If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain.
Legend says when the Founder of Islam was asked to give proof of his teaching, he ordered Mount Safa to come to him. When the mountain did not comply, Mohammed went to to the mountain, raised his hands and thanked God for being merciful.
I invoked the legend recently describing Zoho Gadgets, as a step of bringing Zoho where the users are, instead of expecting them to come. (Disclosure: Zoho is CloudAve’s exclusive Sponsor.) In recent weeks we’ve seen two major announcements that qualify as “Mohammed going to the Mountain” – first by Google, then by Zoho again.
When Google announced Apps Sync with Outlook, the user in me cried out: one of Gmail’s benefits is the productivity-focused native UI, why would anyone want to cripple it by pairing it with Outlook? You see, I went through these stages personally : used Gmail as the back-end with Outlook, long before IMAP became available – back then mostly for Gmail’s superior spam filter, and when I finally ditched Outlook, I felt liberated.
But I don’t represent the real market for Google: not me, not the many other freelancers, very small teams, startups who are happy to try the latest and greatest, even evangelize it, but rarely pay. No, the real market is businesses who actually buy these services.
Google is aggressively trying to expand in the Corporate market, where Microsoft Exchange and Outlook are the de facto incumbents. Even where Corporate IT was willing to replace Exchange with Google for the cost savings, they were facing resistance from users who would not give up their beloved Outlook. Now they can continue to “live in Outlook” while Google Apps provides the backbone, instead of Exchange. And in case they want to access their email or calendar from somewhere with no Outlook installed, they might actually try the Web interface.. once.. twice.. then get hooked and realize there is life outside Outlook.
Asking end-users to change en masse is asking for trouble, and Google knows it: they made a smart move around this obstacle.
The other major roadblock to SaaS providers’ entry to the enterprise is IT and Business concerns about corporate security, thinking of the firewall as the last line of defense. Fellow Enterprise Irregular Bob Warfield said recently:
When it comes to being able to deal with having your data outside the firewall, it is largely a matter of the organization’s psyche. They can lose their data (and often have) when backups fall off the back of a truck on its way to Iron Mountain or wherever just as easily as through a SaaS vendor. Eventually, the costs will cause them to make some hard choices about how valuable the “feel good” side of keeping the data inside the firewall really is. Having worked with a number of Fortune 500 who grumble about it while at the same time having outsourced the majority of their IT people so they touch the data inside the firewall but aren’t even employees, I just chuckle…
I agree with Bob, but no matter what we say, or what SLA’s, security and privacy guarantees the industry brings, the fact remains that resistance to allowing data outside the firewall is still strong at most large corporations.
Hence, today’s announcementof Zoho Office for Microsoft SharePoint qualifies as another “Mohammad Goes to the Mountain” moment. It combines the benefits of a collaborative SaaS Suite with the (perceived or real?) security if keeping data behind the firewall. SharePoint has a very strong position in the Enterprise as Microsoft’s behind-the-firewall collaboration server, and for years smart Collaboration and Social Software vendors with better functionality, like Atlassian, Socialtext, Jive Software, Newsgator and now Zoho have been “playing well”, adopting their services to SharePoint.
At a cost of $2/user/month, the add-on, when installed on Microsoft SharePoint Server integrates Zoho Office Suite on to Microsoft SharePoint, providing the following functionality…
- Create new documents using Zoho Apps (Writer, Sheet & Show) and save them to SharePoint in MS Office formats
- View and Edit existing documents within SharePoint using Zoho Apps
- Collaborate on documents based on SharePoint’s sharing permissions
The add-on essentially provides easy and inexpensive access to your SharePoint documents from any web browser, without having to have the Microsoft Office Suite installed. This video provides a good summary:
At first glance Google and Zoho’s approach appear to be quite different, with Google replacing the infrastructure backbone while leaving the client application intact, whereas Zoho recognizes the existing infrastructure and essentially eliminates the need for the installed end-user applications. That said it’s hard not to see the common element in their strategy: chipping away pieces of the Microsoft empire here and there, and the flexibility of making their services available to businesses in whichever way/combination they want. In the meantime, the race to out-innovate Microsoft is on.
Update: a tellingfirst reaction from Twitter:
- Google plots Exchange escape with Outlook plug-in
- Microsoft Sharepoint vs. Enterprise 2.0 Start-ups: Day of Reckoning Arrives
- Web-Based Productivity Suite Zoho Now Integrated With Microsoft SharePo
- Web tools leave the cloud: Zoho available for SharePoint
- Microsoft, Outlook Is Broken, Says 6,000 Tweets (And Growing). Fix It.
- Why Enterprises Don’t Like SaaS
- Gmail To Outlook: blazing fast