Why companies are switching from Google Apps to Office 365

The combination of familiar software and enterprise-class support is bringing early adopters disappointed by Google’s lack of progress back to Microsoft.

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Enterprise advantage

Not all companies who switch to Office 365 are using it as a cheap licencing deal for the Office applications. They also value Microsoft’s enterprise know-how.

“As a CIO, the goal is to run a balance between keeping all the employees happy and keeping the IT staff from pulling out their hair trying to centrally administer everything,” Espinosa says. “Most IT staff are very familiar with Microsoft infrastructure already. The Office 365 platform is essentially built on Active Directory (AD) and that’s integrated into most networks. Anyone that has had an Exchange server knows how to create routing, groups, calendars, collaboration…”

For many customers, Office 365 also copes better with the scale and complexity of a multinational enterprise than Google Apps. The global scale of Office 365 is an advantage to customers in government, education and regulated businesses care about where their data is and who can access it; Dr Mary Davis, the CIO of Macquarie University in Australia explains the reason for their recent switch from Google Apps to Office 365 “following a decision made by Google to move our stored data from Europe to the United States.” Microsoft’s data centers in Victoria and New South Wales fit their security and privacy concerns better, Davis says, and they’re getting faster access because the services are closer to them. She also notes that the majority of other Australian universities use Office 365 or Exchange and “many plan to ultimately move to Office 365,” which makes collaboration easier.

Google Apps didn’t cope well with scale at one large business Espinosa helped to migrate to Office 365, where they had been using Google Hangouts for online meetings. “Someone created a hangout for their meeting and they were hosting the meeting, and then another person tried to create a hangout with the same name – and they ended up being merged into the meeting. That doesn’t happen in Skype for Business.”

In that case, the mix-up was only confusing, but if confidential information was being discussed, it could have caused serious problems. “You should be able to create containers that are properly structured and secured,” says Espinosa, putting the difference down to Microsoft’s years of experience with enterprise systems. “There’s just a lot of detail in Office 365 that Google is just learning.”

Okta’s McKinnon says that goes beyond features to the whole way Google deals with businesses. “When they built Google Apps it was for consumers; the email had advertising in it. To be successful in enterprise takes a very different culture. You have to market it differently, you have to have a sales distribution organization, a support organization, different legal contracts for customers that you’re able to customize. It’s not that Google’s not capable of doing that, but it’s a different culture.”

Google’s approach to support can be frustrating, agrees Jewett. “Microsoft has been able to provide higher level of support, certainly for enterprise customers who are able to pay for dedicated customer account managers, and we hear that as a top reason to switch from customers.”

“The cut-off is if you’re if under 1,500 users they won't talk to you,” Espinosa complains. “Google should have a paid support line. We can get Microsoft 24 hours a day; in an emergency, they will get back to us in an hour. In an emergency, they’re there with us from midnight to 3 a.m., if we need them.”

The Google dead end

Reaching partners like Espinosa that many businesses turn to for IT help is critical, especially for small and medium businesses. “That’s an area where Google has been cutting back on partners,” says Jewett. “I definitely hear partners saying they used to sell Google and Microsoft has done a very effective job of flipping them from being large Google resellers to large Microsoft resellers. “

The success of Office 365 is even attracting partners who have previously specialized in Google Apps. Maarten van Dijk, owner of Dutch consultancy Digitalent, moved his company from Google Apps to Office 365 this summer, partly because of the number of consulting requests and job opportunities they were getting from customers that involved Office 365. But as an early adopter of Google apps – van Dijk had been using the service for ten years – he was also disappointed with the lack of new features. "It just didn't improve much in the last few years; I felt their development was on a dead end."

The 1TB of storage in Office 365 was appealing. The storage in Google Apps was much smaller and the company found buying more was unnecessarily complicated. And the migration has made van Dijk interested in other Microsoft cloud services that work with Office 365; he’s also considering moving their on premise virtual machines to Azure and investigating syncing their Active Directory with Azure AD.

Espinosa sees that hybrid option as a definite advantage for Microsoft. “You can add Office 365 into your local solution. You can have AD, security, everything on premise and move elements like email to Office 365.” Google offers some AD integration, he notes; “you can filter and block across a domain, you can even push Windows group policy to Chrome. But Microsoft absolutely has the advantage for running AD and replicating that into the cloud.”

Van Dijk isn’t the only customer switching away from Google Apps because of the lack of development. Google showed early promise but they didn’t invest while Microsoft improved and that’s disappointed the early adopters, suggests McKinnon. “When we started seven years ago, Google Apps was pretty nascent but it was pretty good. I would have predicted that Google would have run away with email and collaboration, but over the last two or three years, Microsoft has essentially caught up and passed Google Apps.”

Skyick’s Jewett hears the same thing from customers. “Google started off as the leader; they were the first to have completely web-based productivity tools. It was a very effective way for Google to get the perception that they were being more innovative. And many people made a strong bet on Google having a strong future plan.”

That spurred Microsoft to catch up, and Google hasn’t kept up, says Jewett. “Microsoft started from behind but they made the large investments [required]. It’s more than just vaporware; they have built out greater capabilities where Google has been standing still. Microsoft has gone from behind to being the leader. They have a roadmap of new features and products continuing to come out in productivity.”

“It was early adopters who moved to Google; when they made that decision Google was the clear leader and now they see Google hasn’t invested to build on the expectation that was set. Given the sophistication of Google as a company, we’ve found it surprising that they haven't built out more enterprise capabilities around Google Apps – and customers are noticing.”

Jewett notes that even a year ago Skykick had frequent requests to provide a migration service to Google Apps; "we don't really hear that any more.”

Email, file sharing and unified communications may be enough of a commodity to move to the cloud (rather than keeping in-house infrastructure and expertise), but businesses don’t see them as legacy systems that don’t need to improve. They’re looking for innovation in these areas, and they’re betting on Microsoft rather than Google to deliver that.

“What Microsoft has over its competitors is a comprehensive understanding of what matters to business,” says Espinosa. “Microsoft is much better positioned than Google to be the dominant force in providing cloud for business, and it has overtaken Google because businesses have realized they should never switched from Microsoft in the first place.”

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