Office 2003 focuses on teamwork

With an emphasis on collaboration and information sharing, Microsoft Corp. last month launched its Office System 2003 – the latest iteration of the company’s Office Suite that is now being touted as a complete business solution.

The hallmarks of the office system include enhanced integration between Office applications and the back office, enabled through extensible markup language (XML) allowing for easier collaboration, along with a new note-taking application dubbed OneNote, and an information sharing application called InfoPath.

Microsoft has also released SharePoint Services 2003 for Windows Server 2003, which allows users to create Web sites to share and collaborate on information over the Internet – a product that has become useful to a health organization in B.C.

The Fraser Health Authority (FHA), based in Surrey, B.C., was created in 2001 after three regional health care organizations merged. The group provides services to 33 per cent of B.C. through 12 hospitals and dozens of community centres. The FHA was facing an information management headache, and was having a significant amount of difficulty starting, collaborating and implementing new projects effectively.

Having already made a significant investment in Microsoft technology, James Orobko, director of information management services at the FHA, turned once again to the software maker.

Using the electronic forms from InfoPath 2003, and a Windows SharePoint Services Portal site for each new project or proposal, Orobko said it is now easy for users in different locations to collaborate on projects and have easy access to the same versions of information.

The FHA said it now takes about 15 hours less, on average, to initiate, approve and implement new projects, and it expects the implementation of Office 2003 to pay for itself over the next 16 months.

For PCL Constructors Inc., a company that deals with many complex construction projects, having SharePoint at its fingertips has made life easier for workers on large-scale projects. “They know where to get (necessary) information,” said Edmonton-based Brian Ranger, general manager of systems and technology. Prior to using Office 2003 and SharePoint, collaboration on some projects was difficult. Ranger said PCL would have liked a solution like SharePoint a few years back when it worked on the Staples Center in Los Angles and had to completely redo the interior for the 2000 Democratic National Convention. Organizing all of the aspects of an internal rebuild without collaborative software made the job that much more difficult, he said.

In addition, Ranger said, collaborative technology is “critical at the start of projects,” since PCL undertakings are often in remote areas where the company has to build an entire infrastructure even before it starts a project.

Now the firm can “start living and breathing in that (collaborative) space,” he said.

Martin Blum, manager of communications and client services with the Alberta Cancer Board in Edmonton, said SharePoint is an easy tool to use. “Show me a tool I can (get up) and going in 15 minutes and I’ll use it,” he said. The Cancer Board is currently using version 2.0.

Vito Mabrucco, group vice-president at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said businesses are entering a new era of computing whereby the desktop becomes an extension of the network, as opposed to the current client-server model.

Microsoft is marketing the solution to companies that already have an extensive investment in Microsoft applications and aren’t so large that they don’t need point business process management solutions, he said.

The new Office features will allow customers, for example, who run their entire business on Excel to leverage the collaborative features Office is offering and continue along the same path, without having to overhaul their systems, Mabrucco added.

Microsoft Office Professional Edition is available through volume licensing only. The Professional Edition costs $759 new or $489 to upgrade, whereas the Small Business Edition costs $659 new or $419 to upgrade.