Microsoft pegs savings from Edge, Office 365 search as high as $43M

Microsoft says its Bing-powered search platform can boost worker productivity and save corporate money by making access to internal documents and data easier.

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Companies that use Microsoft Search, the Bing-powered search platform designed to sniff out internal corporate information, can save between $15 million and $43 million over the course of three years, Microsoft claimed.

Microsoft made this assertion – backed by analysis conducted by Forrester on Microsoft's dime – earlier this year, but reinforced it this week when it cited the research firm's report after it made search one of the five reasons that purportedly gave Edge a, well, edge over Chrome in the battle for best corporate browser.

"Previously, if your organization wanted to standardize on a single modern browser for use across all platforms, your only option was Chrome," Brad Anderson, the company's top executive in its Microsoft 365 group, wrote in an Aug. 4 post to a company blog. (That admission-of-sorts was remarkable on its own, as to Computerworld's knowledge, Microsoft has not ceded such before.) But the new Edge, the one Microsoft released in a stable form only in January, has five advantages, in Anderson's eyes, over Google's über-dominant browser – even when both were built atop a foundation laid by the open-source Chromium.

One is "improved internal search."

Baked into Edge, Microsoft Search – which requires that Bing be designated as the browser's default search engine – lets users look up company information, internal documents stored on OneDrive or SharePoint, for example, from the browser's address bar. Other components of Microsoft 365 (or its poorer cousin, Office 365) are also searchable, such as text-based chats from Teams, items on Outlook calendars and the organization's personnel.

Millions saved through the miracle of search?

Forrester based its calculations, as it typically does, on interviews with a number of real-world enterprises – firms of different sizes in different fields of business – and then, with that data, creates a mythical company. Based on the information gathered during the interviews, Forrester's analysts introduce variables, assumptions and even educated guesses to arrive at a dollar amount. That last can be derived from labor costs or infrastructure costs or software costs – or all – with savings gained through "wasted" time turned "productive" and capital expenses unspent.

Not surprisingly, most of the savings came from reclaimed worker productivity.

"Typically, users would conduct search within a certain product, such as OneDrive or Outlook, and give up if they could not find what they were looking for within the first few results," Forrester's report said of the interviewed companies pre-Microsoft Search. "Not finding answers could lead to more extensive search within other products, reaching out to colleagues for help, or giving up on search entirely."

Integrating search within Edge and more importantly, accessing Microsoft or Office 365 content, resulted in large savings of workers' time. Depending on the scenario – largely differentiated by the Microsoft Search adoption rate, with time spent searching pegged at a flat 5.3% of the workday – Forrester's pretend firm of 50,000 employees might save anywhere from $2.4 million the first year to $29.4 million the third. During the three-year span Forrester envisioned, the company would save between $13.6 million and $40.7 million on labor alone.

Other places Microsoft Search would benefit Forrester's fantasy firm included reductions in employees calling on the help desk or putting questions to human resources. Additional savings might come from retiring the company's previous enterprise search solutions, which would likely have been based on both paid software tools and labor time spent adding tags and building taxonomies.

Pre-Microsoft Search, "Employees frequently called the help desk, HR, or other dedicated resources for answers," noted Forrester, even though self-help information was available ... somewhere. With Search, workers would be able to find answers to common questions – such as how to reset their log-in password – without dragging in tech support. Forrester pegged such savings at between $262,000 and $1 million over three years.

Meanwhile, ditching the company's current search solution would cut about $1.4 million from the budget, Forrester figured.

Against those savings, Forrester penned a laughably small amount of additional expenses on the other side of the ledger. By its accounting, the bogus company would spend just north of $41,000 on IT labor for up-front setup of Microsoft Search – composing Q&As, placing bookmarks and the like for worker use – and then later on, for monitoring usage and driving further adoption by employees.

Naturally, one's mileage may vary, when mileage means dollars saved. Simply because an employee isn't wasting time trying to find a specific document – it's here somewhere – doesn't mean he or she is putting that saved time to productive use. The worker could just as easily be wasting it elsewhere. Such are the dangers of accepting time-and-dollars-saved hypotheticals like this.

But Microsoft clearly sees this search as a powerful draw for Edge and a big benefit for customers who adopt Office 365 or the pricier, bigger bundle, Microsoft 365. Of the former, Anderson's inclusion of Microsoft Search as one of Edge's five advantages over Chrome is evidence enough.

Of the latter, Microsoft's made it clear that it will also cater to Microsoft 365 customers who have not adopted Edge but have instead stuck with Chrome. After a contentious early stumble – when Microsoft said it would force Chrome to accept an add-on for Microsoft Search – the Redmond, Wash. company backpedaled, making the extension an opt-in. Support for Chrome and Microsoft Search is to roll out gradually, and from the content of this support document, that has been stalled since early June.

The complete Forrester report can be found here.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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