Something More Than Active Use

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Microsoft measures whether someone is using Office 365 based on what they call “active use,” which is measured as at least a single interaction with a given workload in Office 365 during a month. So if you read or send a single email in Exchange Online, you’re an “active user” of Exchange Online. If you create a single file in OneDrive for Business, you are an “active user” of OneDrive for Business. If you like a single message on Yammer and do nothing else during the rest of the month, you are still counted as an “active user” of Yammer. It’s a binary option – you either are or aren’t an active user – and the bar is one single event.

From a product usage perspective by the vendor … whatever. As long as the purpose is only to assess who is and isn’t doing something with a given tool, it’s fine. But as a measure of what they’re doing with the workload – how well or effectively they are using it – active use as reported by Microsoft is completely useless. 

Let’s take an example from the world of PowerPoint. You have undoubtedly heard of “death by PowerPoint.” This is when a presenter uses PowerPoint to create and deliver such a boring presentation that his or her listeners come to prefer death over sitting through the remainder of the deck. Sometimes the presenter has no passion for his or her topic and delivers the session in a monotone. Other times he or she just reads the words – every single one of them – from each and every slide, and since the audience can read faster than the presenter can talk, the whole thing drags on until the presenter finally sits down. Or the way the deck is structured is confusing, and it doesn’t convey the message at all.

In the world of higher education, PowerPoint has been found to be toxic for three reasons: slides discourage complex thinking and deep analysis, students see the course as merely a set of slides, and slides discourage reasonable expectations of the learning journey.

From the perspective of active use, however – and Microsoft doesn’t actually measure this for PowerPoint – any use of PowerPoint would classify the presenter as an “active user.” Herein lies the problem. If the user doesn’t use PowerPoint in an effective way – so that he or she gets across the core message that needs to be conveyed – then being an active user is worth nothing.

That means something more than “active use” is required when looking at how tools in Office 365 are put to use, and as a very coarse and unrefined graduated scale, we could say that a user (the person making use of the product offering) can fit into one of three buckets of effectiveness:

  • Low Effectiveness. In PowerPoint terms, creates and delivers slide decks that lead to “death by PowerPoint.”
  • Medium Effectiveness. In PowerPoint terms, the slides complement the spoken words, support the speaker, and get some parts of the message across.
  • High Effectiveness. In PowerPoint terms, slide decks are designed and used to capture attention, get the message across, and move people to action.

Every person using PowerPoint needs to know how to use the tools in PowerPoint (e.g., slides, sections, backgrounds, slide layouts, animation, etc.). But the ones who move out of the low effectiveness bucket have learned to use PowerPoint to advance a goal beyond just using PowerPoint.

Counting active users is simple (and completely useless as a practical measure of adoption). Pursuing effective use is not simple (but extremely important). 

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