How to break free from traditional desktop productivity

Over the last few years, the acceptance of cloud platforms in business has opened up opportunities for employees to work differently. We investigate

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In spite of great strides being made towards seamless cloud-based collaboration, email remains the preferred way through which ideas are exchanged in business.

The experts Computer Weekly recently spoke to believe that while it’s not going away, organisations must break free from traditional office productivity and embrace a new collaborative approach to sharing ideas.

In its latest quarterly filing, Microsoft reported that Office 365 commercial revenue grew 25%, driven by installed base growth across all workloads and customer segments.

According to the transcript of the earnings call posted on the Seeking Alpha financial blogging site, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella mentioned opportunities of collaboration twice during the 54-minute call.

“Microsoft Teams continues to gain traction, bringing together everything a team needs; chat, voice, meetings, collaboration with the power of office and business process workflow into a single integrated user experience, all with the highest security and compliance,” said Nadella.

“Teams keeps all of your work, conversations and meetings in context, eliminating the need to bounce back and forth between different apps with features such as integrated calendaring and one touch to join meetings from your phone.”

Microsoft is the incumbent, delivering cloud collaborations to on-premise Microsoft Office customers. The challenge it faces is that the core suite delivers everything that its predecessor did, which means people can carry on using a familiar toolset.

Read more about collaboration tools

Backwards compatibility has always been one of Microsoft’s strengths. But as it tries to shift organisations to consider new approaches to working, such compatibility can mean workers choose to use the tools they are familiar with, rather than try the newer collaborative offerings in the Office 365 suite.

In Forrester’s Total economic impact study, commissioned by Google, interviewees described a number of strategic initiatives they wanted to address. Top of the list was the need to reinvent the way they worked.

Forrester found that the organisations it spoke to felt pressure internally and externally to modernise their businesses.

Forrester also reported that pressure to remain competitive in their markets, as well as expectations from prospective employees, drove organisations to reconsider their legacy tools.

One senior vice-president of technology in financial services told Forrester: “We had to reimagine how we work. Our industry is being disrupted, and if we continue to do things the way we always have ... we may survive, but we won’t be as competitive as we need to be in this changing landscape.”

The Forrester study also found that the organisations it spoke to realise that without the right tools, it was difficult for employees to meet or exceed the ever-increasing demands of their customers.

A chief of digital transformation in the financial services industry said: “We were launching all these digital products for our customers and realised we needed to do the same with our employees. We wanted to give our people the technology they needed to be successful.”

Content collaboration platforms

Google, along with Microsoft, Box, DropBox and Cisco, lead Gartner’s magic quadrant for content collaboration platforms. Such platforms aim to provide organisations with a way to enable staff to collaborate more efficiently.

But there is a major cultural barrier that needs to be overcome. Describing the challenge, Peter Jensen, chief of digital innovation at Moleskine, which uses Dropbox Paper, recently told Computer Weekly: “There is a very real sense that a PowerPoint presentation is a corporate document, and must be perfect in every way. Everything needs to be super-perfect.”

His remark has nothing to do with the ability of PowerPoint in Office 365 to support content collaboration; it does this perfectly well through document sharing on OneDrive, Box and DropBox. The challenge for Jensen is that a PowerPoint slide deck is not often regarded as a work-in-progress discussion document.

This can mean that work colleagues focus less on the actual idea being presented, and more on how it is presented: the typeface and font size, the corporate colours used and content that, arguably, may be peripheral to the core idea.

When Jensen spoke to Computer Weekly, he said that if people are encouraged to discuss ideas in an open and collaborative environment, they are less likely to feel deflated by colleagues making suggestions.

Since they did not need to spend days creating a perfect presentation, they are less likely to feel disheartened, said Jensen.

Diane Chaleff, the G-Suite lead in the office of the CTO in Google cloud, said: “At Google, we think about how different tools are appropriate when you are working on a project. You may ping over an idea; start work on a Google Doc, then switch to Chat. In the future, it may still be important to have very structured meetings, but it will also be really important to have a quick five minute video call, rather than waiting for a formal meeting. Depending on the intensity of the project and where you are, it’s important to have the right tools.”

Changing office productivity

G-Suite has been designed from the bottom up to be a browser-based document sharing platform, which runs on any platform. Microsoft Office is more feature-rich and seems to have better support for intranet-based collaboration and enterprise social media. Both suites are more than capable of performing most document creation and editing tasks.

However, both of these suites need to be used in the right way in order to deliver business value. Chief technology advisor Mark Ridley, who previously held CTO positions at recruitment site and Blenheim Chalcot, said that the challenge in business is how to increase organisational knowledge.

“I’ve seen some big businesses using PowerPoint slides to store CVs,” he said. “This is totally useless and cannot be searched.”

Ridley recently switched one organisation from Microsoft Office to G-Suite and another from G-Suite to Microsoft Office. Both office productivity suites have functionality parity. His opinion is that the Google product has stronger sharing capabilities, while Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 is integrated with SharePoint and Teams, providing better real time chat and intranet functionality.

“Microsoft has the legacy and a far more complete feature set. G-Suite has about 80% of the functionality of Microsoft Office,” said Ridley. “But I’ve seen even heavy Microsoft Excel spreadsheet users run on Google Sheets after a day or so.”

However, from a CIO perspective, it’s not the functionality of the rival products that is important, according to Ridley. “Switching office productivity tools leads to a massive cultural change,” he said. “There is an opportunity to sit down and try to understand what you really need, looking at the requirements of finance, human resources and other business teams.”

He recommends that IT decision makers assess how the switch in office productivity toolset can be used to make a genuine change in business processes.

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