12 reasons why G-Suite was better than Office 365 for our tech startup and why its lack of rich features is precisely why it’s great…

Olly Cogan

Organisational productivity and how efficiently we empower human resource, so time and brains are not wasted on things that can be automated, is a pretty major factor in the success of any organisation, no matter its purpose.

Minded of this, I thought I’d put together a few words, in the vein that it might be useful, to someone, somewhere, on why we went totally “Googly” when we founded Alphalake Ai, a health automation and AI startup.

In January this year, I exited the first company I co-founded 9 years ago, which was a cloud infrastructure and Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP). Here we had used Office 365. I barely used my own personal gmail. I was very unfamiliar with world of office software from Google. Whereas my Co-founder at Alphalake, Aamir, on the other hand had more recent experience of using both Office 365 and G Suite. As a business transformation consultant, he would often switch between the two office suites, depending on which one was used by a client.

All I really knew was Microsoft Office. For very many years unless you wanted to use Lotus Notes this is all there was. In about 2009, I remember an IT reseller I was working for at the time decided to switch their email service to Google. This was in the very early days of Google entering the business email market and like so many others, the reseller quickly moved back to the warm, shallow comfortable waters of Microsoft. If memory serves, this was at least in part due to the complications that arose from trying to run Google email services through Outlook as an interface.

Innovation outside the Microsoft camp is not something I’ve ignored. I had wanted to take my previous company down the route of embracing the team collaboration amd chat ecosystem, Slack, but we never really managed to move away from the familiarity of Outlook and the Microsoft Office suite.

Upon founding Alphalake however we were afforded the rare opportunity of a blank canvas and I wanted to make sure we developed a software ecosystem that was as administratively light as possible, which would help us to scale the business by focusing our energy as much as possible in the front office and innovation. I got the sense that G Suite offered a lighter, web-friendly, web appy, flexible approach, which lent itself well to the Choose Your Own Device (CYOD) strategy we operate. I asked a few of the team that would ultimately make up our first small group of users, as wanted to canvass their opinion mainly around how well they felt they’d be able to get to grips with an entirely new interface for email, file sharing and document editing. Most, like me, were Microsoft Office users up to this point. We decided in the end that the user and admin benefits of G Suite would outweigh the temporary set backs from a lack of user familiarity. We told ourselves we were all still nimble enough to learn new software interfaces, how hard could it be!

Our exploratory conversations told me G Suite lacked some of the richness found in the formatting features of Microsoft Office 365, but I took the view in the end that I didn’t want users in the company to be spending a long time in back office apps like Word or Excel anyway.

Teams is a good product. But it isn’t as efficient as, and lacks the continuous innovation of, its forefather, Slack. With its mature ecosystem of efficiency-saving bots and communications apps and simple and fast channel-based team chat interface, we made Slack our main business collaboration platform, nullifying any added value Microsoft Teams might have brought to us.

Our evaluation criteria therefore came down to the differences in apps like Outlook, Word and Excel versus Gmail, Docs and Sheets. Would any loss of some of the UX familiarity and deeper formatting functionality of these stalwarts of Microsoft’s Office empire be an issue for us?

For me it really boiled down to the realisation that our teams fiddling around with formatting styles in these sorts of apps is not in keeping with where effort should be invested in a 2019 tech startup, nor indeed for most types of organisations in a world where we are always online and documents are edited and published straight-to-online. In this world, anyone spending any significant amount of time working on back office documents, apart from in very few exceptions, should probably question how relevent they’re being. G Suite shines precisely because it’s light-touch and always online.

I should probably clarify, I like Office 365. It has become a very well finessed suite of products that, within the individual apps themselves at least, offers rich, well thought through UX. All in all, Microsoft have a done a good job with it and it stands now as a great suite of software. It’s just that it’s probably too good. It drags around some capabilities that are from a bygone era. And this weighs it down. It needs to be lighter and more nimble on its toes.

I acknowledge that G-Suite isn’t for every type of organisation. Whilst this can often be a cultural issue, there are some organisations where change is just too big and not justified or some other unique reason exists where a very specific requirements must be met. However, in my view having now spent over 6 months building a team using Google’s G Suite, there is probably a lot of organisations that would see a tangible benefit in using G Suite. Of course, every organisation must carefully evaluate this and reach a weighted decision. To this end, perhaps my musings here can help.

