Selecting O365 in the Digital Age – Part 2 (So we wanna a thingy with a dowaadi-diddy…)

Well, so it seems that finishing this series could take years (literally)  …. hmmmm!

So, in the last part of this series I had a little bit of a ramble introducing the situation that an organisation that I work for had when pondering the various options around messaging and collaboration tools, and how that decision was influenced by “Digital agendas” and an ever increasing “self awareness” of technology within the customer base and how that had inevitable impact on the “traditional” of an IT department.

In some respects it’s been a good thing that I have been a little busy (again) and time has passed which has given me a slightly different perspective to the one that I had when I started writing this series a year ago.

To bring us back up to speed (and, if like me you can’t be arsed to read the previous part again) I’ll cover off what I intend to discuss in this – part 2:

  • How we evaluated G-Suite against O365 to decide the best fit for the organisation.
  • This will include how we reassured the business that a digital approach would not be impacted irrespective of the product choice.

Product Evaluation – Apples with Apples or Apples with Kumquats?

Surely this is simple right? Office 365 good … G-Suite bad? (or even, depending on your point of view the other way around) Well, err, no in reality when comparing anything there is a usual mix of pros and cons and the same is true for both O365 and G-Suite, which I will come onto a little later. However for now, it might be helpful to share a summary of the four main assessment criteria which are / can be used by organisations when making a product selection:

Influence score 20% Influence score 50% Influence score 20% Influence score 10%
Usually set out into a matrix of ‘Mandatory’ ‘Desirable’ and ‘Optional’ whereby any product that is selected has to at a minimum conform to mandatory requirements. Desirable and optional functionality is used as value differentiators against competing offerings. For a lot of organisations the criteria of affordability is heavily weighted in the determination product selection, especially in Public (government) based organisations. Generally this is set at 50 % of the decision making, however I have seen instances where it is as high as 80% and as low as 30 %. This is usually lead by the technical or architectural teams within an organisation. Any new product has infrastructural consequences, especially in the case where you are looking to implement a diverse collaboration solution. Bandwidth, latency, up to date software on clients. compatibility with Line of Business systems are just some of things that need to be taken into account. This weighting is ever increasing as time goes by and links back very heavily to the point that I made in the first part of this article series about the customers voice and views becoming more important in the selection of collaboration products within the enterprise.
What a lot of organisations tend to miss as part of the financial appraisal is the ‘cost of change’. Aside from infrastructural impact – when you make a significant change to your companies collaboration suite there is a cost to the organisation in terms of:
  1. Technological fatigue in your customer base resulting in a loss of productivity as systems and ways of working change or adapt.
  2. Cost of training your staff (technical and user base) in the new way various systems work. This can be a complex and difficult to ‘nail’ task as you have to plan for the various learning styles and learning psychology of your customer base.
  3. The costs in terms of project management, technical resourcing, upgrades to 3rd party line of business applications so they are compatible with either cloud suite. These should be factored into the overall cost at evaluation stage in order to assist in making a choice that also works for you organisation – this basically comes down to – one cloud choice might be a better fit and cheaper in the long run to implement.

However, more commonly, especially in Digital focused organisations there is a more common, less spoken about criteria (in fact, it’s unlikely that you will ever see it on any procurement documentation).

Anywhere between an influence score of 40 – 60% at the expense other criteria percentages!

This criteria can be very difficult to quantify. I will admit that strong political will from customers on a given technology doesn’t exist in all organisations – but it is certainly present in some and it can cause the IT department some issues when trying to separate out facts, from, well – marketing propaganda.

In essence, influences in this area from my experience comes two fold:

  1. Aligned teams to IT (often ‘Digital’ or organisational ‘Transformation’ teams) who have close links to C’Level contacts are concerned with ‘usability’, ‘integration consequence’, ‘open standards’, ‘open API’s’ and not getting tied into a single vendor’s ecosystem.

    They tend to want to be able to develop in a modular ‘Agile’ way and when a given collaboration suite (or any line of business system for that matter) isn’t a fit any longer – just swap it out (I know, stop laughing at the back).

    Vendors play to this and will claim that their product pedigree is a utopian view of openness and freedom of data moment; the truth is that once you have dropped any product on the ground and used it for any period of time – you are, to a degree locked in – doesn’t matter about the ecosystem or where it came from.

  2. In my opinion, over the last decade – some vendors (I won’t name them here) have adopted some very interesting sales tactics.

    One such tactic is to invite Managing directors, Chief Operating Officers and Chief Executives to ‘breakfast briefings‘ without any senior representative of the IT department engaged.

    These are usually very slick, well organised and exceptionally well presented – demonstrating their products abilities.

    In essence all of the sheen and sparkles, all at a very high level with no mention of potential consequences or other considerations.

    These briefings also mention words such as ‘technological disruptor‘ and ‘game changer‘.

    This language is very deliberate and is designed to plant seeds in the mind of key organisational decision makers who are not technologically savvy to feel that they want their organisation to choose something that is very different.

    Another tactic that I have seen is sale representatives approaching C’Level representatives, totally bypassing the IT department in fact at times being actively negative about the CIO, making claims that their products are being ignored unreasonably.

    In these type negotiations the implication (and it is usually just that – implied) that the in house IT department hasn’t done its homework and is passing up an opportunity for real organisational change and efficiencies.This then naturally leads to the inevitable phone call to the CIO from the CEO saying “you need to look at this.
In my view it is important to share these experiences – not to vilify vendors who are trying to sell their product, gain market share and turn sales prospects into legitimate licensing revenue – but to demonstrate that this is all part of the game that we now have to play as IT professionals.

