When it comes to enterprise software, the productivity suite is certainly not the sexiest set of applications. But it is arguably the most important. Those everyday mundane emails, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and reports are the lifeblood of any enterprise, and the tools required to produce them must be honed and ready.

A survey of IT pros and users conducted by BetterCloud found that two of the major players in productivity software, Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, continue to grow in popularity and continue to dominate the overall market. For example, some 35% of respondents have adopted Office 365 in the past year, a strong indication of Microsoft’s success in promoting its cloud-first, mobile-first strategy.

SaaS success

However, the survey does reveal some significant differences in how end users view Google Apps versus Microsoft Office 365. Google Apps users are more likely to take advantage of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) features than their counterparts who are using Office 365. Google Apps users are also more likely to perceive and acknowledge the benefits of those SaaS features.

One explanation for this perception discrepancy is the age of the user. The Millennials portion of an enterprise’s workforce are more likely to have used cloud-based software services and are also more likely to be comfortable with cloud-based computing.

According to BetterCloud CEO David Politis:

Age is a significant contributing factor to SaaS application use in many cases, but I think it will become less of an issue over time. As humans we tend to fight change; if something works why change it? I think that’s what’s happening to many seasoned employees when it comes to SaaS applications. Still, there seems to be a tipping point with technology and older generations — eventually they just “get it.” We’ve seen it with iPhones. We’ve seen it with Facebook. And we’re already seeing it with SaaS applications.

Younger employees are, for the most part, much quicker to take to technology as we all know. They grew up with it so learning how to use that next great SaaS application is just a minor speed bump. Microsoft and Google can really help themselves with the more seasoned workers by emphasizing user education and ease of use.

Beyond the age of users, there is also enterprise culture to consider. Many enterprises are entrenched in the tried-and-true desktop application method of productivity. Cloud computing, document sharing, and simultaneous collaboration are all relatively new concepts that will take time for many enterprises to fully adopt and accept.

But Politis thinks the need for collaboration will drive cultural change:

A company’s culture will definitely affect the degree to which they collaborate, but ultimately, the need to collaborate is the natural inclination of any good company and worker. We don’t consider email a product of a collaborative culture, yet it’s the most widely used collaboration tool on the planet. A rigid corporate culture can hold back on how, when, and whether SaaS applications will be used for collaboration, but actually, technology can (if implemented correctly) be a good catalyst for culture change.

Both Google and Microsoft see the modern enterprise workforce adapting to a mobile and dispersed world. They envision a workforce that doesn’t confine itself to the desktop–a world where any device, at any time, can be the tool they use to get work done. SaaS, collaboration on the go, and cloud-based computing all represent the inevitable evolution of a mobile workforce.

With that being said, Politis doesn’t expect that standalone Office 365 desktop apps will go away any time soon:

At some point, I do see Microsoft shifting development resources totally towards the SaaS version of their Office suite; however, they will still sell and support local versions for years to come. There are too many companies that rely on the local versions of the Office suite.

Bottom line

The survey results from BetterCloud are a further indication that the way work gets done in an enterprise setting is changing rapidly. The modern workforce is mobile, device independent, and more collaborative, so the productivity tools they use must adapt to that environment. Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 seem to be ahead of the curve in this regard.

Your take

Is your enterprise taking full advantage of these productivity tools? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.

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