I recently posted an article lamenting the death if IT standards and the rise of BYOD; bring your own device. I’m going to take my draconian views and go one step further. In my line of work I get a lot of exposure to different smartphones, tablets (and phablets) and computers. There is a huge variety of operating systems and software solutions for nearly any corporate need out there. Views are only complicated/compounded by personal preferences, market-share and marketing. Deciding on a complete IT solution can be difficult and, at times, costly. You’re bound to make enemies or stir up bee’s nests whichever direction you go. That said, however, there is decidedly a clear choice for the lion’s share of your IT needs: Microsoft.
“Now wait a second”, I can hear you saying, “what about Mac, Android and all that?” Well, what about them? Marketshare aside, what do they offer the IT professional in so much as a complete suite of solutions? Android and an Linux distro, as powerful as they may be, simply aren’t end user friendly. Yes, Ubuntu has taken Linux to whole new levels of usability and makes desktop, server and smartphone software. Using it is far less terminal based than most people think Linux should be. That all said, however, I still hesitate to deploy a full bore Ubuntu (or other Linux distro) into a user environment. The average user wants what they’re used to and, at home and elsewhere, they’re used to Windows. There’s still too much put onto the user to do/learn with Ubuntu than many want or are capable of.
“Mac’s user interface is incredibly user friendly, so easy to use” I can hear every Mac user saying aloud. And they’re right, both the iOS and Mac OSX interfaces are simple and easy to navigate. An experienced user can navigate around so quickly and seamlessly it’s a thing of beauty. The thing is, however, Mac OS simply works differently. I used to work on a MacBook Pro for a while and found it a real shifting of gears from a Windows environment. When it comes to most end users, any learning or changing gears is strongly opposed. Sure they might be able to pick it up eventually, but they’re going to fight doing so for a very long time. You only have to look to the release of Windows 8 to the general consumer market. A massive backlash against the new interface by hardline Microsoft users. You can expect nothing less for a switch to OSX. Further still, Windows based hardware offers much better cost value than most Apple devices.
All that said – and two major fan camps thoroughly annoyed – lets see how Microsoft’s current offerings give you the best chance at a “future-proofed” office.
No more laptops/desktops.
Many of the corporate office I’ve worked at have switched from a desktop environment to a laptop environment. The reason is simple: mobile productivity. People wanted, and now need, to be able to work from anywhere on anything. Tablets, beginning with the iPad, offered us a glimpse into the potential of a super-mobile office. Sadly the iPad lacks many of the essential elements someone needs when working: shared file system browsing, office suite, desktop, etc. While Microsoft has recently released a full Office suite for iPad, it still falls short of the Microsoft Surface in the other ways. The Microsoft Surface offers a complete and proper laptop replacement solution at a similar cost. Surface Pros even offer rivaled computing power to laptops. I would argue Windows 8 works best on a Surface tablet. If I could replace all the laptops in my office with docked Surface Pros I would. Having that kind of portability and functionality combined would allow my user base to be productive no matter where they were in the building and without lugging around a laptop. Comparatively speaking laptops are a cinder block.
Clean, innovative “all-in-one” user interface
Microsoft is the first company to offer a seamless experience from desktop to mobile to tablet. In the Windows 8 environment your user interface – the start menu – is nearly identical in operation across all technology. This enables users to become quickly familiar with one “style” and translate habits from one device to another. The Microsoft user interface is a new, fresh take on the standard interface. While the Mac and Android experience is clean and familiar, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are refreshingly different. The ability to customize the look and feel of your app tiles is a huge visual plus. Live tiles give you access to app information quickly and easily. In many cases you get the information you need without even opening the app itself.
The biggest advantage to the Windows 8 platform is how it demonstrates the future of computing. One system across all devices (and the death of the laptop, see above). All this enables the ultra mobility users will soon demand from their technology. One user interface to rule them all. Because of this you can limit hardware standards to Microsoft hardware and take solace in the knowledge that it’s optimized for the software.
True cloud technology
With cloud technology like the OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) powering user documents and profiles in Windows 8, your stuff is truly wherever you are. Any Windows 8 device automatically connects to your cloud-based profiles and beings many of your settings over. One drive means you can view your work files on your Surface tablet or Nokia Windows phone, plus on any web browser in a pinch. You don’t have to ask “do you have dropbox” or wonder how you can share information with others. OneDrive integration makes it super simple. It saves smaller companies from investing time and resources in large roaming profiles, storage technologies and maintaining them. Microsoft even offers a full suite of office basic for free to any OneDrive/Live user. Crazy!
Microsoft has gone a step further and offered businesses the option of purchasing their software as a service. You can select a wide variety of options for a different cost. Suddenly the high running costs of servers and software can be mitigated by offloading it onto the cloud. Your user base can connect to company assets seamlessly from anywhere that has internet connectivity. Even solutions like Exchange, domain services and SharePoint are all on the cloud. They keep the software up to date for you and, in some packages, you even get a physical copy of Office Professional to install locally on computers. For a small business looking for maximum productivity, this is perfect. I’ve already recommended and installed it for a few clients.
Technology like SharePoint allows you to automate all of the paper-based processes you may have. Workflows allow you to streamline HR and Management related tasks, requests or changes. Never more is paperwork “misplaced” or “fallen through the cracks”. Integrated with your Active Directory you can ensure required parties see the steps they need to and action on them. Vacation workflows can be processed quickly by management, a manager can see full department schedules quickly reducing chances staff are double booked. checklists are followed to make sure onboarding and termination processes aren’t missed – critical in today’s world of corporate espionage. SharePoints workflow capabilities are truly limited only to the imagination of your admin. You will reduce the time processes take as well as the ink and paper your organization consumes.
SharePoint also features a great data management and workspace tool. Departments can share information with themselves. Intranet pages pointing users to common department related questions, documents or workflows. Projects get workspace where related parties can share, comment, store or update documents related to the project or the project itself. You can create and manage entire document repositories related to finance. It’s all indexed and legally compliant. Auditors can quickly search for documents and view important meta data like who created it, edited it and when. Gone are the days that people must search through piles of document directories on a general file server. Imagine how fast and fun project work would be when the document management tool enabled you instead of bogged you down?
The best part of the Microsoft solution is that Microsoft software ticks all the boxes. You don’t have to go searching for little obscure vendors to fill a one specific need. From Office to SharePoint and Windows to Server, there isn’t any IT requirement left behind. Personally I prefer to keep my solutions to as few providers as possible; it reduces having to deal with different people and remember who provides what. It also eliminates integration concerns and headaches. Microsoft’s all-inclusiveness means you just deploy and go knowing the software is designed to interact in wonderful ways. Using like designed software ensures you’re maximizing the functionality of each of them. An Exchange 2013 server without Office 2013 works, but it’s missing a lot of great functions.
That’s not to say Microsoft technology won’t play nice with others; it does. It does extremely well, the best of other technologies I’ve seen. Using Exchange to manage a plethora of BYOD (ug) is strait forward yet powerful. You get all the same features the device-specific tools offer but all in one server. Office lives and works in the Mac world and iOS world now too. Bringing a Microsoft product into any environment works well, but into a Microsoft environment works best.
Now, to get myself a Surface Pro 3 and complete my Microsoft circle at home.