Five enterprise software suites to enhance productivity
We take a look at five enterprise software suites that promise to cut costs while helping increase employee productivity
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First released in: 1990
Latest version: Office 2016, Office 365
Number of users: 1.2 billion
Pricing: Rs525 per user/month for the Business Premium Edition
Microsoft Corp. is unequivocally considered the 800-pound gorilla of the enterprise productivity tools market. At its Build 2016 conference in San Francisco on 31 March 2016, Qi Lu, executive vice president of applications and services group at Microsoft, said, “Today, we have 1.2 billion users using all versions of Office products. In the cloud we have well more than 60 million users, monthly active users on Office 365 commercial cloud, and growing very rapidly.”
Cloud computing is a pay-per-use subscription model that allows companies to access software tools remotely on a network, typically the Internet. Microsoft offers a one-time licensing product, the latest version being Office 2016, and the cloud subscription-based Office 365. Microsoft has been able to retain its lead and momentum in the enterprise market. The firm launched its cloud-based version, Office 365, in 2010, and piggybacked on the dominance it has in the enterprise desktop operating system (OS) market with its Windows OS. Tighter integration of Office with Windows and the familiarity of both these software among corporate workers across the globe are strengths that Microsoft has played to its advantage.
According to Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst and chief executive of Greyhound Research, Microsoft has added significant muscle in making its software interoperable with that of other firms. Integrations of other Microsoft products into Office—such as Skype for Business (the video conferencing tool) and Power BI (the business intelligence tool)—are plus points for technology decision makers in making a purchase decision. But he cautions that some of these integrations may work more smoothly in the offline mode than in online versions. One of the core strengths of Microsoft Office is that it is trusted and used by many large enterprises, says Jon Lee, CEO of ProsperWorks—a company that provides customer relationship management software. Lee, however, cautions that Microsoft may be losing traction in the small and medium business (SMB) segment, particularly with “younger businesses.” (bit.ly/2dXbHEf)
GOOGLE G SUITE
First released in: 2006 (as Apps for Your Domain)
Latest version: G Suite
Number of users: 1 billion (for Gmail)
Pricing: $10 (approximately Rs660) per user/month for G Suite Business
Google Inc. has been consistently trying to gain a foothold in the enterprise market by building on the popularity of its email application, Gmail—the most recent attempt being Google G Suite, earlier called Google Apps for Work. G Suite is a bundle of connected applications including Gmail, Hangout (for chat), Drive (for storage), and Docs (for word processing).
Unlike Microsoft Office, G Suite is a digital native—born in the cloud. Gmail, part of the suite, has over 1 billion monthly active users, according to the company’s December 2015 quarter earnings call. Google is now realising the importance of highlighting the integration of the different components of the suite as well as wooing companies with better management control and support. The emphasis on the enterprise-scale capabilities of Google Cloud, of which G Suite is one of the key components, stems from the fact that it has been primarily individual users and SMBs (small-and medium-size businesses)—not large enterprises—that have embraced applications from Google.
Analysts concur. Research firm Gartner Inc. said on 1 February that “Google’s popularity is better among smaller companies, approaching a 50% share of companies with revenue less than $50 million”. According to Alok Shende, founder and director of Ascentius Consulting, a strategy consulting and analytics service firm, Google has been getting “very aggressive in the market with its enterprise apps offerings”. “What Google did was to find out whether Office 365 was actually being used by enterprises to a full extent or were there any gaps, what features were most in demand, etc. Based on this knowledge, Google figured out its own enterprise approach and pricing,” he said. To keep its edge, Google has been improving its machine learning (the ability of a machine to teach itself from mountains of data without the need for programming) capabilities. For instance, Google’s Smart Reply that offers auto-generated replies for emails uses machine intelligence, a capability that is now being extended across G Suite.
First released in: 2002 (as StarOffice, open-sourced version)
Latest version: LibreOffice 5.2.2
Number of users: 100 million
A project of The Document Foundation, this office suite based on open source code was forked from OpenOffice.org in 2010 along with Apache OpenOffice. Revenue for open source software, where the core code is shared among a community of developers, usually comes by way of value additions and tech support rather than outright sale of licences.
OpenOffice.org was an open-source version of the erstwhile StarOffice productivity suite, which Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle Corporation) acquired in 1999.
Sun open-sourced StarOffice in 2000 and released the first version as a competing product to Microsoft’s Office in May 2002.
Oracle stopped development of OpenOffice.org in April 2011, by which time most of the developers had aligned themselves either to The Document Foundation, a newly formed group, or the Apache Software Foundation.
LibreOffice is the more widely used of the two open-source office suites.
