Office 365 outstrips Salesforce, Box as top enterprise app

Okta's latest survey of its customer app usage data shows Microsoft Office 365 way out in the lead, and Slack gaining fast but facing a possible glass ceiling

Office 365 outstrips Salesforce, Box as top enterprise app
Blair Hanley Frank

Among enterprise apps, Microsoft Office 365 is tops, Slack's growing fast, and platforms like Salesforce and Box are here to stay. But Slack's explosive continued growth isn't guaranteed.

These conclusions and more come from enterprise identity management firm Okta, courtesy of the third edition of its Businesses @ Work report, which aggregates in-house business app usage statistics from its customers.

Just another day with the Office

The sheer dominance of Office 365 as a work app showed up in a remarkable number of ways across Okta's report. It remains the most popular app by a wide margin, and it started pulling fast into the lead not long after Okta started gathering stats for this report series back in early 2014.

By August 2015, Office had beat out Salesforce.com as the most popular app; by the end of last year, Office 365 was beating Salesforce by something like a factor of 1.3 to 1. (Okta's report does not provide absolute numbers, only relative ones.)

Office 365 bests all comers in form factor as well, as Okta reports it's the top app accessed on a mobile device. In this case it outstrips Salesforce, again in the no. 2 position, by nearly a factor of two, with Box in third place right behind. This partially reflects Microsoft Office's status as standard issue for enterprises, but it's also a sign that Office 365 has come a long way since its problematic beginnings -- so much so that it's actually productive to work with it.

Finally, Office 365 also topped the list of "lifecycle management apps" used by Okta customers, although here the competition cuts a lot closer. Box and G Suite (Google's rebrand of Apps For Work), the no. 2 and 3 contenders respectively, were used almost as much, a hint that other products provide tools that Office 365 alone can't cover. In Box's case, it's likely to be its tools for providing regulatory compliance for internal and customer-facing apps.

Slack off? No, Slack on

Another big app success story touted by Okta is Slack, the messaging platform that has commanded a loyal and enthusiastic niche of users. According to Okta's stats, only about a third of its customers currently use Slack, but the steepness of the uptake for the app across the past year and a half has outpaced many other kinds of apps, including Zendesk, GoToMeeting, and Confluence.

Slack's surge has been more or less responsible for the decline of other, related apps, HipChat and Yammer in particular. Okta also lists Skype in that group, although Skype has been falling in rank ever since Okta started gathering its stats.

Slack's also facing greater competitive pressure: Microsoft is positioning Teams as a Slack killer, and other products are attempting to elbow their way in. But the biggest obstacle Slack may face isn't competition -- it's whether businesses will find as broad a set of use cases for it as they do Office 365, or if its appeal will top out after a certain point. The fact that Slack's ranking in Okta's survey among other messaging applications has hit a plateau over the past year is a nod in that direction.

One other hint about future directions for enterprise apps is the percentage of customers who aren't using a conventional on-prem directory system, such as Active Directory or LDAP. Okta partially attributed the development to the growth of cloud-hosted AD, with 30 percent of Okta's small-business customers (less than 250 employees) not using either solution due to their adoption of SaaS solutions. It'll be hard for existing enterprises to uproot themselves from such a technology, but viable in-cloud alternatives means a newly founded outfit doesn't have to plant itself in it at the beginning.