4 Questions Help You Choose Between Google Apps And Office 365

October 17, 2016       The NonProfit Times      

Is a hosted productivity suite right for your organization? Should you choose Google Apps or Microsoft Office 365? Here are four questions to help you make the call.

1. Who will be using the software? One of the primary deciding factors between Google and Office 365 is user preference. Staff members who are younger, more comfortable with browser-based software, or more self-reliant when faced with technology issues are more likely to be comfortable using Google’s offerings (Gmail, Google Calendar, and other Google Apps).

Older staff members already comfortable with Outlook or who need more formal technical support might be more comfortable with Microsoft’s products. An important step in evaluating options is to learn how staff members use email and calendars and to gauge their ability to self-manage technical issues. 

It’s important to point out that these options aren’t mutually-exclusive. You can use a mixture of Google and Microsoft without calamity as long as your policies are clear and everyone in the organization uses the tools consistently. And staff members uncomfortable with Gmail’s interface can still connect their account to Outlook or other desktop email and calendar tools, such as Mozilla Thunderbird.

2. Do you need to collaborate on documents with people outside your organization? While the collaborative file editing functionality of Office 365 continues to develop and mature, many people still feel that Google is easier to use when working on documents with others in real time. There’s also the matter of cost. Even with the free nonprofit Office 2016 license, you’ll need to pay for E3 licenses starting at $4.50 per user, per month, if you want to share and collaboratively edit documents.

3. What are your “must-have” features? Is there a particular feature or functionality that your staff members need to do their jobs? For example, if your organization publishes a lot of publicly-available written resources, your staff might need the detailed formatting and editorial review options that Microsoft Word provides.

If you work with a lot of data analysis of larger datasets and chart creation, Microsoft Excel will provide more formatting options and raw processing power than Google Sheets provides. But if your needs are more basic, the choice comes down to preference more than functionality.

4. Do you need to implement the solution yourself? Installing Office 2016 on your computer is an easy process, but implementing the full Office 365 solution is a far more complicated process. As a result, almost all nonprofits — except those with dedicated IT staff familiar with the platform — need to work with an implementation partner or consultant to install and configure the solution. 

The advantage of working with a partner is that you can rely on their experience to answer your questions and address technical issues as they arise. The downside, of course, is cost. If you don’t have room in your budget to work with an implementation partner, then the full Office 365 solution might not be the best option.

Remember, you can still use Outlook, Word, and the other Office tools you’re familiar with, but for collaborative editing, file sharing, and document management you’ll want to look at other options such as Google, Box, or Dropbox.