Why you need a Web Office

Why you need a Web Office

Summary: When my post about Web Office Suite products got Slashdotted, one of the main issues amongst Slashdot commenters was: why do we even need a Web Office? This comment by Eightyford put it best:"What are the advantages of having an online Office Suite?

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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When my post about Web Office Suite products got Slashdotted, one of the main issues amongst Slashdot commenters was: why do we even need a Web Office? This comment by Eightyford put it best:

"What are the advantages of having an online Office Suite? I'd say that the disadvantages include: security issues, slow speed, dependance on internet connection, limited features, harder to program, and probably many others. What is the point?"

It's a very good question and in this post I'm going to try to address it.

One of the big thinkers on the Web Office currently is Rod Boothby, The shift to a Web Office will be a gradual one for most businesses - but it will happen... who is a Manager with Ernst & Young's Financial Services Advisory practice. Rod wrote a thought-provoking white paper about Web Office, which he's also converted into HTML form. I read the white paper closely and it's an excellent overview of Web Office, although I don't agree with everything in it. 

What is without question is that we both agree that the Read/Write Web is driving a lot of this innovation in office tools. As Rod put it:

"Web Office solutions are going to use this new philosophical approach (that the web should be both readable and writable) to redefine how knowledge workers share information."

Collaboration

That's a key point - that office tools on the Web are about enabling users to more easily share information and collaborate. It's something existing desktop office tools are woefully inadequate in. Ever tried to email a Word document to 10 of your colleagues and then keep track of changes or suggested changes? Most of us have been through that frustrating experience - it ends up as a huge and messy email thread. It's even worse if you try to use Microsoft Word's horrendous version tracking feature (all that crossed out red type makes it very hard to read).

So here's where a Web-based word processing tool would come in handy. Imagine being able to view the latest version of a collaborative Word document, via your browser window. Instead of using emails to discuss the document, it's all done in one place - the URL of your online Word document. All changes are neatly tracked and versioned. Collaboration is happening, because there's a single point of reference on the Web - and it's not email!

Another positive for Web-based office software is that it makes integrating with other web-based software easier, via open Web standards and formats.

Reduces Costs

But enough about the high-level philosophical theory, I hear some of you say. What are the practical ways that Web Office can appeal to business decision makers? Rod lists some reasons in his white paper why executives need to start thinking about Web Office now. He firstly appeals to their cost management instincts:

"Web Office technology will make partnering and out-sourcing more efficient by creating a platform that can seamlessly support virtual ad-hoc teams. Thus, it will quickly reduce your costs."

He concludes that "Web Office is cheap", which it certainly is compared to those large licensing fees your company is probably paying Microsoft currently! Plus as some commenters on Slashdot noted, deploying office software ONCE on a server is much more efficient than deploying hundreds or thousands of instances on desktops. It's also easier to do upgrades and backups. 

Productivity

Business decision makers are interested in productivity - and Web Office software potentially increases that. As Rod said:

"If you have any competitors using Web Office technology, they are going to have a significant productivity lead over you. Web Office will be as big and important as email, and you wouldn’t imagine running a business today without email."

Summary

All of these are sound reasons to gradually move toward the Web Office Suite. Note that I do say gradually. This isn't something I see happening overnight, precisely because of the challenges that some Slashdot commenters pointed out. There are issues of Internet performance and security which need to be addressed. There are also office politics and employment stresses to deal with, because Web-based office software will result in a relative loss of control for IT departments and the decreased admin work may even result in job losses. 

The shift from controlled, seemingly more secure IT systems to open, modular Web-based systems is great in theory - but there are many practical and business challenges that prevent this shift happening in businesses in the short term. I expect it to take more than a few years for even early adopter businesses to move to a Web Office.

Topic: Microsoft

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25 comments
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  • You

    <a href="http://foldera.com">Foldera Corporation</a> was built exactly for this reasons Richard.
    OliverStarr
    • More Reasons YOU Need a Web Office

      <a href="http://foldera.com">Foldera Corporation</a> was built exactly for this reasons Richard.

      Anyone in a knowledge worker or executive position today knows just how difficult collaboration and organization can become. As you said, just try to collectively edit a Word document with even five people and it won't take long before the first email is sent asking which version is the current one. Not long after, the wrong version will be edited and the changes on the one subsequent to it will be lost...

      Of course this is just the beginning of the issues related to our current crop of desktop tools. Not that they've bad by any means. In fact, current desktop applications are so good and so powerful we are literally drowning in the content we create! From documents and emails to spreadsheets and IM's we're awash in our own makings and buried in those of our fellow workers.

