Microsoft Office Paradox – everyone uses but nobody cares

The title sounds negative. Please don’t get offended. Don’t take it personally.

This is based on what I have seen and experienced while coaching over 210,000 users globally over the last 11 years. Let me complete the sentence “everyone uses but nobody cares whether it is being used fully and appropriately across the organization

And of course, I am not just complaining. I will also provide a solution approach.

The context

In this article, when I say “Office” I actually mean Microsoft Office. Whatever I have written here applies to the Office client. The same concept also applies to server products like SharePoint, Lync, Exchange and so on. But the primary objective of discussion is Office client. Why so? Because all the server products assume that the users are using Office well – in an effective, appropriate and efficient manner!

Who is “nobody” – this is an important thing to understand. I am talking about people within the organization who purchased Office (or Office 365). I am NOT talking about Microsoft or training partners. They cannot do much INSIDE an organization unless someone approaches them with training or adoption requirements. WHO should approach them – that is the “Nobody” we are talking about.

Office is omnipresent

This is not a sales pitch. I don’t sell Office (or any other software for that matter). This is the reality. You can assume that every desktop will have some version of Office. In recent times some competing products may also have crept in. But it is indeed rare to find a PC without Office.

The last official figure of Office usage I heard from Microsoft was that they have

Now, all of us know that there is piracy. Some places are more prone to it than others. But I think the global average is in the range of 50-60 %. I have not checked specific references, but let us go with these numbers for this discussion.

Which means the actual user count is much more than ONE BILLION. Let us move on.

Office consumes significant amount of cost

Nowadays, Office can be purchased in three ways (oversimplification for the purpose of this discussion). One is retail – you go and buy a box (or download) from a shop or online. Second is corporate where you buy various type of licenses. And third is use Office 365 – where you don’t pay for the license life long – you just pay monthly rental charges (for every user).

In either case, there is significant expense associated with procuring Office tools. From a financial perspective, buying licenses is a capital expenditure where as subscribing to Office 365 is an operational expenditure. In either case, it is an expense and therefore, there must be some return on investment established and cross checked.

Office cost gets multiplied for every user. Therefore, even if the unit cost is not as high as server products, the combined cost is significant.

In short, lot of money is spent in purchasing Office.

We spend lot of time using Office every day

I usually ask this question in every session I conduct. The average time spent across products is anywhere between 3 to 4 hours per day per person. That is a very significant time. Almost everyone uses Office (Except shop-floor or field staff). Therefore, whatever commercial output is produced by any company (or nation for that matter), a significant portion happens using Office tools. In fact this includes government employees as well.

What is the point?

The point is that – almost everyone uses Office, spends a lot of money and time on using it.

Why spend so much? What is the benefit?

That is an obvious question – not just for Office related investment (time and money), but for every type of business expenditure. We spend on so many things to run the business like staff, insurance, raw material, facilities, infrastructure and so on.

In each case there is someone who is entrusted with the job of ensuring that every investment has a proven and tangible benefit associated with it. In case the initial promise of benefit is not fulfilled we quickly find alternatives and switch vendors or products. This type of ROI estimation, calculation, audit, monitoring and corrective action is ingrained into the psyche of every organization – from a one-man-show consultant to a global industry leader. There are specific teams / departments who are monitoring these things on a regular basis.

How do you get return on investment?

Depending upon the product / service in question, this question can have infinite answers. But at a generic level, it is a simple enough thought process. Roles or departments concerned with the activity are shown in brackets.

  1. At the evaluation stage ensure that there is proven benefit associated with the product (Finance + Related Business Group)
  2. Make sure that all the people who are supposed to consume the product / service know how to use it (Learning and Development)
  3. Prevent common mistakes (L&D, Audit)
  4. Create standard operating procedures to ensure repeatable and replicable usage (HR, Business Group, Process Reengineering, Quality)
  5. Use the product / tool / equipment / service to the fullest extent so that it delivers the promised benefits (R&D, L&D, Subject Matter Experts, COE)
  6. Quantify the benefits (Finance, Business Group)
  7. Review, analyze and audit the usage and outcomes to find out if there is further improvement possible (Process Improvement, TQM, Quality)
  8. Constantly look for newer ways of

How is Office used?

To summarize, Office is a significant investment in terms of time and money – every one uses it every day. Therefore, we must have the above process of maximizing ROI fully established for Microsoft Office related benefits maximization.

RIGHT? Absolutely WRONG.

Who is responsible for ensuring maximum ROI from Office?

After interacting with the 1800+ organizations, the answer is – NOBODY.

On the face of it, there are two obvious entities responsible.

IT is responsible for the technical part and HR (Learning and Development) is responsible with the skills transfer. Usually, nobody is given the task of evaluating the usage, ROI and continuous improvement.

The role of IT

IT is responsible for evaluation, license procurement, migration planning, compatibility testing, desktop image creation, installation, patching, maintenance and troubleshooting.

They do it well.
At least for the current article let us accept that. We will discuss the role of IT and the associated lacunae in a separate article at a later date.

The role of HR

L&D department usually does create some kind of sessions around the launch of new version of Office. They also have Office training included as a part of their training calendar. However, Office is a unique product – everyone thinks they know it. And users often think upgrade as a nuisance rather than an improvement. Therefore, in practice, many Office training courses don’t even fill up.

When seats go vacant, the HR team naturally tries to conserve their budget and moves into a guarded stance. They go into reactive mode saying that the training for Office tools will be arranged only when users ask for it.

Needless to say, nobody from user side asks for Office training – at least not in significant numbers. Therefore, training programs are hardly conducted.

Adoption / Consumption related activities

These activities occur around the time when there is a new version being rolled out (Office, SharePoint, Office 365, Lync, etc.)

There may be some brown-bag sessions, posters, contests, auditorium sessions, and various other excitement generation events. These are good activities and they do generate some curiosity and learning. No doubt.

But the impact and interest it generates is usually short lived. All the desire to learn and explore dies soon and everyone is back to their “comfort zone”.

When is the audit done?

You bought something, did some internal marketing and followed it up with training modules. All very nice. But shouldn’t someone review the benefits accrued, the new features used, efficiency gain achieved due to the new version of Office (or even old version for that matter).

Unfortunately, this is never done. In fact many people don’t even know how to quantify efficiency gain related to Office usage! There are some calculators around. But in general those are used more in the pre-sales stage rather than for a factual audit of accrued results.

This is probably the only instance of significant time and money being spent on a product with not even an attempt to quantify the long term (or short term) benefit.
Strange, but true.

More importantly,

In short, nobody cares about Office – officially!

What is the solution?

Here is the solution: There must be some entity whose job is to maximize the efficiency gain using Office for every user. How to do it? By understanding what the product has to offer and mapping it to user needs.

But before this can happen, there is another problem to be resolved. What is that? Let me explain.

I have conducted thousands of sessions for over 210,000 people (as on today – when this article was written). You must be thinking that I get a great reception and a standing ovation when I go into a room full of people.

You are wrong. In the next article, I will explain what goes on in the minds of people who have come to attend the Office Efficiency session. That thought process will lead closer to understanding the Office ROI issue and finding a practical solution.

Sad smile

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