Three Tips for Making the Most of Microsoft Office

It's becoming a Web 2.0 world, but Microsoft Office still owns the enterprise and Microsoft has the power not to compromise on licenses. Here are three tips from research firm Forrester on how to get what you want from Office while keeping costs in check.

The billboard ads may be telling you it's time to "Go Google" with your productivity apps, but most enterprises still use Microsoft Office, and are planning to keep it that way.

A recent survey of 2,000 IT decision-makers by research firm Forrester shows that 80 percent of companies surveyed support some version of Microsoft Office, and 78 percent have no plans for implementing an alternative to Microsoft Office.

Yet this stronghold puts Microsoft in the driver's seat when it comes to negotiating Office licenses. As one product manager said in a new Forrester report that outlines best practices for enterprises working on a Microsft Office strategy, "They [Microsoft] come across knowing they're in the catbird seat, so there are not a lot of concessions."

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In the Forrester report, author and analyst Sheri McLeish has some bits of advice for enterprises that want to improve worker efficiency using Office tools and become more confident at the negotiating table.

To understand how enterprises invest in Microsoft Office and utilize e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, calendars and presentations, Forrester interviewed more than 20 IT professionals responsible for Microsoft Office strategy and contract negotiations in various industries.

Forrester then came up the following three best practices for getting the most out of Office investments:

Categorize Workers by What They Need

Though most enterprises equip their workers with Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, actual use of these tools varies, says Forrester. Some workers review content but don't create it and therefore dont need a full-featured word processor; some rarely use Excel or PowerPoint; some use e-mail and calendaring hourly, while others just a few times a day.

Report author McLeish recommends segmenting your workforce based on thier Office needs and usage to "build a case for everything from moving to cloud-based e-mail to re-evaluating enterprise licensing."

To fully comprehend Office wants and needs, enterprises should: Survey their workforce to find out what workers do with Office, where they use the tools (laptops? mobile devices?), and what other employees they work with; analyze survey results to gauge workers' attitudes and how they use Office tools and collaborate with each other; and tie survey data back to the business by figuring out such things as what percentage of your workforce does not need full Office functionality.

Use Worker Data to Negotiate with Microsoft

Understanding how your workers use Microsoft Office will put enterprises in a better position to negotiate with Microsoft, or possibly even move to a Web-based or Open Office alternative, writes McLeish in the Forrester report.

Enterprises may indeed decide to move off Office to something like Google Apps, but doing so before knowing if it will meet the needs of your workforce is reckless, writes McLeish.

"The economic downturn has spurred some companies to speed up their efforts to move off Office to save money," she writes. "But without knowledge of the workforce, IT pros find it difficult to develop a coherent Plan B to realistically move workers off of Office."

Once you understand the needs of your workforce, you can demonstrate to Microsoft that you are truly planning for alternatives to Office. An example is deploying Office Standard or Agile — instead of the more expensive Office Professional Plus — and then using Google Apps for workers who mostly need e-mail and calendaring.

The Forrester report stresses that IT decision-makers need to know the nuances of Microsoft's different license programs and should not underestimate their own negotiating power.

"Microsoft really wants your firm's business," writes McLeish. "Work with purchasing to make Microsoft prove why Office is a must-have for all of your workers."

Integrate Office Tools with other Business Apps

If you've invested in Microsoft Office tools, Forrester recommends integrating it as much as possible with Sharepoint and whenever possible with business apps from SAP and Oracle.

The Forrester report claims that more training is needed on how to use Office tools, particularly how to integrate Office with collaboration software, Sharepoint.

"There's more opportunity than ever to improve collaboration with Office and Sharepoint, from publishing Excel files as Web pages to synchronizing calendars and contacts from Outlook," writes McLeish in the report.

Forrester notes that to make the most of your Office investment, enterprises should remember that Office is more than just a set of productivity apps; it can also be a front end to business applications from SAP and Oracle.

"A prime example is Duet," writes McLeish. "It's a joint product offered by Microsoft and SAP that allows workers to access numerous SAP functions directly from Office interfaces."

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

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