      As a result, not only is meaningful collaboration a challenge, but research conducted at PARC (http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~i385q-dt/readings/Bellotti_Ducheneaut-2003-Taking.pdf) found that the average knowledge worker spends roughly 2 hours per week simply dragging and dropping and searching for documents and emails in a never ending effort to stay organized. While 2 hours may not seem like much, over the course of a typical year (based on a 40 hour week and a two week vacation) this still ads up to 125 hours a year spent moving your data around your PC.
      Now I don?t know about anyone else, but personally I can think of better ways to spend my time!

      You also touched on cost and your right again. Not only are the licenses expensive, but companies also need the staff to maintain the gear on which the applications (for which you bought the licenses) run, not to mention the cost of the servers themselves. Don?t forget that you also need all that data to be backed up (more people and gear) and even after all this, you still haven?t created a solution that can be accessed from anywhere (VPN should be a four letter word!) or which has any sort of version control or that gives users the ability to create custom work groups or user level permissions on a document by document basis.

      Even the best of the productivity suites that exist today don?t support much of this and where they do the cost is significant. I think what you?ll see is that as more and more people try hosted services like Microsoft?s Office Live or the new application <a href=http://foldera.com>Foldera</a> the objections they have (which incidentally are the same objections lots of people used to have about web-based email like Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail) will prove to be of less consequence than the very real advantages in cost and performance gained by these hosted applications.

      I am not by any means an easy sell here. However, having used a managed application for an enterprise anti-virus and anti-spam solution I saw the advantages in cost and in time saved as well as excellent performance and it opened my mind. In fact, and this is an important caveat; so much value did I feel my enterprise derived from that application that when I went to investigate Foldera as a VC with the possibility of making an investment, I not only ended up making one with personal funds but curtailed much of my VC activity to become the Chief Mobility Officer for the Company as well as their Senior Business Development Executive and Blogger. So, you can take everything I?ve written with a grain of salt or you can realize to what degree I am convinced of the value to have made such a personal commitment to the platform.

      Oliver Starr, CMO, Foldera
      Blogger, MobileCrunch.com
      OliverStarr
      • Good God

        Presumably you wrote this on a Web app. Ever heard of paragraphs?
        TonyMcS
    • More Reasons YOU Need a Web Office

      <a href="http://foldera.com">Foldera Corporation</a> was built exactly for this reason Richard.

      Anyone in a knowledge worker or executive position today knows just how difficult collaboration and organization can become. As you said, just try to collectively edit a Word document with even five people and it won't take long before the first email is sent asking which version is the current one. Not long after, the wrong version will be edited and the changes on the one subsequent to it will be lost...

      Of course this is just the beginning of the issues related to our current crop of desktop tools. Not that they've bad by any means. In fact, current desktop applications are so good and so powerful we are literally drowning in the content we create! From documents and emails to spreadsheets and IM's we're awash in our own makings and buried in those of our fellow workers.

      As a result, not only is meaningful collaboration a challenge, but research conducted at PARC (http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~i385q-dt/readings/Bellotti_Ducheneaut-2003-Taking.pdf) found that the average knowledge worker spends roughly 2 hours per week simply dragging and dropping and searching for documents and emails in a never ending effort to stay organized. While 2 hours may not seem like much, over the course of a typical year (based on a 40 hour week and a two week vacation) this still ads up to 125 hours a year spent moving your data around your PC.
      Now I don?t know about anyone else, but personally I can think of better ways to spend my time!

      You also touched on cost and your right again. Not only are the licenses expensive, but companies also need the staff to maintain the gear on which the applications (for which you bought the licenses) run, not to mention the cost of the servers themselves. Don?t forget that you also need all that data to be backed up (more people and gear) and even after all this, you still haven?t created a solution that can be accessed from anywhere (VPN should be a four letter word!) or which has any sort of version control or that gives users the ability to create custom work groups or user level permissions on a document by document basis.

      Even the best of the productivity suites that exist today don?t support much of this and where they do the cost is significant. I think what you?ll see is that as more and more people try hosted services like Microsoft?s Office Live or the new application <a href=http://foldera.com>Foldera</a> the objections they have (which incidentally are the same objections lots of people used to have about web-based email like Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail) will prove to be of less consequence than the very real advantages in cost and performance gained by these hosted applications.

