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Survey: Businesses Keen on Office 365 Despite Some Qualms

Enterprise adoption of Microsoft's Office 365 suite is very high, according to a recent poll of IT decision makers by market researcher Gartner Inc.

About 78 percent of the survey's participants reported their organizations are either currently using or planning to use Office 365 software and services. That figure represents a 13 percentage-point increase from the results of Gartner's last Office 365 study, which was published back in 2014.

The results were described in Web presentation Thursday by Larry Cannell, an analyst with Gartner's Technical Professionals Group.

Office 365 is Microsoft's unified product now. It has evolved quite a bit from the time when the Office suite of applications was first introduced in 1989, Cannell explained. Some capabilities are only available through Office 365 services, such as Groups, Delve and Office 365 Video, he added.

For its study, Gartner included the responses of 461 of its Gartner Research Circle Members. They were broken into technology-adoption groups, including "aggressive," "mainstream" and "conservative" categories. However, most respondents (66 percent) were considered to be mainstream technology adopters.

Most respondents were satisfied with Office 365. The mean score was 5.3 out of a scale ranging from 1 to 7. This year's satisfaction result was just slightly lower than the 5.5 score from Gartner's 2014 study, Cannell noted.

The use of Microsoft's 2013-branded products topped the roster among the current survey respondents. SharePoint Server 2013 was used by 47 percent. Exchange Server 2013 was used by 38 percent. In the 2014 study, Microsoft's 2010-branded products had topped the list, Cannell said.

The most important Office 365 capabilities included Exchange Online for e-mail and calendar use. In second place was OneDrive for Business, with Office 365 ProPlus ranking third. Office 365 ProPlus is the suite of Office applications offered with various Office 365 subscription plans.

Cannell said he was surprised by OneDrive for Business' top ranking among the survey participants, particularly because it has had some syncing issues. However, he also noted that Microsoft recently announced some improvements along those lines.

Challenges
Technical problems with Office 365 polled all over the map, but hybrid implementation issues stood out as most difficult per 29 percent of respondents. Some respondents had experienced performance issues globally, with variability in Microsoft's response times in resolving such issues.

Other challenges concerned administering Office 365. In comments, respondents said that Microsoft's administrative portals were difficult to use and they took time to learn or they were inconsistent.

The pace of change with Microsoft's frequent Office 365 software releases was considered to be a challenge by respondents. Some complained about forced feature additions. However, it was also something people liked. Cannell commented that Microsoft's faster Office 365 release pace had the effect of a double-edged sword among the respondents.

Office 365 services aren't exactly doing away with the server products. For instance, the survey results aren't indicating strong results showing that Exchange Online adoption has cut into Exchange Server on-premises use. Exchange Server use only decreased by 5 percentage points compared with Gartner's 2014 study result. Cannell speculated that hybrid Exchange use might be an explanation for this somewhat unexpected finding.

Cannell also described some hybrid use trends, where organizations combine the use of Microsoft's public cloud services with premises-based servers. The most popular hybrid use among respondents was for directory or single sign-on integration. However, small enterprises were significantly less interested in hybrid integration, per the results. As companies get larger, they will need some kind of hybrid integration, Cannell argued.

Recommendations
Gartner is advising that organizations carefully choose which services to use beyond e-mail and Office 365 ProPlus. End users should be engaged in the process. Compliance and governance needs should be considered.

Organizations should limit the use of OneDrive for Business until it's been proven in the enterprise. Until recently, the OneDrive for Business storage service has been considered broken, although Microsoft has implemented a next-generation sync client to improve it, Cannell said. He recommended testing it before adoption.

Organizations still need to develop Office 365 management competencies. In particular, back end systems are still complex to administer, Cannell said. Organizations should test to see how well the service is performing globally, too, he added.

Organizations should plan to implement hybrid integration with Office 365 services. Take hybrid integration seriously as it will be a normal state of affairs going forward, Cannell said. Gartner thinks that all enterprises should plan to implement single sign-on directory integration.

The study's respondents were located in North America and Europe mostly, with some in Latin America. It wasn't a random survey but just reflected the responses of Gartner Research Circle Members, Cannell explained.

The polling for the study was conducted in January. Gartner is planning to publish the full study, called "2016 Office 365 Survey Results," in the next couple of weeks, Cannell said.

Cannell's presentation is currently available on demand for viewing at this page. Sign-up may be required.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.