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Google Apps and MS Office 365

Posted By USFN, Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

May 6, 2014


by Shawn J. Burke, Director, LoanSphere Sales Engineering
ServiceLink, A Black Knight Financial Services – USFN Associate Member
by Clifton D. Dillman, CIO
Firefly Legal – USFN Associate Member

From Shawn’s View

Is it obvious to you what Google Apps and Office 365 are? Furthermore, is it apparent that they are, in essence, competing technologies aimed at getting your back-office business? That Google Apps offers an alternative (even a free one) to buying Microsoft Office; or that Office 365 is trying to roll your Exchange Server, the money you pay for Microsoft Office, and some of your consumer desires (OneDrive cloud storage, etc.) into one package they hope you’ll pay for yearly? I was reminded recently during a USFN Technology Committee meeting that these subjects are not second nature to everyone — thus prompting this article.

First, what are Google and Microsoft each attempting? In a nutshell, they are trying to provide email and back-office services (Word, spreadsheets, access, database, email, documents, instant messaging, screen, etc.) to your organization.

Naturally when trying to decide options, look at your needs. For instance, I use both technologies in various businesses. When deciding which direction to go, generally consider whether you already have investments in Microsoft Office or Microsoft Exchange and whether you consider those critical to your business. If not critical or if you aren’t already invested, then return on investment will most quickly be achieved going down the Google Apps path. However, I would argue that if you’ve already made the investment, Office 365 might be worth your while.

For example, say that your operation uses Excel significantly — creating lots of charts, heavy on formatting, connecting to other data sources, and having lots of “sheets” powering your business — then making the switch is cumbersome. I don’t think anyone would contend that Excel has a ton of power and features in it; in fact many who tout Google Apps do so under the argument that it is more straightforward. If your team uses those Excel features, however, then giving them up has a cost. If that’s your company and you also use Word heavily and were integrated with Microsoft Exchange, then bringing all of those costs together into Office 365 might make sense. Remember that training your employees also has a soft cost, which goes beyond the licensing dollars.

I recognize that there will be people reading this who just want to shout “You’re wrong” at me. For them, the proliferation of Google Apps, their straightforward approach and extensive cloud storage integration, as well as the numerous “free resources” (templates, etc.), make any argument for Office 365 preposterous. Accordingly, I have asked a USFN Technology Committee colleague (and a proponent of Google Apps), Clifton Dillman of Firefly Legal to present a counterpoint to the Office 365 position.

From Clifton’s View

Thank you for the introduction Shawn. Let me say first that I am not completely against Office 365 and I fully understand your viewpoint. In fact, I agree with many, if not all, of your insights. My opinions must be prefaced with the simple fact that each one of us will have differing ideal scenarios dependent on our individual circumstances.

I think that Microsoft has made the transition to the cloud easier and easier through the years. Let’s look at the soft cost to transitioning to Office 365 first. During a recent Technology Committee meeting, a member mentioned that they still have users on Office 2003. I would argue that the transition to Office’s ribbon, introduced in Office 2007, would be just as difficult to overcome as beginning to use Google Apps — so the soft costs won’t really change in that scenario. I tend to agree that there could be a larger soft cost to transitioning to Google Apps, but note that the workforce is better equipped to learn new software and deal with the changes than they were ten or twenty years ago.

Shawn is absolutely right that Google’s features are not as robust as Office. Recently, I had a circumstance where I needed a document with a table of contents and associated page numbers. This is not possible in Google Apps. You can manually put them in, but who has the time for that? I went back to Office for this functionality. I have personally witnessed Google Apps really grow up in the short amount of time that it has been around (almost eight years). The great thing is that it will only get better.

In contrast, when Microsoft launched its “ribbon” — the very thing that hides even more of those functions no one uses — a Microsoft representative said that the ribbon removed the clutter. She stated that only a very small percentage of those advanced features were actually used by most people. Shawn may be an Office guru, who intimately knows and uses each and every ribbon function inside and out. I have to admit that I do not, but I also don’t need to, which makes Google Apps even more appealing.

I think that there are lots of options beyond the Google Apps and Office 365 debate, and that every circumstance has a different adoption path. I also believe that it’s healthy and worthwhile to discuss those options; bring them up with the third-party or internal IT staff that you are working with. The price point is a huge factor and Google continues to add more and more to its suite. One example: Google Draw is a great replacement for Microsoft Visio (expensive flowchart software) and it makes a lot of sense to look at it.

One of the challenges to this question is that there is no “right” answer. There might be answers that are more universally held; however, each organization needs to review both choices and ask questions. Not just questions about license costs, but also consider the soft costs of users who are used to a particular way of, or tool for, doing things. Final words: If you’re asking questions and thinking through what’s right for your operation, then you’re doing the smart thing. There’s no answer in a box here.

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