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The road to Office 2010

Worth the shoe leather?

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Office 2010 is something of a conundrum. First the good news: it is the fastest selling version of Office in history, according to US analyst Forrester. Half of the businesses the firm surveyed in March had started the migration process, and the “vast majority” of the rest planned to upgrade in the future.

According to Gartner, Office 2010 sales “brought 9.5 per cent growth” for the Office suites market in 2010, rising to 10.6 per cent in 2011. Demand for the update from Microsoft is expected to continue to grow through this year.

Savings galore

Microsoft is also keen to demonstrate that Office 2010 will save you bucketloads of cash. With consultants at Forrester it has produced a report (registration required) showing that the costs of upgrading to office 2010 could be repaid within five months because, among other things, the system allows for smarter sharing of documents and better version control.

Even with the pinch of salt that must be added to any consultant’s report, these quantified productivity gains can at least be understood as time saved and life simplified.

Simon May, a tech evangelist at Microsoft, describes the Office 2010 document management as “a single version of the truth”, and says it makes collaboration on projects less of a headache.

Forward thinking

Yet the news is not all good. Towards the end of 2010 research showed that companies were delaying upgrades to Office 2010 because of its “assumed complexity”. IT pros said the amount of training needed to get users up to speed was as much of a concern as managing the migration.

Is this still a problem? Now that Office 2010, with its ribbons and Backstage interface, has been around for over a year, are people right to be nervous?

The early adopters have already adopted, and this is great news for everyone else because now the rest of us laggards can learn from their mistakes experiences.

So if you haven’t migrated, and you are thinking about it, what sorts of things should you be aware of? And can this software really help your budget?

Back to the future

Tom Unwin, technical architect at Plymouth City Council, says that if he could go back in time to give himself advice before he began the council’s migration, it would be to start sooner.

“More time, more analysis would have been good,” he says. “We did take a bit of a seat-of-the-pants approach. We felt pretty confident, but there is always room for things to go wrong.”

Unwin’s timetable was challenging, to say the least. Plymouth City Council was moving its 4,000 or so seats to an open-plan office with hot-desking, the idea being to save space and reduce the office overheads. The deadline for the move was set, if not in stone, then in quite tough dried mud and IT had to be ready.

There was a lot to do, so Unwin did what any sane man would: renew everything, from his servers and desktops right through to the phone system.

“We did everything at once,” he says. “We had shown we couldn’t accommodate hot-desking with the existing stack, so we migrated from Citrix Presentation Server 4.5 to Win7, and from Office 2003 to Office 2010.

“The old Cisco phone system was end-of-life so we decided to move that over to MS Lync, too.”

Cloud was not an option because of compliance issues regarding where data needs to be kept, and also because the council has a lot of line-of-business applications that would have been complicated to move to the cloud.

With a tight timeframe and such a massive to-do list, Unwin decided that each element of the work would be separately outsourced. Tenders went out before Christmas 2010, the first work began just after Christmas and the pilot started around Easter.

Knowing me knowing you

Unwin mulls over whether or not it might have been better to give the whole job to one contractor to get a better deal, but says that no, that could have spiralled out of control. You get the impression he has had that particular conversation with himself more than once.

The key to a good software migration, according to Simon May, is thorough preparation.

“You have to know what you have, what your environment is like,” he says. “There are tools that will give you an overview of what you have, so that you know what is going to be a problem and can fix it before you start.”

Although Unwin and his colleagues at Plymouth City Council didn’t have much time to prepare, dividing and outsourcing the project made it manageable and the move to Office 2010 has been reasonably smooth, he says.

There were some machines that needed a bit more memory, and one partner suggested a network upgrade might be in order, but Unwin’s team decided they could live with the 100Mb they already had.

For small businesses running only a few copies of Office, a machine-by-machine install might work, but for Unwin and his 4,000 users, a seat-by-seat installation was never going to be an option.

Plymouth City Council opted for AppV for application delivery and did the build using SCCM. It looked at other options, but since Citrix and VMWare also rely on an MS stack, it decided it would be better just to keep it all with one supplier and reduce budget pressures.

“We had just one base image for Office. We took off Access for most users, and decided to make Publisher available only by special request, too.”

Sans Gill

This caused the biggest glitch in the Office 2010 migration. The council’s house style font is Gill Sans, and as Unwin found out, if you don’t install Publisher, you don’t have Gill Sans.

“It took a while to discover this, though. Which I guess shows how closely everyone sticks to corporate templates,” Unwin recalls.

The issue of macro compatibility did raise its ugly head in the accounts department, where a few macros didn’t do what they were supposed to, but this was quickly sorted out. “We haven’t had any rumblings since,” Unwin says.

One of people’s biggest concerns about moving to Office 2010 is that the interface is very different, especially for Office 2003 users.

Dhaval Brahmbhat, a director at Cloud IT, which installs Office 2010 to get clients up to spec for moves into the cloud with Office 365, says it generally takes a couple of weeks for clients to feel comfortable with the new features.

“Most people just want to open a document and start typing”

Unwin was also conscious of this potential issue, and although he was short of time in the initial stages, is now proceeding at a more measured pace. The system is rolled out to at most a couple of hundred users at a time, and new users get half a day’s training before the switch.

Once that is done, the IT team comes in over the weekend to set everything up so the new users are up and running on Monday. Unwin also keeps an IT presence on the floor for a while after a group has made the switch to pick up any pieces.

“Really, moving to 2010 is probably easier than moving to 2007. And most people just want to open a document and start typing. It is a small percentage of users who need to access the more sophisticated features, and in our experience they were up to the challenge,” he observes.

As to the original goal – enabling hot-desking to reduce overheads – the smaller office spaces are being closed down and gradually sold off.

It might not be as easily quantifiable as a consultant might tell you, but in this case there is a real return on investment. ®

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