The battle between Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 rages on. Google has the upper hand today, with millions of businesses, government agencies and educational institutions as clients. But Microsoft, which has owned the desktop for decades, isn’t giving up without a fight.

The latest volley from Microsoft was an unusual one. The Redmond company recently lowered prices of its Office 365 product by up to 20 percent, putting its cost more in line with Google Apps.

Microsoft claimed the cut was a result of increasing “economies of scale,” essentially that its cloud infrastructure enabled delivery of the product at a lower cost. Whether or not that’s true is up for debate. Some would argue the price cut -- something unheard of for Microsoft in the past -- was an attempt to compete more effectively with Google Apps, which has terrific momentum in the enterprise.

Regardless of its motives, the real issue here is whether the price cut will work. In other words, how important is cost to CIOs and IT departments considering a move to the cloud? According to recent research, the answer appears to be “not much.”

An April report from the Cloud Alliance for Google Apps, a consortium of ISVs building on Google’s platform, revealed that cost savings was not the main factor driving companies to the cloud. In fact, only 19 percent of Google Apps admins said their decision to go with Google was driven by the platform’s price.

So, if the survey is a reflection of how most IT departments view cost, then it begs the question, which issues trump price? As a long time Google Apps developer and user, I have a few ideas. Following are the three issues I think are most important to organizations planning a move to the cloud:

Collaboration

In the same Cloud Alliance survey, it was revealed that 30 percent of respondents made the move to Google Apps for the platform’s focus on collaboration. Companies today are comprised of employees spread out all over the country and sometimes even the world. They’re looking for ways to help their employees communicate seamlessly with one another while eliminating the sense that interactions are happening thousands of miles and multiple time zones apart.

Organizations are looking for a cloud messaging and collaboration platform that allows users to share documents and collaborate with multiple users in real time. Real time collaboration features are a must to eliminate time consuming back and forth and doubling up on the same tasks.

Furthermore, a worthwhile platform will give users the ability to communicate with one another through several different means -- chat, voice calling and video. Google Apps has certainly delivered here. I think Google+ Hangouts are a game changer and are likely to be a sticking point for the platform. Hangouts allow for video-conferencing, screen sharing, chat and virtual collaboration.

Security

In addition to seeking table-stakes security requirements like SSAE 16, FISMA and ISO 27001 certifications, CIOs and IT managers also need a way to monitor and control the sharing of sensitive company files that are stored in the cloud.

With Google's robust APIs for collaboration tools like Docs, Sites and Calendars, a strong consortium of integrated security products have come to market over the past year. Third-party applications that monitor asset sharing, correct sharing violations, prohibit external sharing and audit inboxes help to secure and regulate the domain.

CIOs also look for platforms with two-factor authentication, which when enabled by a domain administrator require all users to login to their email accounts using two means of identification. This feature, commonplace in on-premise messaging platforms, provides added security and protects against employee negligence to a certain degree.

As the cloud matures, more and more businesses are realizing that large cloud-messaging providers are better suited to provide overall security at scale than individual organizations. And as cloud providers continue to invest in security tools and features and third-parties expand their offerings, companies will be moving to the cloud for added security, not in spite of it.

Integration

Lastly, organizations are looking for messaging platforms that integrate deeply with third-party products. Google Apps, for instance, has been integrated to over 500 complementary software tools (while Microsoft has put decidedly less emphasis on this aspect of its Office 365 platform).

Integrations between third-party software and a platform make living in your email inbox a possibility. ISVs provide a wide range of features and functionality, from added domain management and security, to CRM and even accounting applications.

The ability to integrate multiple SaaS products with the messaging platform of choice adds new layers of functionality and ease of use. Furthermore, heavily integrated applications create efficiency in an organization by pulling in pre-existing information, like contacts, correspondence and even calendar details.

While Microsoft's bold price cuts definitely won't hurt their business, they won’t necessarily help either. Though price is always a factor, collaboration, security and the availability of integrated applications take precedence over even the steepest cost cuts. Today’s CIOs and IT directors are looking for the platform that provides the best features, not the best deal.

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