Study: Do We Really Use Microsoft Office All That Much?

The popular productivity suite remains an workplace standby—and a cash cow for Microsoft—but a recent study suggests that many offices could get away with buying fewer copies of Microsoft Office and instead go for cheaper alternatives.

When was the last time you opened PowerPoint? OK, how about Excel?

Based on a recent study by the software-as-a-service company SoftWatch, we don’t use these products quite as much as we’d like to think—and, considering their cost, businesses might want to take a different approach as a result. More details:

While Microsoft did a smart marketing move by bundling Office applications into one package, the study shows that the actual need, in most cases, is for standalone applications.

Less time than we think: As part of the company’s three-month analysis [PDF] of 51 global companies representing nearly 150,000 employees, the company found that roughly 70 percent of users analyzed were relying on Office apps for fairly small parts of their day. The most popular app in the Office suite, Outlook, got about 33 minutes of usage per day, on average. But that represented 68 percent of our total usage of the Microsoft Office suite, with Excel representing 8 minutes per day, and Word and PowerPoint representing 5 minutes or less—each.

Varies by employee type: The company’s benchmark [PDF] went further, breaking down usage into different categories—heavy users, light editors, document viewers, or inactive. This more granular take exposed that usage of various apps was nonexistent in many cases. In the case of Excel and Word, 29 percent of users either never used the apps, or only used them for viewing documents; in PowerPoint’s case, this number was around 70 percent. All three apps have far more light users than heavy ones—with only 2 percent of PowerPoint users described as being heavy users.

What this means for businesses: In a list of observations, the company notes that Office’s dominance in the workplace is something of a side effect of the tech giant’s decision to bundle the apps into a suite, rather than a realistic need for those specific apps. “While Microsoft did a smart marketing move by bundling Office applications into one package, the study shows that the actual need, in most cases, is for standalone applications,” the company stated. “Now that an alternative to MS Office is emerging, we believe that enterprises should consider this alternative seriously as the magnitude of change in transitioning to the cloud is less than perceived and the ROI is high.” The company recommends considering cloud services, such as Google Apps, to replace the need for people who only need to use Office on a limited basis, as well as renegotiating licenses for those who still need to use Microsoft Office on a regular basis.

In comments to TechWorld on the study, SoftWatch emphasized that it is an agnostic party when it comes to this kind of analysis—while it has contracts with Google Apps resellers due to that platform’s popularity, ultimately its business model relies on analyzing how companies use different pieces of software in the workplace, allowing companies to better optimize their software license buying, saving money in the process.

“We believe that this kind of analytics might become a game changer,” CEO Uri Arad said.

A model demonstrates a touchscreen at the Microsoft Office 2013 launch event. (photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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