On this episode of the Digital Workplace Today Podcast, we talk again with Dr. Dale Tuttle, COO of Portal Solutions, on the challenges and opportunities of deploying Office 365 in the developing world.
We discuss how governments, aid organizations, and other organizations in these countries can (and already do) use the capabilities of Office 365. Cloud-based solutions present some unique challenges in the developing world, and some are easier to overcome than others.
Listen to this episode to hear it all, or read the show notes for an overview of the conversation and links to some of the key items discussed.
Right at this moment [at the time of recording -Ed.], a virtual event is going on with Microsoft announcing the release of SharePoint 2016. It’s a very exciting announcement. A lot of eyes are glued to it. Dale, what do you think of it?
It’s pretty cool. They announced some new features and they’re building more workflow tools into the Office 356 experience. One in particular is called Flow.
The other new thing is Power Apps for Office 365. They’re essentially providing, via Office 365, the ability to create your own lightweight applications.
These are part of the SharePoint 2016 release, but they’ll be released on Office 365 and SharePoint Online first. The roll out will take place in stages throughout this calendar year.
Okay, that’s exciting. We are going to be doing a follow-up blog post on that to give more information.
Today we’re talking deploying Office 365 in the developing world. Dale, I know this is something that’s very near and dear to your heart. I think that you have a lot of experience with the developing world and what’s going on.
Yeah, believe it or not, I have a PhD in International Relations from the University of Maryland. I did a lot of studying about conflict processes, but also on issues relating to development activities in the developing world, and the politics of aid and how it’s most effective. That sort of stuff.
Now that I think about it, I spent most of last year traveling to several developing countries, helping them figure out how to deploy cloud-based knowledge management solutions to help them in their endeavors to improve operations.
What is intriguing is the capabilities that Office 365 brings to the table. These capabilities are needed by both the governments in the developing world as well as the aid organizations, the recipients, and everybody involved in providing and receiving development assistance in these countries.
So, what do you see as the biggest opportunities in these countries in adopting cloud-based platforms like Office 365?
Traditionally, the thing holding these countries back from adopting advanced technologies is they do not have either the money or the capability to host infrastructure.
They can’t go and easily buy servers. Even if they did, where would they put them? Electricity becomes an issue. Then, of course, they really don’t have the resources for sustaining software licenses.
Cloud technologies bypass those two things right out of the gate. They don’t need infrastructure. They don’t need software licenses, per se. Cloud services, or software as a service, these things are now available to developing countries, and that’s a big deal.
Currently, remote workers around the world in developing countries need to stay in touch with many of their colleagues here in the states… how are they currently doing this and where do you see the big enhancements in using the cloud?
When we think about leveraging these tools for developing countries, there are really two different communities that we’re talking about.
The first is someone in a city. They’ll probably have internet access. They’ll probably have electricity, more or less, most of the time.
But then what happens is you go farther out into the field, so to speak, and you find the second community. You start losing access to internet, and then you may lose access to your cellular zones as well. Electricity becomes even more of an issue. We have to think about delivering tools to these different communities.
Then, also, what devices are hosting the resources that need to be accessed? Again, without cloud technologies, it’s almost impossible for people in these countries to truly share information and collaborate, because there is no way to host solutions.
As we talked about earlier, they don’t have the infrastructure and they don’t have the software. But they can get these capabilities from the cloud. Then, essentially, you can provide all of the benefits that advanced technology has provided in our world.
We’ve been using these things for so long now it becomes second nature. But now, because of the cloud, folks in these countries can start using the same tools.
There is another dimension that I haven’t talked about yet, and that challenge is bandwidth. Even though you may have access to the internet, you may not have the fastest connection. This makes user experience extremely important.
You want to deliver cloud capabilities in these countries, but also how you deliver it becomes important. It needs to be a lightweight footprint from a UI/UX standpoint.
You also have to be very careful about what you’re delivering. They only should get what they really need to do their job.
That experience may be segmented, for instance, if I’m in a city, the big city, and I have access just like we would here. You may be in Jakarta, Indonesia. You may be in New Delhi. You’ll get more or less the same experience as you would in Maryland. However, when you start moving out into the field then bandwidth starts becoming an issue, and the device that you’re using comes into play, and then the speed of the internet and the ability to deliver that experience is a critical factor.
Say there is an organization that has these challenges, and they do have workers in the developing world, and they also have US-based workers. How should they even go about designing the platform and how it needs to work in connecting them?
It would be a mistake to try to deploy Office 365 without customizing the UI for these low bandwidth users, because they wouldn’t get the benefit of it. The other thing you have to do is not just make the UI mobile friendly, but you have to actually then make sure that you’re only delivering the things that they need when they’re in the field. We have to create special experiences for these people.
Using me as an example, if I was in Jakarta, my experience would be just like in Bethesda, Maryland. However, if I were to move out not too far out of the city, I would still have my cellular network but it would be expensive and have a very low bandwidth experience. I need only those five, ten, or fifteen things that are essential, to keep data flow under control.
Listen to the full podcast to hear our full conversation with Dale. We continued to discuss infrastructure and collaboration challenges in the developing world and how systems like Azure are helping bridge the technology gap.
This is our wish list item of the week. Dale, if there was something you wish Microsoft would do, it would be what?
I really wish we would get essentially Microsoft Data Center coverage in Africa. Africa is one of the largest areas where donor agencies are spending a lot of their efforts and time, and even a lot of companies have more operations in Africa. But Microsoft Azure and the big players at AWS Amazon and others, they don’t have data centers in Africa yet. Africa’s a huge continent. I don’t know if you’ve checked the map lately, but it’s pretty big.
It’s pretty large, mm-hmm.
It needs more than one of these centers. The lack of this right now means that in the big cities, even to connect and use Azure or Office 365, you’ll have to go through essentially an ISP that will then connect you out to data centers that are outside the continent.
While most people don’t realize it, geography still matters, distance still matters in terms of your connectivity and the performance of the Cloud. Performance is kind of an issue. I would hope that they would deploy a data center, more than one to the continent in the near future.
If you missed our last episode, head over and listen to our conversation (also) with Dr. Dale Tuttle on Public Sector Adoption of Office 365 and Cloud Technology. In the podcast prior to that, we talked with Dale All About Azure. Lots of podcasting lately with Dale!
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