business space and their reliance on the partner network. FastTrack is certainly a step in the right direction, but Microsoft should be thinking about ways to automate the process for smaller businesses too. You can’t always rely on partners because they too will turn down customers because they just aren’t big enough. This falls back on the smaller IT guy or someone in the business to help out. In a lot of areas, these folks have gone away because even they couldn’t be sustained by smaller businesses. It falls to Microsoft as the provider of the solution to design methods to get smaller businesses in quicker by making the sign up process as painless as possible.


Office 365 vs. Google AppsWinning the Hearts and Minds of Small Business

Quartz posted an interesting article about Google stealing away Microsoft’s future customer base. The argument goes that Google’s less expensive options for email has built a small business customer base that is cost conscious above all and, as these businesses grow, they just build on Google Apps. The end result is a base of businesses that will grow larger and therefore, grow on Google Apps because they have become entrenched.

Well, maybe. Having seen and used both Google Apps for Business and Microsoft’s Office 365 E3, the reasons to buy Office 365 become apparent once you grow into a full fledged Enterprise. Consistently, the issue will come back to scale. Let’s go point by point with the article.

Point 1: Google has the traction with mid-size and small businesses
According to the stats outlined in the article, it is all true! Exchange has long had the email stronghold on everyone with good reason. Microsoft even added it directly into its Small Business Server for a while in order to help small businesses. In today’s market though, Exchange can no longer compete with a cloud based email solution at a small scale. You can save on IT staff and support costs by moving to the cloud. Can the argument for Office 365 be made? Absolutely! Microsoft does need to make some improvements here though.

1. Make the Office 365 licensing website as easy to read as the Google Apps for Business pricing page.
2. The breadth of licensing options on Office 365 makes it confusing vs. Google’s one size fits all. Plus, Office 365’s competing $5/month/user product is limited to 25 users. Rework this to allow more users and call out this feature for those looking for a Google comparable product. If folks don’t want Office, it’s not because they are limited to 25 users.
3. Develop better registration tools and add a purchase option to the mobile Office 365 app to make it easier for small businesses to register. Offer a self-registration option for other users with that same domain name, so user management becomes simple.
4. Expand the Connected Accounts feature into a migration solution for small businesses to use.

Point 2: Microsoft has a tight grip on larger enterprises
Large Enterprises need to remain agile and flexible. Often, they have a harder time doing so because of their size. Their scale requires each IT investment to yield larger savings over a more diverse base, which is a clear challenge.

This is where Microsoft’s ubiquitous solution shines. In these large Enterprises, we have an employee base with vastly different requirements that can do everything they want on one Office platform. Not only that, they know that other companies are doing the same. Interoperability is key to maintaining these corporate relationships.

Point 3: Google may have other competition though
This is where things really break down. Box and DropBox could be competition to Google Drive or their new Drive for Work. In reality though, these solutions fill a need that Google isn’t meeting and some businesses will find that they will purchase both Google Apps and Box, for example. Google Apps does certain things (email, chat, basic document management, collaboration and editing) and Box does other things well (like integrated collaboration with Microsoft’s Office suite). The issue isn’t so much one of competition, but one of features.

As your small business grows and more features are required, Google may be supplemented by other solutions. This means more money will be spent on other solutions through licensing and support.

Point 4: Google is cheap
This is possibly the most important point to your small business, but let’s stay with this article and build on the above conclusion from Point 3. As a company grows, what else might be needed?

Let’s assume that your business might need a conference call and meeting solution. With Google, you don’t really get anything for that. With Microsoft, you get Lync (which does a TON of stuff besides chat and presence by the way). But still, let’s focus on Google. You could go with Intercall for audio dialing or WebEx for meetings. Let’s stack those on top of our Google costs. Don’t forget that WebEx doesn’t have a Google Apps plug-in equivalent like it does (for free) with Outlook. If you need that feature, check out Esna and pay even more.

Another reason Google is cheap is their feature release cycle, or lack thereof. There are not a lot of improvements made to the service. Postini is still around, even though their support really isn’t. Google Apps Sync for Outlook is a hobbled mess, and if you check the forums, there are plenty of legacy calendaring issues that have yet to be fixed. This solution is not Enterprise ready. It is only good enough until you grow and need something more robust.

Real Costs on an Enterprise Scale
Points 3 and 4 have shown that you may have to supplement Google Apps with non-Google solutions as you grow and find new requirements. Something to consider is the multitude of vendors you may now have, including Microsoft, that you are now paying for licenses and support. Vendor consolidation might be something you’ll consider as you look at your growing IT budget.

Microsoft has consistently won the Office and email battle over the years, crushing other solutions into oblivion. Now that it has combined these offerings and supplemented them with other collaboration solutions and mobile apps, I just don’t see the momentum swinging to Google. With Satya Nadella at the helm, Office for iPad and Android, and frequent updates to improve Office 365, this battle is already shaping up to be in Microsoft’s favor. As a small business grows into an Enterprise, IT and complexities will grow. Cost analysis will prove out that Microsoft is the way to go.

Social Monitoring and Office 365

In June 2014, Microsoft suffered a several hour outage of Office 365. For my company, the main issue was around mail delivery, but other companies seemed to have email access issues as well. It became apparent to us that Office 365 was having an issue because both FOPE (long story) and our on-premise mail system couldn’t send into EOP. We discovered this problem through monitoring and then making some assumptions – FOPE is set up to email us queue alerts and we also have internal Exchange and Unix mail host monitoring to do the same. All 3 systems couldn’t send to EOP, thus the issue was most likely EOP. So, what does Microsoft do to monitor Office 365?

