Salesforce, Workday, and Microsoft show how to get it right.
While Salesforce and Workday are using on-demand to change the look and feel of the user experience, Office 365 is using on-demand to maintain a familiar desktop user experience while fundamentally altering the usability of that experience. It wasn't easy for me to reach this stage at first – O365 suffers from a lack of concise documentation on how to migrate from an existing desktop Office experience to the O365 version. It's the classic backwards compatibility problem that has dogged Microsoft since the dawn of time: If you want to move your desktop Office environment to O365, you have to not only run a confusing gauntlet of miss-matched documentation, but you're largely left on your own to discover what the brave new world of O365 means to your workday once you throw the switch.
To be fair, O365's backwards compatibility problem exists precisely because it's replicating an existing work model in the cloud, unlike Chatter, which is creating a net-new user experience from the ground up, or Workday, which is deliberately trying to create a new HR metaphor. But Microsoft could, and should do better at showing how the net-new blends with the old to create a pretty impressive on-demand experience.
That experience is primarily defined by the use of an on-demand Exchange Server to synchronize Outlook's email, calendar, and contact list with any online device that can talk to an Exchange server. The synchronization works so well and with so many devices that the result is a degree of usability that, again, seems to be exactly what all the on-demand hype has always been about: access from any device, seamless synchronization between devices, and largely seamless synchronization between the day to day of the work world and the hope and promise of the on-demand world.
The result is a degree of connectivity between devices and those key elements of Office that has revolutionized how this road warrior wages war. It's not about a net-new metaphor, nor about completely altering how I do my day to day: it's about using the cloud to make what I do better. Much, much better.
It would be unfair to the rest of the on-demand market to say that Salesforce, Workday, and Microsoft O365 are the archetypes of the phenomena of net-new functionality and new user experiences that enhance existing business processes. Clearly the phenomena have been in the market for some time, and both have many progenitors.
But the fact that the on-demand market pioneer (Salesforce), the on-demand market fast-follower (Workday), and an old-line on-premises laggard whom many have wrongly written off (Microsoft) can all make an impressive showcase for what is not just to come in on-demand but what is here and now makes the end of summer 2011 a watershed for the market--with the promise of much, much more to come.
Josh Greenbaum is principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that consults with end-user companies and enterprise software vendors large and small. Clients have included Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and other firms that are sometimes analyzed in his columns. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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