I don’t wish to take anything away from Microsoft who, under Satya Nadella, are going great guns on the innovation front 👏. We need a “hats off emoji”, but I do think that the impressive, decades-long (!), once unshakeable stronghold Microsoft has had as the “go to” for business productivity applications has finally come to an end. And I think Mr Nadella knows it. New battle lines are being drawn.

Whilst still important as a UI ,the overall relevancy of the traditional apps in office suites is less than it used to be. In productivity, the fight has moved on to the communications space and here Microsoft are playing catch-up with Slack. Apps like Word and Excel will of course continue to improve through iteration, but they’ve reached their zenith. Microsoft know this and are investing bigger in other areas. It’s like the castle “Gates” have been breached, Google soldiers are inside the castle grounds, but Microsoft’s escaped through a tunnel, they’re regrouping and building another castle on higher ground.

But why is Microsoft Office no longer a battle ground that’s worthy of Satya Nadella putting all his resources into fighting over?

5 years ago, I would have written this in Microsoft Word, but now I am writing directly on Medium, which makes it live and out there as soon as I want it to be. It’s format suits its specific purpose.

The “back office” nature of apps like worksheet software and “word processors” is gradually making them redundant in the “everything online” world we live in.

I said to a colleague about 3 years ago that I felt we won’t be needing programs like Microsoft Word and Excel in the future as everything will be created in an online-ready state and created-for-purpose. This offers more control and consistency and users enjoy a better customer and user experience.

I should probably point out that I also had a bet with this same colleague that SMS would be dead by 2020 owing to proprietary platforms, but I lost that bet as it’s not dead and won’t be by 2020. Perhaps I went 5 years too soon? Or maybe it will never die, maybe email will never die either as we need non-proprietary communication methods? But this is a different article all in itself and I can feel a tangent coming on.

Back on topic…

This switch to online-ready creation and productivity is already happening, as a whole host of online softwares now exist and for most low to mid-level editing and creating purposes, these work just as well or better than the traditional back office, client-installed versions.

The reason they often work better is they are designed with more specific online outcomes in mind. They’ve been designed to publish online immediately to specific platforms, they’re more niche. They’re also able to perform all their creative functionality whilst in a browser. Something made possible by utilising the rapid advance of in-browser software in recent years through the orchestration of web programming, such as CSS, HTML and Javascript.

Instead of using “desktop publishing software”, such as Microsoft Publisher and Adobe InDesign and graphics programs like Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator, users are turning to online editing tools like the very niche and very successful Canva. The same can be said for Video editing, where one can do so much now in online apps from a smartphone. Of course,“proper” video editing is a different story, but a lot of that is superfluous these days as its not specific to the format its going to be viewed in, it’s not niche to a specific online platform.

This is all of course really a form of automation, as we move to an upper layer of UI, doing less of the “grunt work” ourselves. It’s comparable to how web developers and IT admins now use GUI-based tools, as opposed to working directly in the code or working from the command line (Visual Builders, C Panel etc.).

This is happening with productivity suites and software tools everywhere you look.

Things are more easy to administer from within the browser, as you can work from any device you choose and all your personalised services move with you if you change device. Microsoft Windows Pro and Domain Controllers are old hat.

I really don’t need an OS at all. If Google improve the design and specs of their line of Chromebooks, my next notebook will probably be a Chromebook. That’s if I get a notebook at all and don’t instead opt for the Samsung Dex, a portable screen and keyboard! 😊

So, here’s my list of 12 reasons why I’ve loved moving to Google G Suite. It’s helped us bring about great efficiencies as a business. Hopefully if you’re deliberating over whether to switch to G Suite, you might find this a useful list.

