Study: Microsoft Office applications barely used by many employees

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Organisations are wasting money licensing Microsoft Office applications that the majority of employees barely use, a study released this week by application analytics startup SoftWatch has found. Conclusion: many users could easly be migrated to far cheaper cloud applications such as Google Apps.

The firm carried out a 3-month analysis of Office suite use in 51 global firms representing 148,500 employees, revealing that seven out of ten employees weren’t using any single application heavily, launching them only for viewing or light editing.

The average employee spent only 48 minutes per day using Office, largely the Outlook email client, which consumed about 68 percent of that activity. Excel was in second place with 17 percent, or an average of 8 minutes per day, leaving Word and PowerPoint trailing with only 5 minutes and 2 minutes per day each.

That email is popular and spreadsheets and presentations less so is not a surprise. The latter are occasional applications that non-specialist employees use only when they really have to and their importance can’t necessarily be measured in terms of how often they are used so much as the impact that use has.

Is Office essential?

For Word, that sort of rationalisation gets harder to explain. Five minutes a day was a poor showing for an application Microsoft would like enterprises to believe is essential to the work day.

SoftWatch also looked more deeply at how people were using each application by dividing users into four categories; heavy users, light editors, viewers (i.e. people who looked at documents but did nothing else) and inactive users who didn’t use the program at all.

Here the results were even more stark, with 29 percent of users either never using Excel/Word or only using it to view documents; for PowerPoint the percentage was an astonishing 70 percent. For Word, a further 62 percent were classed as light users, while another 53 percent of Excel users fell into this category.

As to PowerPoint, it was easier in the end to say who was using it than who wasn’t - only about one in twenty could described as heavy users even when applying a low threshold of what defined this type of usage.

What the study seems to be telling us is that the age of the all-purpose Office suite based on monolithic licensing has probably had its day because most users simply don’t use applications often enough to justify the cost. Exactly what model replaces it is where things become more complex.

Recommendation: choose Google Apps instead

In SoftWatch’s view, the obvious answer is that organisations should start by moving inactive users - 70 percent in the case of Word and 30 percent for Excel - off those applications in favour of cheaper alternatives such as Google Apps. Light users - those using the applications for viewing or barely at all - could eventually follow, potentially saving large sums of money in licensing costs.

The challenge is working out who those people are, which is where Softwatch’s Application Usage Analytics SaaS service comes in, the firm said. It could analyse who was using what and for how long over a given period.

“By uncovering the fact that MS Office applications are actually used much less than had been thought, SoftWatch removes the fear and doubt that traps decision makers when it comes to transitioning from Microsoft to Google Apps,” said CEO, Uri Arad.

“For the first time they will have real data enabling them to make intelligent decisions about transitioning to Google Apps, enjoy the benefits of an alternative cloud-based solution and significantly cut their software license spending.The analytics provided by SoftWatch are a real game-changer in the competition between Google and Microsoft over enterprise office and collaboration tools.”

SoftWatch currently has agreements with Google Apps resellers because this represented the obvious migration path but SoftWatc was, in essence, agnostic, he emphasised. The system was also capable of monitoring any on-premises application and not just Office.

After stripping out unnecessary licensing Office licenses, organisations were left with a hybrid environment, part cloud, part desktop Office.

“We believe that this kind of analytics might become a game changer,” said Arad. He predicted that in future the analysis of application usage would underpin all software licensing decisions.

So far, SoftWatch is alone in the market for this kind of service although that is unlikely to remain true if organisations starts assessing cloud application migration in more detail. What Microsoft thinks of this kind of system is probably unprintable but with the cloud-oriented Nadella in charge, the slow death of desktop licensing is probably now seen as inevitable anyway. How the firm competes with Google’s Apps will depend on what it can offer itself through systems such as Office 365.

This story, "Study: Microsoft Office applications barely used by many employees" was originally published by

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