Why It Matters When a Business Switches from Office to Google Apps Pixabay

Why It Matters When a Business Switches from Office to Google Apps

The big reveal in the article "Google Grabs Nielsen as Business Apps User From Microsoft" comes a few paragraphs down: 

Younger workers help. [Nielsen CIO Kim] Anstett said around 60 percent of Nielsen’s employees are under 35, an age group that’s familiar with Gmail and Google Docs. That convinced executives to spring for the paid versions. 

"Those millennials are coming to Nielsen with experience coming up on Google," she said. "We’re actually seeing that as a great recruiting tool."

And when I read that, I muttered, "Of course." I volunteer with teenagers and any time they want to share a document for editing, it's in Google Docs. They would literally never think of emailing me an attachment when they can just text me the link to what they view as a collaborative, situational workspace

Anyone who is coming into a workplace brings with them a set of tech expectations they formed while they were in school, and those expectations shape what tech breaks big and what tech withers away.

This is true for people who went to school in the 1980s: We were raised on Apple machines in the school libraries and as adults, we've normalized the expectations that friendly UIs are preferable to the (admirably direct) command line, and that the product design is as much a component of the tech experience as what the tech itself can actually do. And this is true for people who went to school in the 1990s: They had the World Wide Web as a resource, they default to searching over file-folder hierarchy, and they're the ones who pushed us all toward the cloud via their normalization of file sharing and online storage.

Now we're seeing what 2000-era students want at work: collaborative workspaces, streamlined iterations of classic spreadsheet and word processor apps, and the unquestioning assumption that of course you'll be able to easily schedule, mail, edit, collaborate or import any information. The model is wonderfully simple: The information is not married to any specific app -- it lives in a cloud attached to a user ID, and the user manipulates the information as they need it.

Mind you, one company choosing Google Apps over Microsoft Office hardly heralds the end of Microsoft's dominance. As the Bloomberg article points out, "Google’s package of workplace productivity tools, G Suite, is a distant second, while Microsoft commands nearly four times the market share, according to Gartner Inc."

But look at the composition of the U.S. workforce. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down the U.S. workforce. Here's how it shakes out when you look at the number of under-35s in the workforce vs the over-35s: there are 52.7 million employed people under 35 compared to 98.7 million between ages 36 and 65+. The latter group is only going to keep getting older and aging out of the workforce (toward, one hopes, a well-earned retirement) 34.4 million of them are already north of age 55. The 50 million-plus cohort under age 35 are the people raised on Google products in the schools. Gradually, they'll erase the Microsoft Office default because they will not see a point in switching to an entirely new vendor and user experience.

If you've ever wondered why any tech company bothered with the educational market, this is why. Microsoft's initial advantages in the workplace are being gently eroded by successive waves of workers raised on Apple machines and now Google products. If you've wondered why Microsoft is renewing its attention in this market, it's because they want to grab the mindshare Google has. And what a mindshare it is: Comparatively cheap hardware plus easily accessible apps plus easy administration? No wonder cash-strapped school districts have rushed toward Google. Google now accounts for 58% of the educational hardware market, the New York Times reported.

However, Microsoft has an extraordinary opportunity to take a long view here. It may not have lost the chance to form the default tech assumptions among the incoming workforces of the 2020s and 2030s. What do you think the Xbox is but a chance to educate generations on augmented reality and touch as dominant user interfaces instead of bells-and-whistles supplements? And I wouldn't count out Minecraft as the workplace UI of the 2020s. It's already taught children to expect to be able to craft highly personalized and highly customizable virtual working environments, spaces in which they can move seamlessly between solo and collaborative work, spaces where visual thinking and project planning are rewarded for the new creations they engender -- just what we'll need for an economy based on information manipulation and knowledge management, supplemented by machine learning.

If you want to be the company that sells workplace technology to the businesses of tomorrow, look at how the kids of today engage with their technology. Google's building on the momentum it began when it colonized schools with its cloud-y, collaborative suite of apps 10 years ago. I'm interested to see how Microsoft plans to respond.

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