It very much links back again to the points that I made in part 1 that organisations are becoming more and more part of the decision making process when purchasing and subsequently purchasing IT systems, which include Collaboration suites like O365 and G-Suite.

Anyhow, rant over and back to the film … is O365 better than G-Suite?

I wouldn’t say that one is actually any better than the other, what I would say is that it all depends on the outcome of the evaluation process above and what product fits your organisation best – and that is ultimately the approach that I used when selecting O365.

Just to be clear I won’t lie – I will always have a personal preference between the two, which I think is probably fairly obvious – but I am trying to be as unbiased as possible.

It’s hard to separate the two products from a pure functionality perspective – and I am not going to go into an absolute in-depth comparative analysis of the exact features of either as that would take ages and indeed be a futile exercise as both Microsoft and Google change the abilities constantly.

But are there any key differentiators?

Well, this will sound like I am chickening out – this all depends on both the technical and business based demographic of your organisation is.

What I am about to say is purely a personal opinion.

I know how tetchy people get when someone like me make assumptions – but I will say that I believe it to be true, based upon quite a long career working in and with many different organisations of all different sizes, budgets, technology stacks and political demographic.

Ironically, you might remember that in the first part of this article I said that product selection is no longer totally about technical department decisions – but ultimately, in certain cases the overall product selection may be dictated by technical nuances of how it fits into the wider organisational technical stack.

Most (I admit, not all – but most) organisations will have a significant Microsoft presence within their environments. What I mean by this is that they will predominantly have Active Directory and in Enterprise environments this might be accompanied along side with ADFS.

So some areas that I would urge consideration between the suites which, certainly at a technical level may act as the differentiator that you need to break any deadlock:

  • Administrative consoles – given your organisations technical stack, do these provide your administrators with a single pane of glass or are there multiple interfaces that you need to use to administer end to end?
  • Authentication – If you make use of AD – can you seamlessly sync permissions and authentication to the cloud to access data? Or will you need 3rd party licensable tools (at additional cost and admin overhead).
  • Migration scenarios – can you get all the data that you need over without massive effort and cost overhead? Will you need to make compromises?
  • Line of business system integration – Will the product that you select integrate with 3rd party finance systems, HR, case management etc.
  • Will there be an Impact on other infrastructural systems in your environment such as Mobile Device Management Solutions (MDM).

The key message here is don’t be caught by hidden cost and effort, or in the worst case scenario something that used to work – just won’t anymore!

Wow – OK, all of that just to replace a mail system? – what did you do reassure people the correct choice had been made?

Well, it’s important to note (again, highly reflective in this article aren’t I?) that implementing something like either the O365 or G-Suite is not at all purely ‘replacing’ a mail system (I know, it’s a rhetorical question that I asked) you are in fact implementing a new ecosystem for your business.

Everything from how files are stored, shared, restricted, email messages, real-time persistent communication (IM), video conferencing, voice calls, how people work on documents, enterprise search, stream business media and search for organisational knowledge changes when you implement either (or any) product.

With all that at stake and then combining that with the other factors of politics and digital that I have described this is the following advice that I can give when presenting to C’Level or other influencers:

  • Be prepared to spend a lot of time negotiating and answering questions. Be prepared to write more reports than you’ve ever written before and, perhaps hardest for any technology professional – be prepared to have your views independently verified by a third party – migration to new collaborative suites can represent millions of pounds (dollars) of investment so assurance is key for an organisation.
  • Be as clear as possible in plain English. Where technical differentiators come into play – make sure that you have made the explanation around these as “human” as possible – compare them to real life situations that a technical audience will resonate with.
  • Always stick to quantifiable facts – if you are going to make a statement make sure you can back it up. An example here would be:
    • Don’t say that you cannot use single sign on from AD with G-Suite as this isn’t true, you can – but – and this is the fact; its not as straight forward or as integrated and may cost more.
    • Don’t say that the collaborative experience in O365 is better than G-Suite as in truth, G-Suite is very intuitive and in certain places better than the O365 experience. It is better to say that the O365 continues to evolve and through products such as Teams is becoming much more instinctive to how customers already familiar with Office.
  • Don’t bring your own technical bias into a meeting with stakeholders – they don’t share it, care about it, or ultimately will be influenced by it. Leave it at the door and try and present an open case. Remember Influence is more powerful than control.
  • Make sure that you have engaged with think tanks such as Gartner and Forrester, their views and insights can be very powerful when trying to influence C’Level stakeholders.
  • Ensure that you have been as detailed as you can be in your cost appraisal – but when presenting keep it to a high level and have the detail ready if asked to explain the maths.
  • Speaking to detail – short and to the point.
  • Take the time to review what others organisations in your operating space have chosen. This doesn’t mean that will be right for you – but, the insight to their thought processes could be useful and it prepares you for the questions “What are others doing?” 

In Summary

So, in the end and after a very long road – my organisation chose O365 over G-Suite. It wasn’t an easy choice and I can certainly attest that we had looked at every aspect possible before we made the choice. We were IBM Notes with a lot of heavy customisation and it took about 18 months for 10,000 seats spread over 240 locations.

Since then, and as my organisation has entered into partnership with two other entities I’ve overseen a further 12,000 seats moved to O365.

Would I have done it if G-Suite was selected? Yes, I would as that would have been the result of a very detailed assessment of need, cost and features.

I hope, that in some way these two parts (even though they have taken me years to write) helps someone along the path of their own journeys. I certainly learned a lot a long the way.

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