Office 365 & Education – Gotta “Light Up” Those Free Licenses!

Microsoft is doing a great job giving educational institutions low cost, and often times, free access to Office 365. The application is very powerful, feature rich, and continues to get better with the ongoing addition of features and services being rolled into an Office 365 license. Nice strategy! This is particularly valuable to the K-12 education community, which is more resource and capital constrained than the colleges and universities of the Higher Education community. However, the question remains – when can you count this strategy a success? Are EDUs “lighting up” these Office 365 licenses?

In our conversations with EDUs, we consistently hear some very interesting commentary. The community loves the richness of features, stability, and power of the applications Microsoft and Office 365 offer. Granted we didn’t poll thousands of academic institutions, but definitely enough to see trends forming. However, when it comes to ease of use, the EDU folks we spoke with lean towards Google Apps – and this is where Microsoft really needs to pay attention.

You can have the greatest product in terms of feature richness and power, but if it’s not easy to use, people won’t use it those working in the education community are already overburdened with challenges. Whether we’re talking about teachers who are struggling to develop curriculum materials and implement them with students, administrators dealing with larger and larger numbers of students, or IT admins struggling to balance the tech needs of students, faculty and staff – if they can’t easily deploy, manage and be more productive with the new technology, they won’t. 

I lived this nightmare in one of my prior business lives, when working for a technology company that had very powerful and complex software that helped companies build some of the most advanced semiconductors in the world. The global electronic industry relies on this type of technology to build the computer chips in every electronic device we use today. Our technology was the best, and customers knew it. The problem was that it was so difficult to use. This ended up being a really big problem. 

So then a small startup comes along and builds a competing product that wasn’t as powerful or feature rich, but not far off. More importantly, it was super easy to use. Guess what – they received a ton of traction and were showing up in some of our biggest customers. Long story short, the startup became very successful, completely flipped our dominant market position upside down and eventually got bought by our largest competitor. This was bad for my company at the time, but ended up providing the customers with a very critical product benefit that we didn’t have – ease of use

Back to the Microsoft vs. Google battle going on around the globe. Google has been making great headway in the EDU community, not because it has the richest and most powerful set of applications, but because it’s easier to use and requires less ramp up and adoption effort from a community that’s already overburdened. That’s not to say Google Apps is a bad product…they do offer some good functionality. However, when you have IT administrators in the EDU space that are already facing budget pressure, are resource constrained and overworked, the last thing they want or need to do is struggle with trying to adopt a new technology that’s difficult to deploy and manage.  And don’t forget about the 4th grade math teacher that’s part time IT Admin in so many of those capital and resource constrained K-12s. 

Net net – Microsoft can’t rely alone on the fact that they’ve been the incumbent forever in this category, or that their products are now very cost effective for the EDU community. The product has to be easy to use. EDUS won’t spend the time and money required by IT organizations to provision and provide ongoing administration for these licenses if there’s an alternative that’s easier to use. 

Remember Microsoft, it’s only going to count as a win against Google if your Office 365 customers “light em up”!