Office 2007 Training Fears Are Overblown, Microsoft Exec Says

Capossela: New user interface ‘far less of a concern’ than IT managers think

NEW YORK Many IT managers have voiced concerns that the dramatically different user interface in Microsoft Corp.’s Office 2007 software will force them to plan migrations more carefully than they have had to in the past, with increased end-user training. But during an interview with

Computerworld at last week’s Windows Vista and Office 2007 launch event, Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of the product management group in Microsoft’s business division, insisted that companies won’t have to devise “some big, sophisticated training plan” to roll out the new Office applications. Excerpts follow:

IT managers say they will have to do more strategic planning for their Office 2007 rollouts because of extra training time that needs to be built in. What would you say to companies that are concerned about that?

Chris Capossela

Chris Capossela

Well, we certainly didn’t do this lightly. We’ve been working on how to do this as well as we could for the past three years. We started by unveiling the new user interface many, many, many months ago to make sure people understood there was a big change coming. And then we did dramatically more end-user testing than we’ve done on any other piece of software. ...The feedback we’re getting is that it’s far less of a concern than people think it will be initially.

There are two data points that we talk about. No. 1 is, for your average Office user, we see that it takes them about two days of working with the product before they say, “I’ll never go back.” For your power user — the people who know the ins and outs of Excel, maybe the finance team, or the legal team when it comes to Word — it takes them more like two weeks before they’ll say, “Please don’t ever take this away.”

But that’s not two weeks of no productivity. When they launch the product for the first time, we’ve designed that very first Ribbon so that the vast majority of the common things are right there. It’s literally easy to see: How do I change a font? How do I print a file? How do I open a file? How do I save a file?

For those who haven’t seen Office 2007 yet, can you describe the Ribbon? The Ribbon takes the place of menus and tool bars. You used to have menus that dropped down and tool bars that stacked up on top of each other. Now, the Ribbon is one strip of icons and galleries that you can choose from to author your documents. The vast majority of people — something like 85% of our beta users — said they were going to be far more productive with [Office] 2007 than [Office] 2003.

The other thing we set out to do was to not put the training burden on the shoulders of the IT staff. We wanted to build the training right into the product and connect that to the Web, where we have really rich training materials. ...IT doesn’t have to roll anything out. If you hit Help within Office, you get access to that training material.

You don’t think IT departments need to build in any training, period? They can just rely on your Web site? Absolutely. The best thing for them to do is just take a set of users and do a pilot. Obviously, do it with a small enough group that IT is going to feel comfortable supporting it, and see what kind of support they need for the new user interface. I think people will be very surprised that it’s far less jarring than you might think.

So the fears of IT pros about the need for more extensive training are unfounded? I think they’re rational to be concerned, and planning is a good thing. But all the data we have shows us that it is something that is much, much simpler than you at first think when you hear that the user interface has changed.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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