Benefits (and Disadvantages) of Office 365 in the Government Vertical
By Christopher Bloomer
Microsoft has been touting the benefits of its Office 365 product since it was introduced a few years ago, and consumers have responded. According to Microsoft, there were nearly 50 million monthly users as of mid-2015. It can be difficult to determine if the sometimes hidden drawbacks to using Office 365 outweigh its benefits, when looking into Microsoft’s pay as you go model. In particular, in the government space, concerns of privacy and information accessibility still continue.
What is Office 365?
Office 365 is a pay as you go monthly subscription offered by Microsoft, that provides each end user at an organization familiar Office software programs - without having to pay up front for the media and license, as was common with Office 2013 and previous versions. The service is subscription based, and provides continuous updates, and seamless interaction with Windows 10, and earlier versions of Windows.
In addition to receiving everything that normally comes with Office licensing, Office 365 allows collaborative use across all platforms for certain plans, including use with users’ Windows computers and tablets, Apple products, and Android products. It also provides file storage and file sharing (1TB per user), as well as other features for certain accounts such as online meeting services, and a corporate social network, among others)
Office 365 Benefits
Pricing and Consistency: Office 365 provides users with a consistent and predictive model for service delivery. IT staff will not have to guess at how much the new upgrade to Office 2017 will cost; they will continue paying their monthly service charge, per user, and will receive the latest and greatest from Microsoft. For government contracting officers this model is particularly helpful, because RFQs for Office 365 can include requests for pricing for 1 year, 2 year, 3 year, and additional terms. This provides peace of mind that the pricing will be locked in – yet end users will still receive the latest and greatest software experience, as Microsoft releases new updates and versions.
Office 365 Drawbacks
Downtime: While Office 365 does tout a 99.9% financially backed uptime guarantee, there have been outages reported. There are also times in which service may not be entirely down, but where customer experiences are affected because of “service degradations.” When users cannot properly access vital tools, such as productivity tools and email, IT personnel will be on the hot seat, even though they had nothing to do with the service interruption. Thus, unlike standard Office licensing, where IT staff has greater control over the software and Office service (to a certain point), going with Office 365 opens up opportunities for service issues that wouldn’t be present otherwise and are out of local IT staff’s control to resolve.
Security: Even though Microsoft Office 365 has been rated in the top 8.1% of cloud services in terms of security, there are still reasons for IT personnel to pause before jumping over completely to Office 365. For example, because users of Office 365 frequently collaborate with business partners in Office 365 OneDrive accounts, there is legitimate concern that these third party access points could lead to data breach and theft. While IT personnel have the ability to establish and maintain security protocols for their organization’s employees, they cannot control the security measures in place on the devices of any external individuals who are extended access to content in the employees’ 365 OneDrive accounts for collaboration. For employees who only collaborate with other government employee this may be less concerning, but should be evaluated carefully for those who need to collaborate with private sector organizations
Organizations with sensitive information, such as the Veterans Affairs, FBI, DoJ, HHS, and all agents within DoD, among others, will likely not be able to adopt Office 365 without serious restrictions on the ability of its users to share data through Office 365’s collaborative tools, such as OneDrive sharing. The same is true for online Microsoft Exchange services through Office 365. That is because oftentimes the most sensitive information can be stored in email inboxes. Thus, some agencies will want to retain complete control over these data sources, as opposed to putting them online via Office 365 services such as online Exchange.
Complete Inoperability: One of the most common drawbacks to online licensing that I hear from government IT professionals is that they simply cannot access the internet to make the initial download, or to secure patches and updates. In fact, most DoD officials echo this sentiment every time we license any Microsoft product. If your users are restricted to communicating online via an intranet only, care must be taken to assure that any product that is procured for them will not require internet access for downloads and updates. This effectively takes Office 365 out of the equation, and leaves the end user needing physical media for each user seat.
The momentum for organizations to move to online Office products has been growing and will likely continue to do so. While there are benefits to migrating to Office 365, such as billing predictability and constant software updates and upgrades, there are also areas that IT staff must consider before diving in completely to online offerings.
If you would like to discuss the options for deploying Office in your environment, whether via standard Office licensing, or via Office 365, Aventis Systems can help. Our US based technical presales team is ready to listen, understand, and build solutions that are uniquely based upon your needs.