Forrester: Microsoft's Office Web Apps Not a Sure Hit at Enterprises

While Microsoft will finally deliver Office Web apps in beta form later this year, some analysts say this isn't a guaranteed home run in enterprises. Will the economic downturn spur more enterprises to roll out Web apps?

Microsoft's decision to finally address the Google Docs threat and put fully-functional Office apps on the Web will resonate with consumers more than businesses, which have been slow to move to Web-based productivity tools, according to tech research firm Forrester.

"The Web-based tools threat to Microsoft is a consumer threat," says Sheri McLeish, an analyst at Forrester. "Enterprise adoption of Web-based tools has been slow."

Of course, that adoption rate may pick up as 2009 wears on, given the extraordinary pressure on IT costs due to the economic downturn.

According to Forrester research, enterprises are less likely to move off the desktop version of Office and have not expressed a strong desire to have Office applications on mobile devices. This could make Microsoft's all but confirmed move to have Office Web Apps run on the iPhone an underwhelming event for businesses, says McLeish.

"Office docs do not lend themselves well to the small screen size of an iPhone," she says.

McLeish speculates that Microsoft's push to get Office on iPhones may be for social media opportunities such as connecting Office apps like Outlook with Facebook and other social networking sites. But as for the Office docs themselves, "there's just not a huge need for Office on the iPhone when there are other more fun productivity tools on there," she believes.

A recent survey of 152 enterprise IT decision-makers by Forrester about what they want from office productivity tools revealed that only 25 percent of information workers and 27 percent of IT managers want "better mobile capabilities" from productivity tools.

Other desired features for productivity tools ahead of "mobility" were "stronger collaboration integration," "data integration between apps," "document management integration" and "enterprise search integration."

Enterprise Web 2.0 Still Looms Large

Looking further ahead, McLeish says that the rise of SaaS (software as a service) and online applications will eventually put the traditional Office desktop suite in peril as the Internet transforms into a collaborative productivity platform.

A recent Forrester survey of 1,017 technology decision-makers found that SaaS adoption in large enterprises is now at 16 percent, up 33 percent from the previous year.

In a report about how Microsoft Word still dominates businesses entitled "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: The Microsoft Word Love Story," McLeish touches on the Enterprise Web 2.0 threat to Microsoft.

"Enterprise Web 2.0 has given rise to a new world of collaborative authoring that seeks to improve on the document-centric approach to writing. Teams of information workers often use wikis in the place of early draft documents that might have formerly been circulated to a group via email or posted on a shared site. Blogs bypass a document view entirely."

"Enterprise Web 2.0 may have just arrived, but it can deliver high value, particularly by being able to enhance content by associating it with peers and experts," McLeish writes.

Companies such as upstart Zoho, which competes with Google Docs, say the time has already arrived for Web apps. "Business is really picking up," Zoho's Raju Vegesna, the company's chief evangelist, told CIO.com at the recent Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. "This downturn might actually help the low-cost technology providers like us."

(See CIO.com's recent analysis of Zoho's product lineup and strategy).

Businesses Tied to Office Suite, But for How Long?

Free or much less expensive than Office productivity tools abound, but have yet to make serious headway in the enterprise, McLeish says. To name a few: Adobe Acrobat.com, IBM Lotus Symphony, Google Docs, OpenOffice Productivity Suite and Zoho Productivity and Collaboration Apps.

Nevertheless, McLeish says that Microsoft Office is so entrenched in enterprises and tied to Microsoft's SharePoint content management system that companies cannot easily move off of it.

"Despite the noise made by new Web-based authoring tools — most of which are free for a limited number of users — they have failed thus far to realize enterprise adoption," writes McLeish in the report.

Yet Office Web Applications may have good timing on its side as they will arrive — in beta later this year, fully released in early 2010, says Microsoft — at a time when enterprises will be catching on about the value of Web-based productivity tools, says McLeish

"As economic conditions worsen, executives will ask IT departments to rethink blanket investments in Microsoft Office."

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