Microsoft's Office on iOS improvements puts enterprises everywhere

Both personal and enterprise users can now access enterprise-class Microsoft Office productivity and collaborative tools on Macs, PCs, iPads and iPhones.

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When it comes to enterprise productivity, Microsoft has two feet in the future and just one in the past, and that’s why it has chosen to significantly improve Office on iOS for every user with the kind of collaborative tools enterprises need.

Microsoft gets mobile

Microsoft may have lost the war to dominate mobile hardware, but (like Apple) its future business plan is increasingly based on services, not beige boxes.

The company’s OS may lurk inside a huge number of PCs, but the company knows where things are going, and that’s why it has diversified to provide the kind of enterprise productivity and core infrastructure solutions it now provides, from Lync to Skype, Office to OneDrive and beyond.

It’s no secret.

The company’s own website tells us it is focused on collaboration, assistive intelligence, new levels of creative tool and augmented reality and intelligent "ambient computing" environments. All of these mission statements are evidenced in the latest update to Office for iOS, which introduces:

  • Mobility: Files support for OneDrive for iOS. Now you can access your 1TB+ Office 365 storage from within Files on your devices, putting all your data within reach (and putting your iCloud storage on a diet at the same time).
  • Collaboration tools that let you work with other people on Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents in both iOS and Mac.
  • A creativity enhancing improvement is the introduction of drag-and-drop support for iPads, meaning you can drag content between Office apps, Files, OneDrive. OneDrive also gains a new list view.
  • Intelligent machines — take a look at some of the company’s recent BETT show announcements to get a sense of how it is adding AI-based assistive features to its Office solutions, even including language translation for collaborative chat.

The smarter office

There are other enhancements worth talking about. One in particular is something I think needs to be better understood: the capacity to tag OneDrive or SharePoint items from within the Files app.

Given both Apple and Microsoft are looking for ways in which to use machine intelligence to help you get things done better, I see tagging of files as a key future element to guiding your computing devices toward identifying your needs more effectively.

Think of them as a little like the ‘Like’ button in Apple Music. The more you use them, the easier related project files become to find. When items are tagged, you should eventually be able to ask Siri: “Find all files that are tagged Project Viking,” for example. For this to work, we need to use tags, of course.

This move to improve document retrieval is boosted with the addition of support for more file types in OneDrive, so you can open and share Photoshop files, for example.

Let’s work together: Collaborative tools needed

Collaboration is critical to modern business.

It’s becoming even more critical. Indeed, current business wisdom is that enterprises should focus on their strengths and work with other specialists when they need to combine skills to launch new products or services.

The evidence supports this approach. According to the 2017 American Express Business Collaboration Index, businesses that collaborated with others generated 64 percent higher revenue gains in 2017 than those that didn’t.

Microsoft’s enterprise customers are demanding products that deliver on this, and the company knows that if it can bake collaborative tools inside its industry standard enterprise productivity solutions, it can carve out a profitable future, even as PCs become trucks.

The thing is, the divide between enterprise and consumer products has pretty much disappeared. We use the same products at home as we do at work, and that’s why every Mac and iOS user now has access to these powerful collaborative tools within the newly upgraded Office.

Traditional tools for modern workgroups

“Using real-time co-authoring, colleagues, friends, and family can contribute to and edit documents simultaneously in the Word, Excel and PowerPoint iOS apps, the Office team explained.

“This allows you to know who else is working with you in a document, see where they’re working, and view changes automatically within seconds,” it said.

Co-authoring of documents, data and slide shows within Office means most workgroups can use tools with which they are already familiar in a more secure (and more powerful) way than other online-based collaborative solutions.

When you work on something, you will be able to see who else is working on the same document, check changes and so on. This works across iOS, Mac and PC, which makes it a useful tool for mixed workgroups (particularly because the update also introduces new ways to share on Yammer).

Sure, Google has provided tools for some time, but (anecdotally, at least) they seem primitive in comparison to Microsoft’s, though you get what you pay for, I guess.

‘An elegant transition’

All the same, with these enhancements, Microsoft makes it plain that it is making an elegant transition from its traditional focus on being the dominant platform developer into becoming a highly competitive enterprise and productivity solutions provider.

I never used to be so impressed with Microsoft or its products. But its change in approach seems to mean it is developing better products and putting customers more at the centre of those products. It also means the company will remain relevant across both the enterprise and consumer productivity markets for some time to come.

Plus, both personal and enterprise users can now access enterprise-class Office productivity tools on Macs, PCs, iPads and iPhones, which reflects the modern enterprise software/platform environment, I suppose.

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