Early users give Office 2007 the thumbs-up

Despite the shock of losing the File menu button, early users are positive about Office 2007 and its hidden delights

Much has been said about the potential difficulties that Microsoft’s Office 2007 revamped user interface has in store for computer users.

However, some organisations that have had time to tinker with the software which will supplant Office 2003 report positive user experiences and improved productivity.

It seems the initial shock of realising the File menu has disappeared (replaced by the colourful Office button) has worn off.

Some early corporate users have found much to like in the new Office software.

Surprise was a common reaction among users who found Office 2007 revealed functions previously hidden in Office 2003, says Steve Driz, director of enterprise solutions and chief privacy officer (CPO) at Ontario March of Dimes, Canada (OMOD), a non-profit organisation dedicated to creating a society inclusive of people with physical disabilities.

Driz, who attended the Canadian launch of Office 2007 and the Windows Vista 2007 operating system held in Toronto, says OMOD “employees were surprised to find the functions right in front of them”.

The province’s largest non-profit rehabilitation organisation, OMOD has been using a portal based on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 for nearly a year now.

It was developed for them by Bell Business Solutions and internet software developer Envision IT of Ontario.

Computer users at Mount Sinai Hospital (MSH) in Toronto liked the easy access to information and greater control over data that Office 2007 provided, says Susan Walsh, director of quality and performance measurement at MSH.

“The newer spreadsheet program in Office 2007 has some built-in business intelligence (BI) functions, that allow users to drill down into data,” says Walsh.

Office 2007’s radical departure from the interface of the popular program was a concern raised by many analysts when Microsoft first revealed that it was replacing the familiar File, Edit, View and Insert menu system menus with a new UI feature called “ribbon”.

The ribbon, which is essentially a function bar appearing above the Office 2007 screen, contains graphic buttons for frequently used features.

There is an initial loss of productivity as users try to adjust to the new UI, but this is short lived, according to Michelle Warren, analyst for Toronto-based consultancy group Evans Research.

“Office 2007 was designed for users familiar with Office 2003, the program builds on what people are already familiar with,” says Warren.

Once over the initial hump, Warren says, users begin to take advantage of the program’s features.

For the OMOD, which helps some 37,000 people with physical disabilities each year, the challenge was to reduce the processing time various office forms took.

“We had 400 forms residing in the public folder of Outlook and we needed to put the most frequently used forms online to streamline our process,” says Driz.

Before migrating to the Office 2007 system, workers at OMOD used inter-office envelopes to pass around forms that required sign-offs. This presented a security risk and often resulted in delays.

Bell and Envision designed a system for OMOD that employs Microsoft’s InfoPath 2007, a Windows-based application that creates electronic forms and SharePoint Server 2007, a collaboration program that enables enhanced communication between users.

The system enabled users to pass the forms via secure email and secure electronic signatures.

“A process that took three to five days was reduced to a couple of hours or even minutes,” says Driz.

Mount Sinai, a 472-bed patient care and teaching facility, wanted to automate and streamline data-reporting for its efficiency scorecard process.

“The scorecard process was incredible. We were entering figures taken from ten departments each using independent databases,” says Walsh.

She says populating the scorecards took anywhere from seven days to two weeks and often hospital analysts needed to ask the IT department for help in analysing data. More time spent on data input and analysis meant less time on identifying key problem areas, says Walsh.

Bell Business Solutions and Envision deployed a Microsoft Office 2007 system along with SQL Server 2005, for the hospital’s BI needs along with Office Excel 2007 and Microsoft Business Scorecard Manager to automate data collection and enable users to analyse reports.

The Pivot Tables in Excel allowed analysts to access and manipulate data in various ways depending on the requirements of a specific report, says Peter Mackenzie, director of business productivity and Microsoft infrastructure for Bell Business Solutions.

Envision also designed a data warehouse based on SQL Server 2005. The system extracts, transforms and loads (ETL) processes automatically and retrieves data from MSH’s various databases and loads them into the data warehouse. SQL Server 2005 Analysis Service allows users to access, analyse and retrieve data much faster than manually retrieving data on a quarterly basis.

“The system enabled us to create scorecards in as little as three days compared [with] the previous seven to ten days that the workload required,” says Walsh.

Furthermore, MSH analysts are now able to create reports and manipulate data faster and with less help from the IT department.

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