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Productivity applications get boost from the cloud

By untethering applications from a company's servers or an employee's individual desktop, cloud computing has enabled workers to collaborate in new and more efficient ways.

Cloud applications have fundamentally changed the way we work. This isn’t just about whether cloud computing is more cost-effective than on-premises technology, or installed applications. With cloud-based applications, we have a chance to collaborate and work on projects in common in ways that were always impossible or cumbersome with traditional applications.

By untethering the application from a company’s servers or an employee’s individual desktop, cloud computing has enabled workers all over the globe to collaborate on projects simultaneously, without overwriting one another’s changes, with ease. The new cloud-based model has made that kind of productivity possible.

Consider the shift in focus for vendors of Office 365 productivity suites. What did the office productivity technology landscape look like 10 or 15 years ago? For most businesses, you could name the options fairly quickly -- Microsoft Office 2000 or 2003, Open Office, Star office, and the list goes on. In fact, there was probably more choice back then, with many vendors trying to get into the office productivity space.

But the shift to cloud computing has not only given you a new way to run the software; it opens a vista of opportunities about how we work. Microsoft Office 365 offers all the usual applications associated with the suite for on-premises, cloud-based applications or a hybrid solution.

The shift to cloud computing has not only given you a new way to run [productivity] software; it opens a vista of opportunities about how we work

Anywhere, anytime access and the boon of collaboration

The ability to create a document and have it available on desktop, laptop, tablet and phone, not just read-only but fully editable, means we can work anywhere, anytime and on any available device. This article was written in Google Docs on a Mac, edited on an iPad and iPhone -- all seamlessly. That ability to work across platforms and devices at any time is a massive leap. We no longer think about moving documents around, placing them in shares, sharing them via email.

In addition to the convenience of having cross-platform applications that are always available, the opportunity for collaboration with cloud architecture is the biggest step forward. In the old days, content collaboration was a primitive operation. Files were attached to emails, and versions were updated. This meant that it was almost guaranteed that several versions of the same document were being circulated and, likely, stored, which opened the door to version confusion and the lack of an authoritative version.

But today, collaboration is real time. The ability for multiple users to have the same document open and, depending on security, see live edits integrated is a move forward. Whether you are 2 feet or 2,000 miles from a colleague; using a Mac, PC, phone or tablet, the ability to share and allow collaborators to add notes or comments as the document, sheet or presentation is finalized is empowering.

Integration, patching and other painful realities

Beyond the standard office tool sets, we have an array of additional resources, readily able to integrate with one another, expanding our collaboration and productivity. Cloud project and communication toolsets, like JIRA and Slack, have elevated even traditional methods of project management and team communication. CRM platforms that have out-of-the-box integration with billing and expense systems have moved at an incredible pace. Vendors, like Salesforce and Microsoft, have built in various capabilities to CRM to enable a variety of departmental tasks to occur in one application and one view.

Cloud computing also enables software delivery in much easier ways. For many years, the mission of an IT department was to keep servers, applications, patches and data safe and running like clockwork. Cloud technologies have definitely changed the working pattern of many IT departments. Patches and updates are applied at the source, and there are few hardware considerations when a cloud provider owns the hardware.

So, what if you’re not ready to make a leap to the cloud? Admittedly, there are challenges associated with delivering applications this way. Most businesses are unlikely to move their whole technology stack from on-premises to the cloud in fell swoop.

First, look at your existing legacy systems to decide whether cloud is the way to go or even possible. There are challenges with new security models. How should your data be stored? Where? Is it even legal to store your data with a cloud vendor if the data physically resides outside your country? The list of questions goes on, and many if not all of these would need to be answered prior to both a hybrid move and a full cloud migration.

The second challenge is mind-set. We still live in the generation of hardware computing: with bare-metal installation and physical connections still dominating data center infrastructure. The challenge is changing that mind-set. It’s a challenge that will dissipate as next-gen leaders are brought up on cloud and virtualization, technology that enables the cloud by abstracting applications from hardware.

A third issue is connectivity, particularly for employees in airports or other locations without Wi-Fi. Without connectivity, it can be difficult to make use of cloud-based applications and get work done. Another challenge is functionality. Cloud-based applications may sometimes offer stripped-down features as compared with the installed version of the software. The absence of certain features can also get in the way of productive work. And customization of cloud-based applications is limited. Apps like SharePoint, which have historically been tailored to enterprise needs on-premises, cannot be configured so substantially in the cloud. Being stuck with generic versions of applications can be problematic for organizations with elaborate processes and workflows.

While the transition may take another decade or so to fully take shape, companies should consider the cloud, or hybrid architecture, today. That means taking inventory of your legacy systems and considering what kind of data you can and should move to the cloud. That first step may be the biggest enabler in changing the old mind-set. Once your company has embarked on the transition and experienced productivity results in moving to the cloud, additional moves may seem like a no-brainer.

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