Major Shift Toward Cloud Office Systems Pending

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Claims that most organizations have moved or are moving to cloud email or cloud office systems are not consistent with research by Gartner Inc.

The technology research and advisory company estimates that currently there are about 50 million enterprise users of cloud office systems, which represent only 8 percent of overall office system users (excluding China and India). The company, however, predicts that a major shift toward cloud office systems will begin by the first half of 2015 and reach 33 percent penetration by 2017.

"Despite the hype surrounding migration to the cloud, big differences in movement rates continue, depending on organizations' size, industry, geography and specific requirements," said Tom Austin, vice president and Gartner Fellow. "While 8 percent of business people were using cloud office systems at the start of 2013, we estimate this number will grow to 695 million users by 2022, to represent 60 percent."

Although email remains the world's primary collaboration tool, others such as team sites and communities are growing in importance; nonetheless, email is typically pivotal in decisions to move — or not move — to cloud office systems. Gartner estimates that by the end of 2014 at least 10 percent of enterprise email seats will be based on a cloud or software-as-a-service model. This figure will rise to at least one-third by the end of 2017.

In addition, there has been a substantial expansion in the number of devices people use to access cloud office systems in recent years. In 2007, when the cloud office system market first appeared, typical individual users would employ just one device to access their enterprise's office systems. In 2013, that number has soared. Gartner estimates the typical knowledge worker now employs up to four devices — for example, mobile phone, media tablet, personal PC and enterprise PC — to access their organization's office system capabilities in a single week. This explosion in the number of devices per user could drive some organizations to cloud office systems as they can reduce the IT burden of software installation, maintenance and upgrades of locally installed office software.

Device counts are an important consideration. While organizations may need to buy licenses, for each and every device that a user uses to access non-cloud office systems and applications, cloud office systems are typically provisioned to each user, not to each device. As a result, two alternative cases emerge: for knowledge workers who are increasingly using multiple devices, moving to a per-user (not per-device) payment scheme can lead to significant savings if the customer would otherwise have to license (or buy subscriptions for) each device under older, per-device licensing approaches. Alternatively, organizations with many devices shared between workers — as in the banking and health care industries — may be better off licensing or subscribing by device.

Current levels of adoption vary significantly by industry. Organizations in industries at the leading edge, such as higher education, discrete manufacturing (the production of finished goods), retail and hospitality, are significantly more likely to adopt cloud-based office systems at present. Those in the intelligence and defense sectors, and in heavily regulated parts of the financial services and health care industries, are among the least likely to be early adopters.

"Although it is still early in the overall evolution of this cloud-based segment, there are many cases where businesses — particularly smaller ones and those in the retail, hospitality and manufacturing industries — should move at least some users to cloud office systems during the next two years," said Austin. "However, readiness varies by service provider, and caution is warranted."

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