KylemcnabbBy Kyle McNabb

Yep, you read it right. Face it, you can’t move off of Microsoft Office. Why? You know more about different technology alternatives to Microsoft Office than you know how your own people work — and not just with Office, but how they work. And I understand why, technology is tangible — you can see Google Apps in action, you can play with Zoho, and you can see how IBM’s Symphony product integrates with Notes. But, understanding how a remote account representative, or how a research engineer actually works with technology is difficult. What questions do you ask? How should you ask them? And should you just focus on what they do at work? What about how they use technology (some of which you gave them, namely Microsoft Office) at home?

Plus, workers are changing, and the lines between how we use technology at home and at work have all but vanished. And while those of us in North America – even Western Europe — find ourselves using Microsoft technology at both work and home, information workers in China, India, and other developing areas may not. Some vendors see this as an opportunity. Desktop productivity as a service vendor Zoho recently established a partnership with China’s largest online distributor with hopes of tackling this growing market. And others will follow — including Microsoft with their own brand of online services. People in these developing areas, plus many in North America and Western Europe, will use these alternatives to Office outside of work. Eventually, thanks to Technology Populism trends, they’ll bring them into work on their own. But how do you find out what they use and if they’ll bring it into the enterprise?

You want to move your people (even just some of them) off of Microsoft Office? You want to embrace the changing way information workers work? You better learn how to segment your people based on role, the type of work they do, where they work, how they work, AND understand how they use technology both at work and at home. Without this knowledge, Microsoft’s in the driver’s seat. At least ride shotgun by understanding how your people work.

Having this knowledge does work. I’ve seen good examples of enterprises moving at least some people off of Microsoft Office and onto an alternative (such as Sun StarOffice or even a ‘cloud’ based alternative). They’ve been able to do so because they understood how these, granted small, populations of people worked. In most of these cases the enterprise has only moved non-information workers (such as line workers, or people in retail locations) to Microsoft Office alternatives. Why? They tend to be easier to identify and segment from the varying groups of information workers that exist in any enterprise. Moving higher cost information workers, such as financial analysts, may be very difficult, but it may not be impossible if you know how they work.

While we now have more choice in desktop productivity software, the reality is you don’t have a simple either/or choice regarding Microsoft Office. Instead, really taking advantage of this choice in the enterprise requires a different skill set — and you don’t have it. You better build it, and fast.