Reality check: sometimes embracing cloud and social is easier said than done

Credit: Margaret Shear via Flickr

Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate company with 45,000 employees, is an interesting breed.

In a world in which many companies have diversified their software selection, they are a self-proclaimed Microsoft shop. They profess interest in the cloud, but aren't quite ready to make the commitment. They seem to understand the value of social and mobile, while struggling to implement social internally.

The company's story shows a lot of the struggles inherent in the changing face of IT.

Greg Adams, the executive vice president for strategy and enterprise applications at Jones Lang LaSalle, says they are a Microsoft SharePoint company across their public-facing and internal websites.

They operate 30,000 client extranets in 52 countries and 26 languages. They use also use SharePoint internally for intranets and count on NewsGator for internal social networking aspects. For now everything is run on-premises, and while the company has dabbled with the idea of moving the operations to the cloud, they are not quite ready to take that step yet.

Adams says the problem is if he closes his data centers and moves to the cloud, then turns out to be unhappy, he couldn't possibly afford to go back and reinvest in building out a data center again.

He might be forced to rethink this if Microsoft starts innovating more on the cloud side, offering features that are not available for on-premises customers.

That could become a real problem in the coming years. At this week's SharePoint conference, Microsoft made it clear they want customers to move to the cloud, and will be updating the cloud version of SharePoint every 90 days. SharePoint's previous upgrade cycle was every three years, so even with patches, it will be difficult for the on-premise product to keep up with that.  And Microsoft was unwilling to commit to any timetable when it came to the upgrade cycle for the on-premise version.

Another issue for Adams is how Microsoft will deal with licensing aspect of moving to the cloud. He explained that they are an Enterprise Agreement customer and he wonders how he will get credit for what he's paid for already. He says (somewhat sarcastically), "They don't like to give money back." And he wonders if the licensing credits he paid for will be transferable.

When it comes to social, the company has a strong external social presence. They have embraced blogs (using WordPress as their blogging platform), Twitter, and YouTube, but have had trouble establishing a coherent internal enterprise social strategy. He says in spite of a push from the C level to connect the company and drive productivity using enterprise social, there have been fits and starts.

Adams believes the problems in the past might have been related to trying to do too much. In the future he wants to simplify the social process and make it as streamlined as possible for end users.

Yet for all their reservations about moving to the cloud and their hesitations on social, Jones Lang LaSalle clearly recognizes the value of a mobile workforce, especially when it comes to selling commercial real estate, and they are in the process of shifting to a complete BYOD scenario.

When it comes devices, Adams says, "We don't fight how people want to use it. Some people will want the web. Some will want mobile devices." He says it's important that they don't force the interface and embrace the idea that it can be different. 

To that end, they are shifting from an app approach to an all HTML5 one so they are not caught on the development roller coaster. They are also trying to become browser independent so users can upgrade -- or so they understand what features they might lose if they choose not to upgrade.

Adams is pragmatic about BYOD, though. "It sounds great in concept, but how do I wrap services around something that's not company owned?" But he adds, "When people like their devices, they like IT."

Jones Lang LaSalle strikes me as the bridge between old school IT wanting control inside a data center, and the new more modern IT, which recognizes it can't possibly keep up with the constant change in the device market or continue to make investments in data centers to support internal technology. They know they need to bring in enterprise social internally, yet face challenges making that happen in spite of executive buy-in.

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