  1. The need to secure at a domain network level has now become redundant. The same levels of security can now be achieved by authenticating at the application level “web side”. Google authentication is super slick and saves our team lots of time. You get arguably the slickest Multifactor Authentication (MFA) experience out-the-box, which doesn’t even require you to check the security code that gets sent to you.
  2. In-My-Not-So-Humble-Opinion, if you are spending a long time in Excel or Word fiddling around with formatting in client-side version of some software then STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING NOW. Keep it simple, clean and tidy, use a always-online editing tool instead.
  3. We all like well presented documents, sure, but from my own personal user POV, there’s only been one or two very minor formatting things that I wanted to do and couldn’t (and the the world didn’t cave in around me). As a user, I’ve not missed Office 365 at all. In fact, it’s been an absolute breeze using G Suite and I am able to see how much time as a business we save as a result. It’s enabled us to get out of the back office.
  4. Honed from years of unparalleled input data in Google’s predictive web searches, the advanced AI in Gmail finishes sentences for you when it thinks it can help by doing so (in a nicely sparingly way) and only if you want the feature turned on. I have mine turned on and use it maybe a few times a week, but it definitely helps sometimes when I’m very busy and especially when typing from my phone.
  5. The other killer feature in Gmail is the great little reminder prompt that appears next to an email that Gmail automatically puts back to the top of your inbox a fews days later if you have received an important email and not yet responded. And it’s pretty damn good at working out what is important email or not. Think Microsoft Clutter (is that still going?), but a lot slicker.
  6. We use Slack and are big fans of it together with the bot ecosystem around it. As such, I try to keep as much of our comms and organisational productivity centred around Slack, but Slack doesn’t of course offer an email client, Excel, Word alternative and so on, so this is where G Suite comes in. One cool thing is the ability to send emails to a Slack channel or DM using the “Slack for G Suite” plugin.
  7. Office 365 has some great collaboration capabilities in the way it allows users to work on live documents at the same time and they have done a good job with this in Microsoft Notes and Word, but Google were doing this along with shared work sheets about 10 years ago! I vividly remember when someone sent me a link to a live Google Sheet about 9yrs ago and said “I can see you have joined the work sheet”, it blew my geek-mind 😀. This was many years before Office 365 cottoned on. So my hat has to come off to the G Suite team for their innovation and leading the way with this. My point being that these live link sharing capabilities within Office 365 and SharePoint Online have been “baked in” to Google way before we all got excited about them being present in Office 365.
  8. Google Calendar is great and the fact that any other app worth having integrates with it out-the-box is handy. For a long time, you had to look really hard to find apps that integrated with Outlook Calendar, I’m not even sure Microsoft had an API for it. Google Calendar has Calendly-like availability sharing whilst booking an appointment, but only amongst other shared domain users. We use HubSpot for sharing calendar availability links externally.
  9. Light, slick admin console to manage users. When we first set-up I did this myself for a month or two and it was really intuitive.
  10. The chat and phone support from G Suite is probably the best we’ve experienced. I experienced this first hand, their focus on Customer Experience is second to none. Well done and thank you G Suite.
  11. Saving your work is permanently happening, it’s always-on. You just never have to think about saving anything. I’m fairly certain you can configure always-saving in Office 365, but with G Suite being an in-browser software, everything has been developed in such a way that no matter what, your work is always being saved. You can easily pick back up where you left off just by opening up your browser.
  12. We use HubSpot as our CRM in our Client Team, which is a great Business Development and Marketing automation tool that many of you will be familiar with. The plug-in for HubSpot works really well and can easily be pushed out across the domain from the Google admin console. The plugin, called “HubSpot for G Suite”, allows you to accurately track what is happening with your emails and serves up HubSpot templates and docs ddirectly to your Gmail console. Whilst from within HubSpot, you can see all emails relating to your contacts. All with no configuration needed.
  13. Setting up shared drives in Google Drive is super easy and works brilliantly for everyone. Although there is some room for improvement for how files are shared and edited with people who are outside your domain and don’t have a google account.

I hope sharing my perspective as a co-founder of a startup on our embracing G Suite has provided some value.

My insight on where I think things are heading with productivity and collaboration software might also hopefully prove useful.

I plan to provide a few more tips and feedback on how we’ve made investing in good software a key enabler for us as an expanding international business. The feedback should prove valuable to other founders or anyone making decisions on software for their organisation.

As an avid efficiency chaser, I try to think carefully about the tools we use and invest in, as I never want my team getting weighed down in admin. I’m investing in humans for human things and robots for robotic things. I see one of my main values as CEO at Alphalake, as building our culture. A big part of this is finding the right people and creating the right environment for them to EXCEL in. No pun intended!

Equipping them with proper tools is key. Good software and well thought out processes designed with automation in mind and that enable a high level of flexibility will ultimately ensure we together go further, faster.

I’ll try to answer any questions anyone might have in the comments, be nice, it’s my first Medium post! 😊

Olly Cogan

Written by

Co-founder and CEO of Alphalake AI and working on a visionary project, code name “nutri X”, that might, just might, change the world ! 😊

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