Close Encounters With Office 2007

Microsoft’s new Office suite has some alien features, which raise concerns about backward compatibility, user training and ROI.

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Jacob Jaffe, director of Microsoft Office, claims that the software vendor has listened to enterprise users who complained about insufficient training and support during the Office 2003 rollout and will have more resources available this time around. The new resources include the Office Migration Planning Manager, a tool that can scan machines for potential problems prior to an upgrade; the IT Resource Kit for deployment planning; and a dozen e-learning courses that were available online for free when the product launched last week. This time, resources will be available early, not 12 to 14 months after the Office release, Jaffe says.

Good training and support are critical, because most survey respondents said they think it will take days or weeks for users to become proficient with Office 2007. They said they plan to use a mix of training methods and materials to get users up to speed. While 36% expect training costs to come in under $100 per head, 27% predict that $100 to $500 is more likely.

Nearly one quarter of respondents (24%) cited cost as the major reason for not upgrading to Office 2007. Pencil is hoping to keep total project costs under $300 per seat, including $75 to $100 per seat for technician time.

But licensing costs are another consideration. “Because more than 36 months have elapsed since Office 2003 was released, some IT organizations that signed up for Microsoft’s Software Assurance contract at that time will see their contracts expire without including the expected Office 2007 upgrade,” says Gartner’s Silver. “In some cases, they paid millions of dollars. Those people are not happy.”

But Microsoft’s Jaffe says he’s “not hearing a lot of concern” about that. Software Assurance includes resources for things such as training and deployment, but “there is no guarantee that another product will ship in that time.” Office 2007 is the version that didn’t make that 36-month window, and Jaffe says users should consider the Office 2007 development cycle “an anomaly.” But, he adds, “that’s not a guarantee for the next release.” Enterprise costs for software licenses are about 5% higher than for Office 2003, Jaffe says.

As for ROI, even those who say productivity will increase aren’t sure whether that increase will be measurable. Geiger Brothers’ Marshall says he’s convinced that the new interface will allow users to complete the same tasks more quickly because they won’t need to step down through menus to access buried functions. But he acknowledges that the time savings will be “hard to quantify.” Owens Corning’s Pencil says she doesn’t think it will make a difference. “I don’t think it’s such a big deal to have people click down two or three levels,” she says.

Brent Eads, director of information systems at Employee Technology Solutions Inc. in Chicago, says his experienced Office users revolted when given the Office 2007 beta. “Most were turned off by the new user interface — especially expert-level users,” he says, adding that Microsoft should have included a “classic” user interface. The scope of change in Office 2007 made that less feasible, a Microsoft representative says, adding that it does offer the Interactive Command Reference Guide, an e-learning program that maps commands from the old user interface to the new one.

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