Substance or Illusion: SharePoint or Google Apps

With all of the news coming from the sold-out SharePoint Conference 2011 this week, I sat down to compare SharePoint capabilities in Office 365 with features in Google Apps. Quickly, I realized that I was comparing substance and illusion. SharePoint Online offers businesses so many capabilities in Office 365 that Google Apps simply lacks. It reminds me of the story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. In the story’s climax, a boy watching a procession speaks out about his kingdom’s emperor: “'But he hasn't got anything on“. Like the emperor who presents himself to his subjects without his coat, trousers and mantle, when Google Apps presents itself to customers, useful and important things are missing. 

Illustration of "The Emperor's New Clothes" by Wilhelm Pedersen.

I imagine you’ve read a few things about cloud productivity tools. A well-designed service like Office 365 can help people in organizations to connect effectively, reduce costs and respond quickly to daily business needs. Here are a few reasons why Office 365 customers can do more using SharePoint Online capabilities than Google Apps customers can.

Automate Business Processes with Workflow
I often work on documents that require several people’s review before they are final. Also, every month I submit my expense reports, and SharePoint routes them automatically to various managers for approval. Can you imagine how time-consuming it would be if I had to manually check status, forward documents, and send reminders? Office 365’s SharePoint workflow capabilities allow me to automate document review, approval, signature collection, and issue tracking using workflow applications. That is, I depend on SharePoint workflows to do my job as efficiently as possible.

Google Apps includes no workflow capabilities out-of-the-box, so Google Apps capability comes at additional cost. Google Apps customers must purchase the workflow capability through a third party, or must develop the code for the capability in-house. 

Having the structure that workflow provides means that people focused on expanding a business, including people with sales, operations, human resources, and finance talents, have the clear communications that helps them work effectively. In fact, with SharePoint capabilities integrated in Office 365, I simply right-click on a document to start a workflow.

Manage Records for Compliance
Businesses are often required to keep certain information such as personnel records for specific periods of time. Many companies also have document retention policies to manage their operations. SharePoint helps you address the requirements by helping you determine what you should consider as a record, who can access records, how long to keep them, and address other records-related management tasks.

While Office 365 includes built-in records management in SharePoint Online, Google Apps users are on their own, looking to APIs and third parties for functionality. Of course, for Google Apps users these represent hidden costs in meeting business requirements.

Connect and Share Using My Profile
If you are accustomed to using Facebook to share information like I do, you probably wish that a similar solution was available at work. Many SharePoint customers connect and share information with colleagues using SharePoint’s My Profile. In the profile, I can include my professional biography, projects I have worked on, interests and skills. Through My Profile I can keep others informed of Recent Activities, and share, tag and manage my files and documents all in a single place. I can also use My Profile to locate an internal expert such as Erika Cheley to collaborate with, even if I have never met her before. Google Apps users have none of these capabilities.

Back to Our Story of "The Emperor's New Clothes"
In the end, the emperor's clothes were an illusion. He was missing substance: a fine, new suit of clothes which he needed for his procession. The fable tells me that if you are missing something important that you need, make it known. If I were missing capabilities I needed in Google Apps, I’d also look for a more suitable solution.

Why Choose a Microsoft Solution?
I’ve learned that both small and large businesses value workflow, records management and community capabilities in Microsoft’s online services, and our customers tell us that they have found a complete solution in Office 365!

“Because everyone has the same tools with Office 365, we can more easily put processes in place and support workflows across the organization… Office 365 is a seamless solution from a single vendor. It’s like heaven... We are using Visio 2010 to connect to SharePoint Online and get a real-time view of stock levels for materials. We use this to help with inventory management for the production schedule.”

Byron Nutley, VP Business Operations, Zyvex Technologies

 “Having all our work on one cloud-based platform will be fantastic. All of us can work and be productive from anywhere—without worrying that servers or applications will fail or our data will be unavailable.”

-- Robert Richard, Owner and President, Southern Valve and Fitting

“We focused on ways for employees to comment back to the organization as well as communicate with each other. Now we have the ability to post comments on the intranet and create team sites. We’re finding that employees are talking to each other and using each other’s resources, sharing knowledge. We launched our first CEO blog last year and in the first five minutes had more than 40 responses back. That’s just the beginning; we know that the intranet can be so much more powerful as a place of action.”

--Lauren Sayeski, Public Affairs and Communications Manager, Coca-Cola Enterprises

Comments (39)

  1. @Ian Ray: Thank you for pointing out that Google Apps users who want to use certain records retention practices need Cloud Lock. We’re looking forward to learning what Cloud Lock’s coming product will provide above and beyond what SharePoint is providing today.

  2. @Ian Ray: Thank you. That's good to know.

  3. Ian Ray says:

    CloudLock/CloudLock Vault is only $8/$19 per user/year. An Office 365 version is coming out next year. Very nice software service.

  4. Ian Ray says:

    Tony Tai –  For my uses, the speed and at-a-glance reporting of CloudLock is the deciding factor more than just strictly the feature set. CloudLock provides an overview of sharing, user usage breakdowns, and the ability to quickly move user data. This is all possible without CloudLock but the interface allows for tedious tasks to be performed in seconds with reporting capabilities. The Vault addition allows for permanent data retention by way of a deposit folder being periodically promoted to the vault and an audit log. Google Sites also has a CloudLock module, making it useful for document management system instead of just departmental/personal website collaboration. Considering the existing records management functionality in Sharepoint Online, I think this product will integrate nicely with Office 365 to provide a richer interface, at the very least for the benefit of administrators.

  5. Peter Morris says:

    “I have been using SharePoint for team collaboration and content management for a long time. And it has been very useful for me in streamlining my work. I used to use SharePoint 2007 before but now migrated to SharePoint 2013. This site ( with
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