Why go to all the trouble of installing and maintaining your own email system and office productivity tools when you could instead get them from the cloud, on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis?

This is the question that’s been posed for some time now, in particular by vendors keen to challenge Microsoft’s dominance on the desktop.

It can be argued that the assault has been successful to a degree, given that Microsoft now offers its own web-based solution set.

But evidence that cloud-based office applications are now widely accepted and adopted as an alternative to on-site deployments isn’t entirely clear-cut

Research carried out by Freeform Dynamics suggests that very few are ready to embrace a cloud-only approach.

Equally, we’re not looking at an environment of wholesale rejection.

The majority IT and business professionals in our online survey felt that web-based desktop office applications may have a place as a complement to tools deployed in-house, or dependent on user requirements (Figure 1).

Figure 1

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It should be noted that our survey was focused on companies with fewer than 1000 employees, and it’s likely that a survey of this sort is more likely to attract respondents with an interest in SaaS.

This implies that the market as a whole may well be less ready for web-only office solutions than indicated by the numbers shown in Figure 1.

It’s also worth mentioning that SaaS and web-based aren't synonymous.

Hosted email services can be accessed via locally installed clients, and in-house email can be accessed via browser-based interfaces.

While some speculate that pure web-based tools will be the future, we're likely to continue to see a variety of approaches in the near to medium term.

Aside from ingrained preferences for doing as much in-house as possible, the key reasons for being sceptical about web-based applications include worries about security, loss of connectivity, service quality, back-up and disaster recovery, as well as data governance issues.

In addition to those concerns, migration and integration with existing systems can be an overriding worry, given how widely office productivity solutions are used, and how deeply embedded they are in many of an organisation’s most critical business processes.

If a process can't function, or can't function effectively, when a critical element is missing, then the risk of disruption to the business is commensurately more likely.