10 Features of the Smarter Office Application Suite

Microsoft Office, Zoho, OpenOffice and Google Docs are all claiming to be the new future of office productivity. Here's what they really need to be future-proof.

1. Permanence. This may sound strange, but the ability to read documents 20 years in the future should be a requirement. I recently went to England where at a museum my ancient-languages-enabled son was able to decipher the words from the oldest fragment (125 A.D.) of the New Testament. I'm not sure I would be able to read documents stored on a floppy from the mid 1990s. Compatibility and the ability to preserve readability are especially important in government applications.

2. Security. Not as easy as it sounds. Sure, you could encrypt every document, but what about when you leave the company? How do you balance your document security with your company's security policy? Easy to understand and enable security with powerful back-end capabilities should be part of any office application suite.

3. Flow. Solving the oldest publication conundrum. Anyone who has worked on content management systems has encountered this. Sometimes many people need to work on one document. Sometimes one person needs to work on many documents. This is a classic one-to-many and many-to-one database issue that has never really been solved. How do you make this document management clear to the user, preserve changes and produce a document in a variety of formats? The fact that the office suite is in the cloud does not make this particularly easier.

4. Functions. In business it is functions, not applications. Business works in a world of memos, financial models and multimedia output. Office suites traditionally work in a world of documents, spreadsheets and presentations. The clumsiest point for most office suites is when you try to incorporate the documents, spreadsheets and presentations into one final application. I don't see any of the new suites really solving the underlying problem that the origins of the office apps were from a technology instead of a business perspective.

5. Social Awareness. Office suites were created before the Web, global e-mail and certainly before Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Once people lived in their office application all day long. Now they live in their favorite social suite all day long. Office suites are not quite a relic of the past, but they are not at the forefront of the computer users' minds.

6. Mobility. Office suites to enhance business mobility rather than restrict business flow. Business applications need to be available on small screens in limited text space. A user sending a document to a mobile boss needs to know exactly what that boss will see on the screen. Again, the cloud hasn't really improved this process to the point where the mobile user is not forced to thumb through screens of information.

7. Multimedia. Increasingly the business office suite user operates in a multimedia world. Text messages are being replaced by short video messages. Long how-to manuals are being replaced by video tutorials. Multimedia content development, deployment and viewing have been an add-on to the office suite -- and in my opinion a particularly clumsy add-on.

8. Global. Business is global and office suites are restricted by language. Is it too absurd to think that a document user should be able to read a document in their language of choice? I suppose I should put automatic translation far into the always-distant future, but it seems that is where office applications should reside.

9. Assurance. Remember the world before the last real estate meltdown? When you refinanced your house you left with a stack of papers. Have you ever spent an hour feeding faxes into a fax machine destined for a lawyer's office? Digital office documents are still unable to replace paper in many legal situations. Why is that? Why can't identity that all agree on travel with a document?

10. The paperless office. I had to include this. I remember promises of the paperless office that were made 20, 30, maybe 40 years ago. You can argue about free office suites, office suites in the cloud and office suites that mix the cloud and the desktop, but in the end I have yet to walk into an office that is not awash in paper (including my office). Why is that? What is it that really is stopping the paperless office? I think if you reread the previous nine attributes you can start to see why the paperless office of the future is just that.