IT pros evaluate Office for iPad, mull Office 365 and end user support

Microsoft finally released its Office for iPad apps but will it make a dent in the enterprise?

Nearly a week after Microsoft released Office for iPad, IT professionals are starting to gauge what it means for their organization.

The Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note iPad apps have been among the top downloaded applications on the Apple Inc. App Store this past week. The rankings illustrate the pent-up demand for a Microsoft Office suite for the iPad, rather than third-party alternatives.

If Office [for iPad] delivers on what it says, what do you need PC for?

David Driggers,
supervisor of desktop systems, Alabama Gas Corp.

"We definitely have had customer interest, even before the launch," said Michael Oh, president and founder of Tech Superpowers, an Apple reseller and IT managed service provider based in Boston. Oh's employees downloaded the apps to test them.

"The thing that amazes us is the slickness of the apps," he said. "[They are] not just thrown together applications from a mobile perspective. There [was] a lot of development spent on it."

Some IT professionals report that their company's employees downloaded the applications individually to test its relevancy for their own productivity and how it might impact the organization.

"We haven't had a request but the CIO was [already] looking at it," said David Driggers, supervisor of desktop systems at Alabama Gas Corp., a Microsoft shop located in Birmingham, Ala.

Indeed, the allure of replacing traditional desktops and notebooks with a lightweight tablet is an attractive proposition for many.

"If I have to guess, this is the one thing of going whole hog to just [using] an iPad," said Driggers. "Now if Office [for iPad] delivers on what it says, what do you need PC for?"

The Office for iPad app is free but only allows reading documents. Full editing functionality is available through a standard subscription to Office 365.

If the tests go well, Driggers believes his C-level executives will consider subscribing to Office 365 and using the Office suite on their iPads.

Office for iPad -- it's not for everyone

But not everyone needs the new iOS Office suite. Employees who use the deeper functionality for the productivity software will not find the iPad versions compelling enough to replace the full-blown Office suite.

In addition, others have already deployed Windows 8 devices and remain committed to them.

"We are so heavy into the Windows 8 tablets that there is no demand for the iPad Office version," said Kevin Schwartz, chief technology officer for the Clear Creek Independent School District, based in Austin, Texas. "For the districts that are using iPads, they are already jumping on it, I'm sure," he added.

IT professionals must be ready to answer end user demand as overall tablet allure continues; market research organizations such as Framingham, Mass.-based IDC predicts the tablet market to reach 260.9 million units worldwide this year.

Ira Grossman, chief technology officer for mobile and end user computing at MCPc Inc., in Cleveland, has downloaded the Office for iPad suite, moved his files from his existing Citrix virtualized environment and is now testing the applications.

"It will be interesting to see what does this do to the VDI world," said Grossman.

"A lot of times customers are doing more than just virtualizing Microsoft Office and using other enterprise applications," said Trenton Cycholl, group manager, cloud application delivery for Citrix, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "It's complementary in some regards because we can run the other apps. Microsoft is now able to extend both to their new offering and previous versions of Office."

Working and managing it all

With the initial release of the Office for iPad productivity applications, issues such as collaboration and mobile device management concern some IT professionals who need to support their end users.

IT professionals cited collaboration tools such as Google's Forms and survey products as being important, but Microsoft's new iOS Office suite does not provide it yet -- let alone printing capabilities.

"Employees will be disappointed to pay for something that doesn't fully allow the collaboration experience [unless they use OneDrive for Business]," Grossman said.

The market will also keep a close watch to see how Microsoft will integrate enterprise Web-based applications such as Salesforce.com with the new iOS Office apps, similar to how it has done with Windows-based applications like Word.

"Do they start building that same level of integration into Office for iPad?" asked Grossman. "[If so] that makes it sticky and allows Apple to sell more devices."

IT professionals need to investigate how to manage the devices and corporate data. The first step is to take a closer look at OneDrive for Business to see how it stacks up against Box and other cloud-based enterprise storage solutions.

"OneDrive is a key feature that snaps into [Microsoft's] Enterprise Mobility Suite and they need to continue to leverage [this]," said Schwartz.

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