Interview – Modern office systems for companies: Google G Suite versus Microsoft Office 365

Paul HerwarthAt first glance, the cloud-based office solutions Google G Suite and Microsoft Office 365 have a lot in common. Upon further inspection, though, you begin to notice differences between the two, both conceptually and functionally, which companies should take into account when choosing between the two.  You might be wondering, how do companies effectively evaluate and compare such cloud-based office solutions?

Here's an interview for Wissensmanagement.net with Paul Herwarth von Bittenfeld, expert for product management and product development at //SEIBERT/MEDIA.

Why do organizations move their office software to the cloud?

Well that's because traditional, locally-installed office software today often causes more problems than it solves. Companies want better digital collaboration, more efficient communication and higher quality information. They also want to get out of the flood of internal emails.

Taking this into consideration, traditional office documents are not just out-of-date, they are dead. They are static. They do not support collaboration on content. They get in the way of keeping information up-to-date. People share and discuss these static documents via email. Documents are scattered throughout mailboxes and several different versions circulate, all at different stages of creation.

Not to mention that format incompatibility problems are constantly highlighted. And don't forget about the potential security risks of distributing files with business-critical information with several different clients on several different servers, thereby offering many more points of attack.

Modern cloud solutions such as Office 365 or the G Suite help to combat these problems.

Deciding between Google and Microsoft, however, is often not an easy task.

One of the main reasons for this is because of the sheer scope of both of the solutions.

That's right. In many companies, the "Microsoft versus Google" question is fraught with emotion; it's discussed on a political level. When companies are making these difficult choices they need to consider many different aspects of how their business operates, from existing contracts, to the homogeneity of the existing IT landscape in the company, and also the different DNA of the solutions that they have to choose from. For example, while Microsoft can look back on decades of history with regard to productivity software, Google is an innovative alternative with a cloud-native solution and a collaborative approach.

How do you compare such software systems?

Many organizations use requirement catalogs and requirement specifications.

This is the simplest way to go about it, even if it is rarely effective in practice. Such requirement lists have a tendency to grow uncontrollably, to become longer and longer in order to cover every conceivable use case - regardless of whether employees really need them or not. Then decisions are sometimes made on the basis of a few exotic functions, which are hardly ever used by the majority of employees. Often the problem is that everyone is dealing with these kinds of lists, but nobody ever sits down with a team and really works with the software. Nobody has tried the solution in practice, least of all those who are supposed to work with it every day.

How would you go about setting up a more sensible approach?

It can be very helpful to gather practical experience in order to better learn how to use these systems at an early stage.

For example, it would be a good idea to develop the documents needed for a software implementation project. Or, with a smaller project team, they could go about benchmarking the various systems directly with an in-the-cloud solution. This allows you to quickly collect a large amount of assessment data of your target users and it even allows you to more easily take non-functional aspects such as usability or system performance into account.

When it comes to functional requirements, it can be helpful to use an electronic employee survey or interviews with people from different areas from within the company in order to get a clearer picture of the processes and use cases that are really important to them. This allows the evaluation criteria to be supplemented and prioritized more easily.

What are the most obvious differences between G Suite and Office 365?

Google has relied on browser technologies and mobile applications to create its Office solution from the ground up. You can see this not just when you interact with its components but also when you look at the technical maturity of the products as well.  Microsoft, on the other hand, comes from a classic office world with complex desktop applications, supplemented by server-based software such as Sharepoint. All of this had to be transferred and consolidated into the browser world for Office 365. You can still feel this in some cases, for example when working concurrently with others on documents.

And on a functional level?

While the same basic functionalities are, in large part, equally available in both worlds, the solutions provided by Microsoft are considered to be more function-rich as you get into the finer details. Google had to race in order to catch up with customer demands. Many things that Microsoft solutions could already do, however, have also found their way into G Suite in a modern and innovative way, which as a result has brought it into the role of innovation leader.

Google's development is based on the standards "smart, secure and simple". Considering this slogan, examples of "smart" and "simple" can be explained by the "smart replies" in Google Mail: Three compact response options are suggested to the user for incoming e-mails. If one of them fits, the user selects it and can, if they wish, modify the text and send it. More than ten percent of Gmail's email traffic is already sent via this option. And with Machine Learning (ML), the response suggestions are getting better and better. This is a smart solution that is also easy for the user and it saves a lot of time.

Isn't it a fundamental advantage for a company for most of their employees to know Microsoft Office but don't know G Suite?

A few years ago this was indeed the case - at least in Germany. Even today, about three quarters of all computer workstations are based on Windows. But there's two sides to the coin, now. 1.4 billion people in the world use Gmail, for example. Around two-thirds of the world's internet users use Google Chrome as their browser. Well over 80 percent of all mobile devices are based on Google. Therefore, it's already a fact that employees in companies already have a lot of experience with Google products through their private use. If a 20-year-old employee joins the company today, oftentimes they only have previous experience with Google. While older users tend to know mainly Microsoft and also Google Docs from their private use, many young people are only familiar with Google.

Some companies will say to themselves: "We've always used Microsoft, so we'll just stick with it." What's your reply?

If they have factual arguments to back it up, you can't object to this. In this case, I wish Office 365 every success, and I'm not being sarcastic. But if their main argument is "because we've always done it this way," then I'd invite them to reflect a little more. These are counterproductive arguments, and they've been used to hinder all kinds of innovations such as automobiles, telephones and the internet. The most important question is: How can our software products help us meet the demands of the future? We have already seen many organizations that, after a brief introduction to the range of services offered by the G Suite, have found that, upon further review, they feel as though it would do them some good to make a serious comparison between Office 365 and the G Suite after all.

In short, what is G Suite's greatest strength?

G Suite focuses on making collaboration easy through modern technology. And through Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), it's offering more and more services and functionalities, making it an increasingly effective tool for enabling significant productivity gains.

And Office 365?

Microsoft has the advantages of many years of experience in the business customer sector as well as a high degree of penetration in organizations, and these are certainly points that are prompting many companies to take the evolutionary step from their existing desktop applications to Office 365. The very existence of desktop applications is often seen as a great strength.

At a time when markets are constantly being shaken by essential changes, however, management should also consider whether evolutionary changes are the right step. Around 70 percent of the most innovative and promising organizations on the "Forbes Cloud 100 List" use G Suite. And in my opinion this is no coincidence.

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Are you interested in using G Suite to collaborate at work? If you have any questions about Google Cloud or apps within G Suite, get in contact with us! We are an official Google Cloud Partner and would be delighted to provide obligation-free advice about how to best introduce G Suite into your company and use it productively.

Further information

G Suite vs. Office 365 – Which offers the best privacy features?
Why large companies and organizations are choosing Google G Suite