Airbus won’t eradicate Microsoft Office from its entire user base after all it seems: the Defence, Space and Helicopters units will retain the on-premises version due to the “legal and national security implications” of storing sensitive data in the cloud.

As revealed by The Register on 14 March, Airbus will start shifting its 130,000-strong workforce to Google’s G Suite from the middle of this year. The project is estimated to take 18 months.

CEO Tom Enders had told staff that Airbus wanted a “clean break from the past”, symbolised by its deal with Google. CIO Luc Hennekens told us that buying into the Google tools would force cultural change internally.

But in a Frequently Asked Questions document issued to employees, and seen by El Reg, Airbus confirmed it will actually need to keep using Microsoft’s Office Suite:

“The entire company will transition to G Suite. However, because G Suite is a cloud-based solution, there are legal and national security implications. Certain categories of military, export controlled and personal data are required, by law, to remain within either specific national boundaries or on Airbus premises.”

Airbus Helicopters employed a little more than 22,500 people in 2016, according to the latest annual report, and the Defence and Space division had almost 35,000 people on the books.

The G Suite includes data tagging and “strong cyber security functionalities” that Airbus said “helps us even better protect sensitive data than today”. But, it added, “no classified data will be in G Suite”.

This dual setup will not change “until regulation evolves, which means that for now those dealing with sensitive data in Defence and Space and Helicopters will keep their existing Microsoft solutions while having the opportunity to enjoy G Suite on top,” the document said.

Running the two systems concurrently “sounds complicated”, the document noted, but Airbus assured that staff working in the two departments will still be able to “collaborate” thanks to Google.

Cloud is highly secure because it uses all the latest sophisticated capabilities which evolve as the cyber-threat evolves

Getting staff in different countries and parts of the organisation woking together was the main rationale for choosing Google over alternatives including Microsoft Office 365, Hennekens told us on 15 March.

Despite legal restrictions for certain types of data, Airbus reassured staff via the FAQ that the “Cloud is highly secure because it uses all the latest sophisticated capabilities which evolve as the cyber-threat evolves.

“Airbus has strongly invested in the maximum possible security levels with G Suite to ensure we will be considerably better protected than today.”

Another potential talking point raised by the FAQ was compatibility and whether sub-contractors and suppliers will encounter headaches after the switch from Microsoft.

“Granting access to the platform for suppliers is feasible and budgeted for, just as it is today. Data exchange is possible between MS customers and G Suite, so compatibility will not be an issue – although data conversion may not always be seamless for complex Excel sheets or Powerpoints, we will manage this and provide best practices needed to support data exchange.”

Airbus said most suppliers today use Microsoft “legacy tools” but they may themselves migrate to G Suite “as a result of our decision”.

Historic email will “not be generally mass-migrated” but “solutions” will be made available for staff to retain the data they need. Similarly, Powerpoint, Sharepoint and Excel will not generally be mass-migrated either, Airbus confirmed.

“Ultimately Excel file conversions will be required but Office tools will remain in place for a sufficiently long period to enable a smooth transition,” the FAQ added.

Microsoft has so far resisted the temptation to talk to us. Come on peeps, we don’t bite. Well, maybe a little. Airbus has not yet answered a call for further comment. ®

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