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6/29/2011
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Office 365: 5 Factors That Swayed One Enterprise

Hendrick Automotive chose Office 365 over Google Apps and other alternatives. The IT director explains why.

Office 365 Vs. Google Apps: Top 10 Enterprise Concerns
Office 365 Vs. Google Apps: Top 10 Enterprise Concerns
(click image for larger view and forslideshow)
Hendrick Automotive Group, an early adopter of Office 365, doesn't expect to cut costs in making the move to Microsoft's new software-as-a-service offering. Robert Taylor, the auto seller's director of IT, said his IT team already runs its software environment "as inexpensively as you can."

But for Hendrick Auto's hard-pressed IT department, which supports 4,500 users at 72 dealerships in 12 states, there were other reasons to justify the switch to Office 365. The company had started down path of Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), but decided to go with Office 365 instead. In an interview with InformationWeek at the Office 365 launch event in New York City, Taylor gave the following reasons for choosing Office 365:

-- Unified messaging. Office 365's ability to integrate voice mail with email, calendars, and contacts is a key feature for Hendrick Auto's on-the-go employees. The company already provides that capability from its on-premises Exchange servers, and the fact that BPOS didn't support it was a drawback. Now it doesn't have to compromise on functionality as it moves to the cloud.

-- Single sign-on. Office 365's ability to synch up with Microsoft's Active Directory makes for a better user experience, Taylor said. Among other things, that means the company's users will be able to sign on using their existing credentials and without the need for additional passwords.

-- External collaboration. Hendrick Auto already uses Office Communications Server to support internal collaboration via audio, video, and Web conferencing. Office 365 opens the possibility of creating those same kinds of online get-togethers with partners, suppliers, and customers. Office 365 gets those capabilities from Lync Online, which enables online meetings, video calls, and more. "We think there's going to be an advantage in that," Taylor said.

-- Familiar user experience. Hendrick Auto considered Google Apps, but decided against it. Company employees have "years of experience" with Microsoft software, and a switch would have entailed a "philosophical change" and a learning curve. "It would have been a very different way of using critically important apps within our organization," said Taylor. "At the end of the day, it just made us very nervous."

-- Doing more with less. At Hendrick Auto, 13 IT pros support some 4,500 users, as Taylor puts it, "six and a half days a week." As is true in most businesses, demand tends to rise faster than the IT budget. Office 365 promises to take some of the pressure off because Microsoft will be hosting services (Exchange, Sharepoint, and Lync) that the company had been managing on its own servers. In the process, Taylor expects to decommission 15% of Hendrick Auto's on-premises servers.

The auto dealer is still in the early phases of its Office 365 deployment, and the transition could take 18 months to complete. While many of the sought-after advantages of Office 365 have yet to be realized, Taylor expects the company's IT team to be in a better position to support the business.

"Managing email and SharePoint server doesn't add value to our business," he said. "We figured Microsoft could do it a lot better than we could."

You can't afford to keep operating without redundancy for critical systems--but business units must prioritize before IT begins implementation. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek SMB supplement: Avoid the direct-attached storage trap. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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