Yes, Google is encroaching into Microsoft’s traditional business space in a vicious productivity fight. But Google's rebranding of its Enterprise Business as Google for Work yesterday seems to be a tacit acceptance — for the moment, at least — that Microsoft is the Enterprise Daddy.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has responded to Google's blows with a number of financial incentives that must have many Chief Financial Officers salivating over their ledgers.

Microsoft’s Incentives

Let's leave aside the other players in the market — and the fact it's going to be a real hoot to see how Box’s Office 365 announcement will fit here. It's fair to say that over the past few months, Microsoft has been adding to Office 365. Ok, it doesn’t happen as often as Google Apps updates, which are now coming faster than rush-hour commuter trains, but when Microsoft makes a move, everyone pays attention.

With all of them, there is a common theme: if you buy into Microsoft, you save money.

To know whether the reality corresponds with Microsoft’s marketing guff, you’d really have to ask the CEO or CFO of one of the Fortune 500 companies that use both Google and Microsoft. But let's just take Microsoft’s word for the moment.

Last night’s announcement from the Office 365 team around FastTrack is typical of the initiatives that Microsoft is using to beat Google back.

Free FastTrack Office 365 Deployments

FastTrack was introduced last year and pulls together all the Office 365 onboarding methodology, tools and process to streamline deployments. Microsoft claims that FastTrack has helped thousands of customers, together with their partners, move to Office 365. It also maintains that providing support directly from the Office 365 Service team during the critical phases of on-boarding can shorten deployment times. More importantly, it resulted in the creation of the FastTrack Onboarding Center

Last night, Microsoft announced it is providing free access to FastTrack to those that buy 150 or more seats of a qualified license service, which in turn will support the provisioning and configuration of Office 365 workloads including Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Office 365 Pro Plus and Yammer.

Basically, you pick up the phone, say what you want and Microsoft will set it up for free. You can do this whether you speak English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian, Portuguese or Spanish.

The new offer, which has just come into place, will be available until the end of next March, so there is plenty of time to plan and take advantage of the offer. Those that decide to go with it have a choice of either:

  • Taking money from Microsoft to pay a preferred Office 365 Cloud Deployment Partner or Cloud Productivity Competency partner to do it for you
  • Microsoft will work with you to remotely migrate all of your purchased mailboxes from the following environments: Exchange Server 2003 or above,Lotus Domino 7.0.3 or above, Google Gmail, IMAP accessible environnements

This is a pretty significant offer, not least because it also takes a lot of the pain out of developing a migration strategy

Office for iPad On Demand - Almost

This is just one example of how Microsoft is appealing to enterprise pockets. But there was another example this week. Who can forget the circus that accompanied the release of Office for iPad earlier this year?

At least some of the hype was because it was the first public outing of CEO Satya Nadella. But the other reason was because the wait was finally over.

For months, everyone knew someone who knew someone who worked with someone who knew that Office for iPad was available. But Microsoft wasn’t letting it out of the stables and no one knew why.

We still don’t know why or how long it was available before the April release. But the smart money is on the fact that the former CEO Steve Ballmer didn’t want any competition for Office on desktops.

Whatever! So Office for iPad was released, but you had to pony-up a full year’s subscription to get it. This week, all that changed. From now on, users can subscribe for a month — enabling users to dip in and out of Office as they please and, more importantly, manage their productivity budget more effectively.

The estimated retail price for Office 365 Personal is now $6.99/month and Office 365 Home is $9.99/month.

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Cutting Costs For SMBs

But that’s not all. This week we also saw that Microsoft is allowing users pimp up their Office 365 ride, and while they may not directly impact their pocket, the underlying idea definitely will. That announcement was about improving customer engagement and providing better customer experiences, which as everyone who is good at that knows, is the best way to keep pockets full.

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The cherry on the cake in recent months, though, had to be the announcement in July that Microsoft is slashing prices for Office 365 for the small-to-medium (SMB) price places. These changes won’t come into full effect until October next year, but should provide significant savings for those already using Office 365. The new plans will be as follows:

  1. Office 365 Business: This offers the full Office package with Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Publisher, with 1TB of OneDrive for Business cloud storage. It drops from the $12 /user/month for the current plan to a new plan for $8.25 /user/month.
  2. Office 365 Business Essentials: Access to all the main cloud services needed for business like email, meetings, calendars, storage for $5/user/month.
  3. Office 365 Business Premium: Offers everything from both the Office 365 Business and Business Essentials plans. The cost of this will fall from $15/user/month to $12.5/user/month.

Is Money Enough?

But are mere price considerations really going to cut it? Its unlikely, as Forrester’s TJ Keitt pointed out in his research into the use of cloud-based collaboration tools.

In the report entitled 2016: Google Apps And Office 365,  he noted that IT leaders are increasingly looking beyond cost in deciding what to invest in. The driver here, he says, is new capabilities that will manage the information explosion that is happening all around them.

So we come back to functionality. For the moment, Microsoft is ahead of the pack here and is addressing issues around price and technology where they exist. But Google is working away in the background too to improve its offerings and Office, let alone Office 365, could well be too rich for many business users as the recent SoftWatch report showed. Who is going to come out tops? Probably no one. Its more likely that everyone is going to have to live with each other, even if not as happy families.

Title image by William Murphy (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.