Collaboration

Poll: Is it practical to run your business via online subscription services?

Microsoft Office 365 is now available and ready to help you run your business, but is it folly to think that you can run your business entirely via online subscription services?
Editor's note: I am surprised by the lack of response to this poll. When I ask these things in the Google in the Enterprise Blog I get some very passionate responses. So I am taking the point of view that the original blog post was overlooked, and I am re-asking the poll question and looking for a larger sample of voices. Note that Office 365 is out of beta and is a fully functional service now.

When I took Accounting 101 way back when, we used paper, pencil, and adding machines. The personal computer was still mostly an interesting concept with not much practical use. Obviously, all that changed rather quickly. Now, not only is bookkeeping computerized, everything from international finance to lunch plans are computerized.

But as one of the older generation Business Management graduates, I find myself extremely wary of this concept of running a business via an online subscription service. This came to the forefront of my mind this week because I was invited to participate in the beta version of Microsoft Office 365. I have also launched the Google in the Enterprise Blog this month, which covers Google Business Apps and everything that goes with that universe.

For clarification, I think both Office 365 and Google Business Apps are very well-constructed systems, and I can certainly understand the appeal. If you are a small business, being able to pass off much of your typical information system infrastructure for just a few bucks per person per month sounds like a great idea -- at least initially. However, the idea that some third-party has access to the physical whereabouts of my livelihood is disconcerting to me.

But maybe that is just my age showing; maybe an online subscription service is the way to go for a small business. Maybe my concerns are unfounded and based on the false presumption that physical access implies more security than it actually does.

I am curious about what TechRepublic members think about online subscription services that provide email, messaging, meeting calendars, and other collaboration tools. Are these services a good idea for specific circumstances? Are they practical when it comes to running a small business? Is it too soon to tell?

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

20 comments
pcrx_greg
pcrx_greg

One thing that you have left out is that with Office 365, you get a full copy of Office installed on your PC to use if your Internet Connection is down!

bwexler
bwexler

One of us does not understand what is included in O 365. If you are talking about accounting, spread sheet, word processing etc., I want physical control and access. Has your internet connection ever failed? Mine has. I want to know I can run my business even if M$ or G goes down for a day or 2. I do use Gmail, but I don't make a habit of emailing information I wouldn't want published in the New York Times.

cavehomme1
cavehomme1

I have tried Office 365 and I could certainly run my business on it apart from the fact that Sharepoint for professionals does not support SSL! Incredible! What are MS thinking? They are now responding to concerns by preparing an update to include SSL, but again it shows that MS have been lagging far behind others and not listening carefully enough to heir clients as far as their online offerings are concerned.

tbmay
tbmay

If we ignore all security concerns, we still have to think about bandwidth, and Internet access. I personally wouldn't be willing to bet my business on it. One thing I don't understand is why the free, and mature, office packages can't get an ounce of traction given the expense of MS Office.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

When I am on the road, I have spotty internet access at best. I don't know what I'd do without an actual install of Office on my laptop. How are you supposed to work on planes? How are you supposed to work on customer sites?

phelanwolf75
phelanwolf75

My concerns have to do with the fact that you are totally reliant on other companies (ISP, Microsoft / Google) for the ability to do your job. If this takes off it will only be a matter of time before ISPs start going after Office 365 or Google Apps traffic like they are going after torrent / Netflix traffic now. They will say that it is taking up to much bandwidth and they will impose harsh data caps or charge absurd amounts for not throttling your speeds. Also your information is out of your control. Your information security is reliant on Google or Microsoft's information security and we all know that new flaws are found in Microsoft products and Gmail is hacked all the time. Finally your if your ISP, Microsoft, or Google have downtime you have downtime, and their isn't a thing you can do about it but wait until the problem is fixed. . Is it possible to run your company via online subscription service? Yes, but to factors make it impractical and almost downright dangerous.