According to numbers released on 11 November 2015 by Collabora Ltd—a UK-based consultancy specialising in open-source solutions—there are over 100 million people actively using LibreOffice worldwide (bit.ly/2dDEnnL).
The suite, which is used by 18 governments, supports 189 file types and is commercially available in 21 countries.
The software is available for download in several Indian languages as well, including Hindi, Gujarati and Bengali (bit.ly/2d74wqS).
Reviewing LibreOffice 5.0 on TechRepublic.com (the latest version is 5.2.2), Jack Wallen writes, “Don’t let the UI (user interface) stop you from downloading and installing the latest from LibreOffice.
This is, by far, the best release the open-source office suite has ever had. Period. And, outside of the UI, I can safely say (without hesitation or doubt) that LibreOffice is ready to shine in both business and personal usage.” (tek.io/2dqvVVP)
So while there’s criticism of the UI, LibreOffice remains a very strong contender in the office suites market.
First released in: 2005 (as Zoho Writer)
Latest version: Zoho Docs
Number of users: 20 million (all Zoho products combined)
Pricing: Free for up to 25 users; Rs480 per user/month for Premium edition
Chennai-based Zoho Corporation Pvt. Ltd has been generating quite a buzz in the start-up and software ecosystems, not just in India but in many advanced economies, too. According to the company’s website, Zoho, its eponymous integrated suite of cloud-based apps ranging from a document writer to customer relationship management to social collaboration, crossed the 20-million user mark this year. The firm took almost 20 years to reach this milestone; it began operations in 1996 as AdventNet Inc. and its initial work was on network management. But its growth has been fast in recent years: global users rose from 13 million in 2014 to 15 million in 2015 and 20 million in 2016 (and counting).
Ever since it jumped onto the cloud bandwagon—as early as 2005—with its Zoho Writer app, the company’s future direction was set for years to come. The same year saw it launch Zoho CRM; next year came Zoho Sheet (spreadsheet app), followed by a string of other business applications over the years.
Two key strengths that Zoho touts aggressively are an unwavering focus on cloud computing and a tighter-than-tight integration of all its apps so that they work seamlessly in tandem (not unlike what Microsoft also claims and is known for). So much so that it believes itself to be “more than the sum of its parts”.
Zoho is known to run on its own software tools, typically for a year or so, before they are offered to potential customers. This proof-of-the-pudding-in-the-eating approach helps it generate word of mouth and, of course, sales.
The company recently revamped its word processing tool and other office suite products to more aggressively compete in the market, particularly with Google G Suite.
According to a 19 April 2016, report on ForbesIndia.com, “Users who are familiar with Google Docs will probably take to Zoho Writer with enthusiasm, as it brings a similar clutter-free approach to creating documents. Other useful features include the ability to mask portions containing sensitive information and still securely share the document.” (bit.ly/2dIjxpw)
First released in: 1989 (as Lotus Notes 1.0)
Latest version: IBM Notes 9.0.1
Number of users: 36 million
Once a dominant email and collaborative applications company, IBM appears to be at the crossroads ever since the company dropped the Lotus name from Lotus Notes in 2012 (IBM had acquired Lotus Development Corp., the erstwhile owner of Lotus Notes software, in 1995 for $3.5 billion).
According to a 27 January post on PlanetLotus.org by Peter Presnell, chief executive of Red Pill Now—an application modernisation and web development company in the US, IBM stopped quoting the Notes licences sold around 2009, when the numbers reached 150 million (bit.ly/2eiEFSb).
“At the end of 2015 it is estimated that IBM had 36,000 active Notes/Domino customers, each having an average of 1,000 user licenses at an average license fee of $25 per user per annum. This equates to annual revenue of $900 million,” Presnell writes.
He adds that at a time when estimated expenditure on email is growing by around 20%, “it is believed IBM’s revenue for Notes is falling at a rate of 10%”.
According to Presnell, IBM’s market share for Notes peaked at 60% in 2006 and has steadily fallen to 12% (as of 2015) while Microsoft’s market share has grown over the same time to 80%.
The bottomline is that IBM may still be milking some money out of the existing but declining number of Notes installations globally. But the direction in which enterprises are shifting their email and office productivity priorities points away from Notes.
IBM, meanwhile, has bet $100 million on Verse, which it touts as an “innovative messaging solution that incorporates built-in analytics to give people a new way to connect, communicate and find the right people and information fast” (ibm.co/2dF6V2F).
IBM is additionally pushing its so-called “business social network platform”—Connections—which is available on-premises or as software as a service on IBM Cloud.
Given that it’s early days for these two new tools from the repertoire of Big Blue, the jury is still out on whether they can make IBM cool again in this space.