Several companies, including Manpower and Tampa General Hospital, are announcing on Thursday their adoption of Microsoft BPOS applications, pointing to progress the software giant is making in the cloud realm and also to new features and pricing models users would like to see as such software becomes a bigger part corporate IT.
Manpower, a global provider of staffing services, says it is saving about US$2.2 million annually now that, since 2009, it has migrated 20,000 employees to Exchange Online from a disparate array of outdated on-premise e-mail systems.
By the end of this year, Manpower expects to have increased that number to 30,000 mailboxes, or about 80 percent of its user base, and finish the migration next year, said Denis Edwards, the company's CIO and senior vice president.
"A challenge we were having was our ability to communicate and collaborate across our operations," Edwards said.
Manpower, which has almost 4,000 local offices in 82 countries, has also transformed the way its employees share information and collaborate globally through the use of SharePoint.
In 2009, with the global economic crisis in full force, Manpower decided to hold its annual senior leadership summit meeting virtually, using SharePoint as the technology cornerstone.
Not only did the company save about $1 million by not having to host 175 people from around the world at a conventional in-person conference, but the use of SharePoint during the meeting opened the eyes of many senior managers regarding the possibilities of collaboration software, he said.
SharePoint was used for online chats, document sharing, information exchange, video streaming and message boards.
"It went off without a hitch. No one thought we'd be able to pull this off virtually but our senior management team learned a lot about the value and power of collaboration during that meeting. That was the biggest benefit," Edwards said.
Manpower is looking closely at the next version of BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), called Office 365, particularly for its Lync Online component, an upgrade to BPOS' Office Communications Online.
BPOS also includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Office Live Meeting. While the BPOS applications are based on the 2007 versions of their on-premise counterparts, Office 365's components are based on their 2010 versions. Office 365 is currently in beta.
One thing Edwards would like to see Microsoft do with BPOS and eventually with Office 365 is to move the pricing closer to an on-demand, pay-per-use model.
"I'd like Microsoft to just charge me for CPU cycles and the storage I'm using at a point in time, instead of making me pay for a [unused mailbox space]," he said. "I'm really looking for them to evolve into that true on demand pricing model. I know it'll take a while to get there but it's something we continue to push them to do because it will give us the real flexibility we need as customers."
At Tampa General Hospital, the IT department recently started moving 7,000 employees away from an old, creaky and unstable on-premise e-mail platform to Exchange Online, with a target of migrating eventually a total of 9,000 users, said Shane Ochotny, technology architect at the Florida hospital.
"We knew that the cloud was the way we wanted to go because we're in the health-care business. E-mail is e-mail and calendaring is calendaring and it should be a service like electricity or water: you pay a bill and it's there and available," he said. "We don't want an entire team of e-mail administrators just making sure e-mail is up and running when we can have them doing something far more innovative."
However, the project's scope extends beyond e-mail. Tampa General Hospital is looking at BPOS, and eventually Office 365, to anchor the implementation of an ambitious unified communications platform tailored to the concept of a "deskless worker."
That will involve moving several terabytes worth of files stored in legacy servers over to a SharePoint-based system, with Lync Online tying together a variety of communications services, including a brand new third-party video conferencing platform.
"Our goal is to have one website people can go to, log in and have their e-mail, calendar, contacts, IM and all their files: everything they need to do their jobs will be available from any computer anywhere, including from a mobile phone," Ochotny said.
Currently, employees store documents on the file servers, which are "a mess of duplicates and stuff you can't find," he said. That has made e-mail the main collaboration tool, creating the dreaded situation of having multiple versions of files being sent around e-mail, as opposed to working on them on a central server-based repository.
"We're trying to get people to break away from that old way of collaborating," he said.
While enterprises have had multiple concerns over the years about the viability, security and performance of cloud-based applications and services, CIOs and IT managers increasingly take the plunge, and similar testimonies are provided now regularly by other large companies adopting cloud-based products from vendors like Google, Salesforce.com, IBM, Cisco and others.
Shell and Advocate Health Care are also announcing on Thursday their adoption of BPOS.