APSDave
APSDave

For the CPA running his business with 5 employees out of his home office, it makes sense. For organizations with a larger office presence (say 15 or more) I don't think it does. There are vendor trust issues involved, the fact that you are now reliant on the internet connection to do EVERYTHING, backup and recovery, SLAs, etc. As an IT person, I feel that too many things are left up to chance and out of the company's control.

awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

I can see the appeal. At only $6 per month, it would take four years for a single license for Office Home and Business to pay for itself, and by then there would probably be a new version that you'd have to upgrade to. And as far as business expenses go, $6 a month would probably be the lowest monthly bill you're gonna have. You'll pay more than that for the unemployment and worker's comp insurance premiums for that same employee, and as a business, you'll never reap any benefit from those. Something like Office 365 also offers the benefits of Exchange server collaboration, without the expense of installing and administering your own Exchange server. But it's got to be even more appealing to the company providing the online service -- no production, packaging, or shipping costs. Granted, MS charges the same amount for a downloaded copy of Office as they charge for a hard copy (criminal in my opinion, but I guess if people will pay it, they might as well charge it), but they still packaged millions of licenses for those downloaded copies in the same boxes that the software would have come in, so they still had those production and packaging costs -- even if the licenses don't sell by the time the next version comes along.

ydecelles
ydecelles

Subscription model is great. Especially for a small company where it allows them to get access to 'the big boy's club' application for only a fraction of the price, and (they think) none of the headaches. The most important thing to remember with such application is to make sure you are willing to accept the soft SLAs that come with it and have a fast pull out plan in case something goes wrong. It goes without saying that if you are to rely exclusively on the cloud, at the very least having some internet link diversity becomes much more important.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Others like Key Business Software isn't one of these. Not only does Internet Outages stop all business the business are held hostage to the whims of ISP's who could conceivable bankrupt business who they feel overuse their systems or they just don't like after a lot of Consolation of the ISP Providers. ;) Col

santeewelding
santeewelding

Oh. I see. You said, "run" my business. You didn't say, "do" my business. Either way.

jason1178
jason1178

And when your business DSL provider craps out you do what exactly to run your business :) ? I like the idea in theory. It makes management of the software so easy. And despite my straw man above, five 9 uptime is more or less here. But I still have the involuntary clench thinking about this type of migration and the price points don't always make sense.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are online subscription services that provide email, messaging, meeting calendars and other collaboration tools practical? Did you know that there is an online version of Quickbooks? Would you keep your financial information online?

tbmay
tbmay

Unless you're mailing someone in your organization, on your own mail server, smtp zooms across the net in plain text, ready to be picked off by anyone with a packet tracer running on a port mirror. If you REALLY want secure e-mail, you better be encrypting it yourself with something like pgp.

dmass
dmass

One of the primary reasons we cannot migrate to LibreOffice is macro support. We have numerous spreadsheet, both internal and external from customers/vendors, that depend on VBA macros. Based on our testing, not all of them function correctly in LibreOffice. If there was 100% VBA compatibility I would push for the migration in a heartbeat. (I know the macros could probably be rewritten but I'm not willing to accept support of the external spreadsheets.)

Realvdude
Realvdude

For a virtual or tele-commuter company, it may make more sense than a hosted server or remote desktop solution, even for 15 or more employees.

ginmemphis
ginmemphis

Banks, credit card companies, retail businesses... all our financial information is online. Nothing is totall secure (nothing), it's a matter of using a host you're comfortable with. For me, the issues are access speed and that the online apps are not as fully-functional. I'll be happy when they are.

tbmay
tbmay

However, that explains why some companies can't switch, not most. I used to write a lot of excel macros, and understand why the bank I worked for at the time couldn't switch. That doesn't explain why Joe Small Biz insists on having the latest MS Office. Joe has never written a macro. And, unfortunately, sometimes old Joe is just fine with pirating.

APSDave
APSDave

@techr You're right there. If there really is no "corporate" office per se and the majority of workers are spread out, then it doesn't matter where the servers are, and this is a great approach. And, as long as you're aware that if the DHS invokes the Patriot Act and a gag order, the government can look at your data and no one has to tell you they are doing it. This is true for Microsoft, Google, Zoho, whoever

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

OK, if you want to play the "in-house customer, back-bill" game then maybe you can say that the branches subscribe to the home office's service. But most major banks have their own proprietary systems. They certainly don't want the exposure of having their customer information exposed by using a public cloud. The branches are online, but they use a private leased data circuit to communicate with home office - not the internet.