Well, Microsoft tells us what they do in a succinct way. Of course, I don’t want the details because I’m sure there are pages of ITIL based documentation and processes around their monitoring. What they do tell us can be found in summary in an Office blog entry, Cloud services you can trust: Office 365 availability:

  • Our internal monitoring systems continuously monitor the service for any failure and are built to drive automated recovery of the service.
    Matt’s interpretation: infrastructure and services are monitored with automated failover capabilities
  • Our systems analyze any deviations in service behavior to alert on-call engineers to take proactive measures.
    Matt interpretation: internal trending analysis with intelligence
  • We also have Outside-In monitoring constantly executing from multiple locations around the world both from trusted third party services (for independent SLA verification) and our own worldwide datacenters to raise alerts.
    Matt’s interpretation: external monitoring (and hopefully trending analysis). To me, this is the most useful because it is a real view.
  • For diagnostics, we have extensive logging, auditing, and tracing. Granular tracing and monitoring helps us isolate issues to root cause.
    Matt’s intepretation: logging that, while useful, may be too cumbersome to analyze real-time and is therefore used for root cause after the fact.

Microsoft pretty much monitors the same way I would in my own environment, as long as my as interpretations are correct. There are probably other monitors and redundancies built in that I can’t even fathom, but this got me thinking though of what else happens at my company when there is a wide-spread issue. Beyond the monitoring, there are 3 things that happen when an issue starts:

  • Social Interaction – People report the issue to the Help Desk or complain to each other.
  • Self Help Searching – Hit up Bing or Google and start investigating the error.
  • Power Users – Bypass the Help Desk and call directly to someone in IT (not recommended, but it gets the job done).

This gave me some ideas on additional ways Microsoft, or really any IT group, could quickly identify issues before a large amount of customers call in. I believe much of this could even be achieved at a low cost using existing Microsoft technologies. Better still, this framework represents leveraging both technology and people to create a social monitoring to see what is really happening out there.

Social Interaction
I think that when Office 365 is down, the second thing an IT person would do (the initial triage being first) is to check the dashboard and, if nothing is there, call the issue into Office 365 (or Premier).
Suggestion 1: Perform real-time trending analysis on Office 365 tickets to look for patterns beyond of complete outages.
Not everyone will call in immediately, though. Some folks will linger around troubleshooting the issue, but others will vent out their frustration on social media networks.
Suggestion 2: Monitor social media and forums for mentions of an Office 365 outage. Microsoft has enabled Twitter hashtag searching in Bing. Leverage this partnership to perform trend analysis in real-time. Also, use the data from the Office 365 forums to determine if there is a thread (or threads) about an outage.

Self Help Searching
IT folks will hit up their favorite search engine when a problem arises. Not only can you search for specific error codes, but with the News compiled, you can even find articles that are written reporting a service outage.
Suggestion 2.5: Use Bing’s own search APIs along with Bing’s Prediction capabilities to better determine when there is an issue affecting many customers. If “Office 365 outage” is suddenly trending, there might be a problem! This suggestion is 2.5 because it augments Suggestion 2.

Power Users
For Office 365, the power users are Microsoft’s own vast partner network. As a large enterprise, you can’t really get into Office 365 without the help from a good partner. These are the folks in the trenches, doing migrations, writing code, and slamming Office 365 all the time.
Suggestion 3: Create a prioritized alert system for partners to report issues. This could be a special code when they call into Office 365 (or Premier) support that alerts Microsoft they are seeing something abnormal. To save time, provide a framework for these partners to provide specific information that can help in triage.

Those are just 3 simple suggestions that take what is typically a marketing driven social media search to monitor interest in a product and turn it into something that can be used to make an impact with existing customers and potentially improve service uptime.

This past outage though was plagued by one big problem. The Office 365 dashboard wasn’t updating for some customers with the outage. When the dashboard doesn’t update, a customer is left completely in the dark until they call in. I saw the ‘all clear’ on the dashboard, but our internal monitoring was alerting, so I called in and got a voice message that Exchange Online was experiencing an issue. This was very helpful since the dashboard was down. But, there is still room for improvement here.

A More Proactive Dashboard
This one could fall under “swallow your pride.” It follows the premise that people appreciate honesty. If there’s an issue, tell me and tell me as much as you can so that at least I can explain it to my customers.
Suggestion 4:  Redesign the Office 365 dashboard with some intelligence. What is out there now is a good start, but create a table for potential issues that are under investigation with a brief description. Use data organization on your alerts and tickets to proactively report on these potential issues. Build workflows like ‘if this alert comes in, update the dashboard because this might be broken.’ Put a disclaimer there that says, “Microsoft is currently investigating a potential issue. If you believe you are experiencing a related issue, please call into your support and reference this incident number.” If I’m not having an issue, I’m most likely not checking the dashboard and won’t bother to call in. If I am having an issue and I can see that a particular network provider might be down and I have that network provider, maybe I’ll call them instead of Microsoft.

I understand some of these suggestions are more reactive than proactive. Certainly, I wouldn’t go on Twitter if I thought my Office 365 tenant might go down. These suggestions though may help support understand the scope of the issue quickly. This in turn starts an information flow that could lead to quicker resolution times and better communication to the customers. Many of these suggestions can be used by your internal IT for any service or application as well!

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