Webjet, Zodiac take to the cloud
John Guscic, managing director of Webjet. The company recently switched its email and productivity applications to Microsoft Office 365. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
Microsoft and Google continue to battle it out for the hearts and minds of corporate clients when it comes to applications hosted in the cloud.
Two global businesses have recently moved their email and productivity tools online, each singing the praises of one internet giant over the other.
Global pool care and marine equipment manufacturer, Zodiac, which employs about 250 people in Australia, joined real estate agency network Ray White, Flight Centre and Fairfax Media, publisher of this site, in choosing Google Apps.
Already a big Microsoft shop, Australian online travel company Webjet adopted Microsoft Office 365 and the company's development platform Azure. It joins Origin, Mr Rental, Qantas and Caltex in making the switch to Office in the cloud.
Earlier this year a Telsyte survey of 330 chief information officers showed Google Apps was the second most popular email application in Australia, behind Microsoft Exchange and ahead of Novell GroupWise and IBM Lotus Notes.
Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda said Google leveraged the strong Gmail brand - boasting 450 million accounts - to create a productivity suite of calendar, documents, apps, and a social platform available via a single Google account.
Zodiac used it to cleanse its five-year-old IT systems. The first step was aligning its call centre voice-over-IP system, upgraded in 2010, with Google Apps to allow mobile sales staff, service technicians, and call-centre workers, to access office applications remotely, according to APAC IT manager John Khoury.
The project was part of a strategy to connect globally dispersed staff via message, talk, video, and collaboration tools. It replaced Lotus Notes and Microsoft Office.
Khoury uses Google Hangouts to meet his American and European counterparts in a weekly video conference. Staff use Google Drive to store documents, allowing Khoury to switch off the company's file storage servers. Microsoft Office is still used by some staff.
The company also uses Google Plus and its 'circles' features to group staff and share documents worldwide. It will soon extend access to its top 100 customers so that critical technical updates and product releases can be shared more efficiently.
Khoury said Zodiac had a ''love affair'' with Google that started with Gmail and calendar.
"I think the thing that really appeals to us is the subscription-based service pay-as-you-go with the Google Apps," said Khoury.
"You don't have to buy any software, it's multi-platform available for the smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer, from anywhere in the world with an internet connection."
Webjet on the other hand, chose to move its email from the hosted Outlook 2010 application to Office 365.
According to head of solutions delivery Graham Anderson moving to the cloud freed the support staff to focus on more valuable activities, and made email available globally, 24/7 - an important requirement for a website that books travel around the world.
It also adopted Lync to increase dialogue and reduce the number of emails. The next step will be to use new collaboration features in the latest online versions of Word and Excel to collectively work on documents and processes.
Webjet researched other platforms but always planned to use Microsoft technology, which was at the heart of the company's processes from inception. The priority has always been to bend the technology to work within efficient processes and common user experience - not the other way around, Anderson said.
This notion has also extended the company's development framework to the Azure platform, which hosts the Webjet Cloud Services that power its mobile and Windows 8 applications. The company's website will soon be powered from the Azure cloud - eventually user experience to be uniform across devices.
"It does give us the benefit to start to react or lead very quickly [when] we want to push new ideas on that framework," Anderson said.
Telsyte's Gedda said Google has successfully targeted smaller companies without legacy applications, who liked using a single sign-on to access a wide range of products that purely exist in the cloud.
Microsoft will use Office 365 to satisfy the growing appetite for cloud (and hybrid cloud) services, while also serving its traditional base of on-premise software users. It's fighting aggressively for its future.
"Microsoft has an established install base of Office products, corporate email, and Hotmail and Outlook. Microsoft can pull those things together and go head-to-head with Google Apps," Gedda said. "It will win some and lose some but it's not going to sit on the sideline."
However, Gedda said Microsoft had failed to properly explain how consumers and businesses could engage with its full range of productivity applications. In Microsoft's eyes, a Hotmail account and an Exchange user had traditionally been two different entities, he said.
A recent decision to re-brand Hotmail as Outlook.com bridged that gap, and along with the Office 365 suite, demonstrated that Microsoft is ready to play the cloud game, he added.