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Choosing a Productivity Suite: Options and Considerations



Microsoft Office is the most well-known and widely used productivity suite, used by more than 90 percent of organizations according to a study from Forrester Research. Office costs more than other solutions and most users don’t utilize the vast majority of its features. Still, the familiarity people have with Microsoft Office, along with file and browser compatibility, has helped make it the most popular productivity suite in the workplace.

In addition to its traditional Office product, Microsoft offers Office 365, a cloud-based version of Office that can be accessed from desktop and mobile devices. At its recent SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft announced several upcoming enhancements to Office 365, including social sharing and artificial intelligence capabilities.

As dominant as Microsoft continues to be in the workplace, other productivity suites from Google and Apple continue to grow in popularity. Google Apps for Business is a cloud-based productivity suite that utilizes popular Google apps such as Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Sheets and Slides. There are several key differences between Google Apps and Office 365:

  • Google Apps offers a simpler pricing plan – one monthly or yearly rate – compared to Office 365’s variety of plans based on the number of users and features.
  • Google can use your information for advertising, while Microsoft will not scan or share your data.
  • Microsoft provides 50GB of storage space and data backup, while Google Apps provides 30GB of storage and does not back up data by default.
  • Office 365 offers desktop apps for core programs in some plans, while Google Apps is strictly browser-based.

Another alternative is Apple iWork, which comes free with every new Mac, iPad and iPhone. Programs can also be purchased for $9.99 on existing devices and require no monthly fees – a major difference between iWork and Office and Google Apps. Unveiled in October 2013, the newest version of iWork brings together Apple productivity apps such as Pages, Numbers and Keynote and enables collaboration through iCloud, even if you’re using a PC.

Early reviews point to compatibility complexities when importing Office documents, particularly formatting issues with Word documents in Pages. Although it offers important features that most users will utilize, iWork did remove certain functionality to build a more compatible productivity suite, which has ruffled the feathers of many long-time Apple users.

Before you choose a productivity suite, assess your existing software, programs and applications. What is working well? What is lacking? What features are used most and least often? For example, modern collaboration tools enable real-time communication, including the exchange and editing of files, and could be used to speed decision-making and customer service. If your employees are spending more time working remotely, it may be time to switch to a cloud-based solution. Again, you’ll need to evaluate your existing infrastructure to make sure it will support cloud services.

Finally, pay attention to the rumblings from Microsoft. Microsoft is reportedly considering unbundling Office components to appeal to those who don’t want to pay for the entire suite of programs and services. Also, a new, lower-cost Office 365 subscription plan could be a sign that an iPad version is in the works, and efforts are underway to make the product “smarter” with a learning application that will provide insights about how Office 365 is used.