With Office 365, Microsoft Are Finally Getting It Right, But Also So So Wrong

The companion of the PC since before the internet, Microsoft Office is one of the most recognisable pieces of software on the globe. After nearly 10 official desktop versions, 365 is the new breed of cloud-native Office that’s positioned the productivity suite as a powerful catalyst towards digital transformation.

Current adoption numbers for Office 365 stand at nearly 100 million and counting, rivalled only by its siblings in terms of future market dominance. In fact, the suite has eclipsed all competition to become the most widely used enterprise cloud service by user count.

Microsoft successfully navigated the initial obsolescence scare when the world succumbed to mobile devices and cloud applications. It did this by making a massive move to the cloud and by giving “Office” an upgrade that would make Tony Stark a little green with tech envy. The suite makes no apologies for stacking a plethora of workflow and communications tools to deliver a highly integrated and collaborative user experience.

Office 365’s huge focus on collaboration within and between businesses is perhaps its biggest drawing card. Unlike Google, Dropbox and other players who enjoyed a fairly good head start in the SaaS landscape, the Office platform was, in fact, built initially for the pre-cloud enterprise. This made it easier for Microsoft to scale its offering to the cloud-native market than it was for companies like Google to challenge Office in the enterprise space.

It’s fair to say that with the Microsoft brand being far more at home in the medium to the large business landscape serious competition from newer productivity suites won’t worry the company any time soon. And with the host of tools built into Office 365, it appears that business users will have a lot on their hands to keep them busy.

Yammer, a social networking app that brings updated information to employees on practically every integrated application, document and business communication from within one integrated application, is joined by Skype for Business. Google Drive’s arch-nemesis comes in the form of OneDrive. Then there’s the Teams app, which allows for real-time collaboration and messaging from within Office documents, spreadsheets, presentations etc.

Office 365 also boasts powerful business intelligence capabilities that allow for the visualisation and sharing of vast data sets in easy-to-consume formats. This, coupled with an exhaustive collection of third-party add-ons continue to enrich the software exponentially. In summary, the software is good, Microsoft already has great networks of resellers, the numbers are doing well and the momentum appears to be with them. So everything should be rosy for 365, right? Wrong.

There is a problem and it’s a big one

For all its great new collaboration tools and well-intentioned upgrades, one only has to spend some time reading online forums and technology pages to get a sense of the frustration from users of the Office 365 suite. It would appear that business users have been, for the most part, sold on the plethora of features with little focus on helping them get the most out of the suite. Microsoft has given IT departments everything they need to create a truly digital workplace, but they haven’t given them the understanding of how to sell it within the organisation and ultimately, to the people who will have to embrace it.

It’s a problem Microsoft have always grappled with and still don’t seem to have solved: the challenge of taking something inherently complex and making it accessible and relatable to the end consumer. I’ll always remember the video that joked about how Microsoft would have designed the iPod box as a demonstration of the company’s proclivity to make the inherently simple a complex nightmare. You can check it out here.

An important lesson

When a software product as powerful as 365 is sold to the people within an organisation, it needs to resonate in a very emotive way for them to truly embrace it. While expecting a massively complex productivity suite not to have teething problems in the early stages might be unrealistic, people will only get behind a product like 365 if they really believe in its potential to transform the way they work.

And it’s not as if we’re talking about the change-averse, technology phobe office worker of yesteryear. In fact, getting the buy-in from people within the business to improve their way of working is far easier than days prior. Yet, without a resonating vision and a clear path to success, all we have is a monolithic piece of software that will ultimately be underutilized — read bad investment.

Without the entire team, onboard (that means people beyond IT) products like Office 365 will ultimately breed much of the same resentment and frustration we’ve seen when the software was simply lumped on unsuspecting end users. Soon, what was meant to be a positive culture-changing investment in technology, has become a negative force on the culture of the company.

For Microsoft to truly create the impact they have the potential of doing, they need to focus a little more time on supporting the CIO’s and CTO’s on the change process needed to really make 365 flourishes. This might seem alien to the company, but can be a watershed move for the company and truly find a home in the hearts and minds of the people who use their products.

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