Analysts: Start Planning Now For Big Office 2007 Migration

Microsoft announced on Monday that Office 2007, the latest version of its Office suite of productivity software, has been released to manufacturing. The company plans to make Office 2007, along with the Windows Vista operating system and Exchange Server 2007, available to business customers on Nov. 30.

General availability is slated for early next year.

Kyle McNabb, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, says he expects 10% to 15% of users to begin migrating to Office 2007 fairly early in the new year. He estimates that percentage to account for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of users. Microsoft reports that 3.5 million people have downloaded Beta 2, though it's unknown how many of them were enterprise users.

Now, says McNabb, is the time to start getting ready for the move.

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"We've been telling clients for the past year to start planning," says McNabb. "If they're just now starting to plan, they'll be behind the eight ball Even if they're not planning on moving over right away, they need to plan the right communication. What do they tell employees who are probably going to buy it on their own? If they begin using it at home, they'll start asking when they can start using it at work. For that telecommuter, if they're working at home on something, are they going to be using Office 2007 and then IT can't support it?"

McNabb says user training definitely will be needed. He estimates that the average user will need a solid two hours of training to get used to the new features in the upcoming version. IT managers should expect users to need two weeks to become familiar and relatively comfortable with the new software. For more intensive users, that training time will multiply.

"If you have analytical users on Excel, who live and breathe Excel, two hours may be insufficient," he says. "They may need a full day of training."

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata, agrees that CIOs and IT managers should expect and prepare for widespread training.

"For Word, for example, the interface changes are fairly significant," says Haff, who adds that he's been using the beta software and has found it to be "pretty stable." There are "a lot of changes in the menu system. It's changed in a fundamental way."

Both Haff and Roger Kay, founder of Endpoint Technology Associates, say the migration to Office 2007 is going to be a long haul for most enterprises.

According to Kay, the typical approach is to upgrade the whole stack at once—new hardware, the new Vista operating system, and the new Office suite. And he says most IT managers won't be in a major rush to take on that job.

It's not surprising, since McNabb says a good chunk of software users just migrated to Office 2003, the last release. "They'll want to recoup some of that investment before moving forward," he notes. "The new Office suite isn't just about Word and PowerPoint and Excel. There's a wide range of server-side functions to help organize and manage corporate records, presentations, and spreadsheets. We haven't seen that before."

McNabb says those server-side features ultimately will give IT managers more control over managed information and will give them a more comprehensive set of services to build on. But that also means there will be a ramping-up period for IT, as well.

"This has the potential for being a very good thing," says McNabb. "But if not managed properly, [the migration] could grow into a very big deal. If it's left in the hands of the end user, all hell could break loose."