      I am not by any means an easy sell here. However, having used a managed application for an enterprise anti-virus and anti-spam solution I saw the advantages in cost and in time saved as well as excellent performance and it opened my mind. In fact, and this is an important caveat; so much value did I feel my enterprise derived from that application that when I went to investigate Foldera as a VC with the possibility of making an investment, I not only ended up making one with personal funds but curtailed much of my VC activity to become the Chief Mobility Officer for the Company as well as their Senior Business Development Executive and Blogger. So, you can take everything I?ve written with a grain of salt or you can realize to what degree I am convinced of the value to have made such a personal commitment to the platform.

      Oliver Starr, CMO, Foldera
      Blogger, MobileCrunch.com
      OliverStarr
  • You're Dead-On Correct!

    <a href="http://foldera.com">Foldera Corporation</a> was built exactly for these reasons Richard.
    OliverStarr
  • Nothing new

    (Edited to remove assumption that Microsoft owns the world)
    "office tools on the Web are about enabling users to more easily share information and collaborate. Imagine being able to view the latest version of a collaborative document, via your browser window. Instead of using emails to discuss the document, it's all done in one place. All changes are neatly tracked and versioned. Collaboration is happening, because there's a single point of reference on the Web - and it's not email"

    The above could have been extracted from marketing material about Lotus Notes. This has existed for over a decade. "Information shared by geographically dispersed people" is the definition of Groupware, a category of software dominated by Lotus Notes. Lotus Notes was migrated to the web in 1995, and has been improving since. Using a Java Applet for WYSIWYG editing of documents was added in 1996.

    [Definition: Applications using web browsers are called "Domino applications" while applications using the Lotus Notes thin client are called "Notes applications", because the Lotus Notes server was renamed "Domino" at the time the web server functionality was added. Any application should work for both the Notes client and browsers, but Lotus Notes/Domino allows separate interfaces for each, and most applications can be improved with a little development for each interface.]

    The biggest challenge when implementing Groupware is changing people's work habits. This was not too bad for companies using Lotus Notes from the early 1990s, because the habit of emailing documents had not become standard. Companies implementing Groupware solutions after about 1997 have to overcome that bad habit. Employees must become comfortable with creating documents in a shared (Groupware) environment.

    There are many reasons why it is better to create a document in Domino or a WebOffice, and ask everybody to review and edit it there. The article mentions automatic versioning, and better integration with other systems. It does not mention that the company has a central repository of data (Knowledgebase), can handle backups easier, and new employees can read and use the historical data to learn how things work here.

    The usual example is a project proposal. The document is kept in a central location. A threaded discussion area is kept with the document, with a library of supporting files. All changes to the document are immediately available to everybody, and everybody knows they are seeing the latest version. The final document is copied to a project tracking system. The proposal remains available as a base for new proposals, with the discussions about why each term is included and phrased the way it is.
    solprovider
  • Hmmm, maybe.

    But then we can do all of this right now with Groove and SharePoint and still retain the benefits of having the app on our machines.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Good article. Two challenges that I see:

    I should start by saying how surprised I am at how convincing the arguments in the article are. I clicked on it thinking "nonsense, why would you do that", and left thinking this is a powerful idea. Here are the two biggest challenges I see:
    enduser_z
  • Message has been deleted.

    enduser_z
  • Reasons why no-one needs web office.

    In counter to those low-value benefits listed in the article, here's why no-one in business needs web office...

    First : Please see the typically high number of truncated and mangled posts on ZDNet ( several of them right above this post ) for clear evidence that web enabled documents are questionable, at best.

    Second : internet speed and performance are issues at many sites, which limits my work-force's ability to access and use efficiently applications which reside elsewhere.

    Third : Why, of why, would I trust my critical business processes, employee and customer data, and corporate future to some other company's server at the mercy of their hosting practices. What if they can't meet their SLA? What if they go bankrupt? What if they are hacked and all my proprietary data is sold to my competitors and all my employees have their identities stolen -- just how much liability are you willing to accept?

    No, sorry, it just doesn't make the slightest bit of business sense.

    Regards,
    Jon
    JonathonDoe
  • Why we desperately need Web Office

    The main reason is so that ZDNet can continue to allow people to put up paper tigers to cause a bit of controversy. The second reason is vaporware specialists looking for some more venture capital.

    If you want to collaborate, you can use the web for communication rather than keeping all your eggs in one basket.

