Early Office 2007 adopters pleased with user interface

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

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

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

Some early Canadian corporate users – at least those present at the application’s business launch in Toronto, Thursday – found much to like in the new Office software.

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

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

The province’s largest non-profit rehabilitation organization, 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 Inc. and Internet software developer Envision IT of Mississauga, Ont.

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

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

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

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

Once over the initial hump, Warren said, users can 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 to 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,” said 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 collaboration program that enables enhanced communication between users.

The system enabled users to pass the forms via secure e-mail and secure electronic signatures.

“A process that took three to five days was reduced to a couple of hours or even minutes,” said 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 10 departments each using independent databases,” said Walsh.

She said populating the scorecards took anywhere from seven days to two weeks. More time spent on data input and analysis meant less time on identifying key problem areas, said Walsh.

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

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

Envision also designed a data warehouse based on SQL Server 2005. The systems extract, transform and load (ETL) process automatically retrieves data from MSH’s various databases and loads them to the data warehouse. SQL Server 2005 Analysis Service allows users to access, analyze and retrieve data much faster that manually retrieving data on a quarterly basis.

“The system enabled us to create scorecards in as little as three days compared to the previous seven to 10 days that the worked required,” said Walsh.

Furthermore, MSH analysts are now able to create reports and manipulate data faster.

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