Office 365 turns five: A major footprint, but lots to do before we hit cloud utopia

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This week has been a fascinating one for tech anniversaries. Nine years ago to this day, the first iPhone was released – a story of its own, of course – but perhaps as importantly for enterprise working, this week marks five years since the release of Office 365.

From relatively humble beginnings as cloud versions of various Microsoft on-premises services in 2011, the product has become the “bedrock” of Microsoft’s corporate strategy, according to David Lavenda, co-founder and VP product strategy of harmon.ie, a Microsoft collaboration vendor. “It has evolved over time into a comprehensive cloud platform,” Lavenda tells Enterprise AppsTech, noting functions such as its AI-influenced ‘network graph’ which ties up a lot of the suite and gives intelligence based on content and social interactions.

This usage is documented in a report harmon.ie released this week on how Microsoft ecosystem partners are moving to the cloud. The annual survey, the second of its kind, found that not only are partners more readily embracing Office 365, but Microsoft is encouraging partners to offer vertical solutions in industries as diverse as healthcare, law, and agriculture. According to survey respondents, access to the latest application versions (69%) is more important than cost (56%) as the main reason for customers adopting Office 365.

The big opportunity for partners around Office 365 appears to be its ubiquity and ease of use – almost a third (33%) say they are adding services to enhance the user experience, with a further quarter (24%) saying these services have the greatest potential for revenue growth.

Usage numbers, as Microsoft last outlined when it acquired LinkedIn, are big: 1.2 billion Office users and counting, and more than 70 million commercial Office 365 monthly active users. This is backed up by figures released earlier this week by Skyhigh Networks, which found that enterprise users active on Office 365 shot up from 6.8% in Q315 to 22.3% this quarter. Companies surveyed with more than 100 Office 365 users went up from 87.3% to 91.4% in the same time frame. As the report argues, churning out genuine consumers rather than millions of Office packages just sitting on desktops and mobiles is key, and the figures look good right now for Microsoft.

Another interesting finding from the document is just how much sensitive cloud data is stored in Office documents. The answer: more than half (58.4%), from Excel (29.2%), Word (16.7%), PowerPoint (10.1%) and Outlook (2.4%), to be precise.

So far, so good, but Lavenda argues more still needs to be done. While Microsoft introduced built in MDM for Office last year, the harmon.ie exec reveals fears in particular around security – Office 365 was hit with a major zero-day Cerber ransomware attack earlier this week – and the speed of change which, if anything, is too fast. “IT folks are finding it hard to keep up with the changes,” he argues. “The traditional methods of learning such as books and courses are simply not relevant. Right now, it’s the Wild West for cloud updates.”

The Skyhigh report also gives bleak warnings on the security side. “Because enterprises store a significant volume of business-critical data in Office 365, the stakes for keeping data safe are high,” the report notes. “Generally, security experts don’t recommend storing all of your passwords in an unencrypted Word or Excel document, whether you store it in the cloud or on your computer. Some of this data is sensitive but can be safely stored in the cloud with appropriate controls in place.”

Naturally, as a cloud security software vendor, Skyhigh asks businesses at the end of the report to consider their Office 365 usage. For Lavenda, Office’s fifth birthday represents a good time to take stock, and argues that despite the numbers the idea of cloud-enabled everything isn’t quite there yet, if continued releases of on-prem Exchange and SharePoint are anything to go by.

“While there is a long way to go to make all the traditional Microsoft services actually work together seamlessly, there is a solid vision for how a cloud architecture can support the consumer at home as well as the worker in the enterprise,” he says. “Having said that, I don’t believe organisations will ever be able to rely upon a single cloud vendor to run their business.

“A best of breed approach for cloud services will be the future of cloud computing for quite some time.”

 

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