    Millions of people use massive multiplayer on-line games (and the game stays on the PC thanks very much). Touters of Web Office should pay close attention to World of Warcraft and their difficulties in maintaining heavily used servers and maintaining a reliable user service. For the most part they succeed, but most users will have outages, be placed in queues for access, game slowdowns etc etc. Just imagine trying to get a document accessed and printed for a deadline while another 1,000,000 users are trying the same thing.

    It's fine for the bloggers and the vaporware specialists to talk about all this - but it would be nice if they came up with answers to the obvious problems. Other people in this thread have already covered them adequately.
    TonyMcS
    • Server Power?

      Well I wouldn't want to break it to you, but it is possible to acheive stability through sheer power - Google did it and they're pretty succesful, from what I've seen.

      Saying a comparison to WoW is flawed would be an understatement - that's like saying that instant messaging would never work on a dialup connection because Video chat doesn't. WoW need to maintant a persistant 3D world, receive and send detailed 3D data to and from thousands of clients at once. But a web office suite would not need that kind of extreme bandwith or power - it's all just text and a few pictures, that's all!

      And what if it isn't? What if there's videos, and music, and whatever other multimedia inserted magically into this? Again, Google's 2.7 gig email, with millions of users downloading daily videos and PPS from their friends, might count as a nice basis for comparison.
      eslachance
  • One word (OK two + a number): SharePoint 2007

    Need I say more.
    NewZed
  • Collaboration

    Collaboration platforms such as you describe exist and have done for some years. Take a look at Opentext's Livelink for Collaboration and Livelink for Communities of Practice (www.opentext.com).

    Everything needed is already thought out and available yesterday to the company who needs it.

    Check it out. I did and it is worth the time.

    Allan Hastie
    allan74140
  • Web Office: Is that a wiki?

    I was wondering what's the difference between Web Office and a wiki?

    I think not all documents need to be shared, some of them need to stay confidential like private letters, confidential information,...

    So I think Stand-alone Office and Web office will coexist in the coming years they might serve different purposes.

    Not all the elements in the Office suite are of equal interest for Web Office. Powerpoint-like content is the perfect example of something that is created with the sole objective of sharing information. That kind of stuff is really killer application for Web office and maybe also the most difficult to implement...

    I think softwares that will transform presentations into Web equivalents (mostly Flash-based) are to take into consideration in the transition from Office to Web Office for presentations.
    mulkers
  • Assumptions Not Valid

    The author says:

    Business decision makers are interested in productivity - and Web Office software potentially increases that. As Rod said:

    "If you have any competitors using Web Office technology, they are going to have a significant productivity lead over you. Web Office will be as big and important as email, and you wouldn?t imagine running a business today without email"

    Nowhere does the author offer any proof to this astounding statement. Why would Web Office be any more productive than a standalone office suite running on a networked PC?

    Sigh, just more hype, in my opinion, like "the network is the computer" or "Google is going to replace Microsoft". Hah, hah, hah.
    Zuel
  • Too Many Risks

    Sorry, I'm not convinced. The risks/downside just don't come near outweighing the few benefits.
    ebrke
  • How About NOTES

    Seems to me, that Lotus, through NOTES, has supplied many of those capabilities, even via VPN. So what's all the hype for. I realize that this is a lttle different, but seems real close in capability.
    dgumbine
  • Quickly assembled and fully functional

    I use programers from India, architects from Argentina and finance staff in the U.S. Many of these team members are assembled based upon a recent contract win (or disassembled as needed). Devising my own infrastructure to accomodate such diverse and rapidly changing business needs would leave me constantly struggling to keep pace with my customers needs. We established a "Web Office" over 6 months ago and have substantially increased the velocity in which we can react to changing business conditions. I have just completed an independent SOX audit of the operation at the request of a particular client and passed with the same marks of a competitor who used an internal network. My cost basis was substantially lower than my competitor's
    (as was my quote) and I am hopeful of an outcome in my favor. In my situation, a lower cost basis, effective collaboration with remote resources and instantaneous assessment of the status of project work have made me a believer.
    md4jjb23j
  • Office? On the web?

    I hope they brought enough crack for the rest of us to smoke. Here's why this is a stupid idea.

    Besides the risks involved, what happens when there's a DoS attack (and there WILL be) on the servers in question? Simple answer: no productivity. Management are so full of themselves over the concept of multi-tasking, but in this case, multi-tasking is rendered inoperable. Score? Hackers 1, Management 0. Better hope there are umpteen mirrors established for failover in the event of such attacks.
    jgmsys@...