Google Apps, OpenOffice don

When evaluating possible office productivity software, IT departments may do the due diligence by piloting non-Microsoft alternatives such as Google Apps and OpenOffice. But one Forrester Research Inc. analyst said these initial overtures don’t often make it beyond a pilot run.

“When it comes to a formal evaluation, a lot of folks don’t pull the trigger,” said researcher Philipp Karcher. Most organizations will do a pilot test of an alternative software to Microsoft Office but it will never actually reach full implementation.

New research by the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm found that IT decision-makers are very interested in exploring options on the market that may reap a lower total cost of ownership. Yet, “these competitors are not a replacement for (Microsoft) Office” in these organizations, said Karcher.

Two use cases were identified for alternative office productivity apps from the responses from a survey of 150 IT decision-makers who are mostly based in North America. One use case is the user with “light needs,” such as kiosk workers, who only use e-mail but don’t deal with content editing.

The other use case is the worker who uses Microsoft Office but has an alternative tool to complement that. For instance, this second user would only use Google Apps only for the collaboration features.

Exploration of non-Microsoft alternatives is fuelled by the allure of simple and cost-effective management. Karcher said while it is true that these alternatives will actually reap a savings on licence costs, the challenge is keeping users happy in the long term when they have become comfortable with the familiar interface of Microsoft Office at home and at other workplaces.

Lack of familiarity and compatibility of document formats between users who must collaborate between companies are reasons that businesses might revert back to Microsoft Office, said Karcher. That’s where the cost-savings are lost after money has already been funneled into user training.

Karcher said IT decision-makers will often ask themselves: “What’s the cost of going back on (Microsoft Office)?”

Jeremy Howell, a former IT manager and now IT consultant who owns Toronto-based Howell Consulting, uses Google Apps in his firm and that choice is working very well for his operations in terms of cost and functionality.

Howell said non-Microsoft alternatives such as Google Apps and OpenOffice are great for smaller companies, such as his own, or those not bound by strict industry regulations. Yet, he doesn’t believe such alternatives are scalable to large enterprises that must support a larger mass of users and adhere to industry regulations.

Google Apps’ collaboration capability, for instance, “is great in theory when they have five people in a dorm, but when dealing with large companies like law firms, they’re going to have document management in place. There are just too many bodies,” said Howell.

It’s understandable why some IT decision-makers might be concerned about having to revert back to a more traditional office productivity software, said Howell. Especially since most other people with whom an organization conducts business is also using Microsoft Office, he added.

“You’re making everyone else angry because you are not using the same thing as them,” said Howell.

In order to find that right balance of office productivity software use across an organization,

Karcher recommends identifying user types and segment them into light, regular and power users. Then, determine whether they require a full or light version of Microsoft Office, or a non-Microsoft alternative.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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