While Microsoft gears up for the launch of its new Office 2010 suite early next year, it appears the company will struggle to entice corporate customers to adopt the new software.
For years, Microsoft has relied on various incarnations of Office to deliver a steady revenue stream with regular version updates adding healthy spikes to the numbers. However, a straw poll by ZDNet.com.au of a number of large Australian organisations has found none are even considering making a move to the new suite. Many have not even completed their migration to the current Office 2007 edition.
Group executive, business technology at financial services giant Suncorp, Jeff Smith, said his organisation had standardised on Office 2007 but had no plans "at this stage" to move to the new version.
"Suncorp invested significantly in standardising its desktop offering following the merger with Promina," said Smith. "We believe the capability and productivity benefits we have gained from having all our employees on a standard desktop will continue over the medium term and outweigh the business benefits of an immediate upgrade to Office 2010."
Though Smith stressed desktop software was something that was "under constant review" and so he wouldn't rule out a future, staged upgrade. "Suncorp's business technology team has successfully undertaken a number of large roll-outs in recent years since the merger with Promina," he says. "With 17,000 employees in around 450 sites across Australia and New Zealand, we tend to take a phased approach to large roll-outs."
At professional services firm KPMG, the prospect of moving to Office 2010 is even further away. The Australian arm of the company follows the global standard for desktops, which is a combination of Windows XP and Office 2003.
"We are moving globally to Windows 7 and Office 07 later this year," said KPMG IT services head Tony Grooby. "The majority of our clients have not upgraded to 2007 and we are upgrading people if and when required for client purposes. The same would apply for Office 2010."
The lack of a pressing business case to warrant an upgrade to the new Office suite is also evident in the education sector. At the University of Western Sydney, such a change is not even on the radar for the IT department. UWS IT director Mick Houlahan said his massive fleet of more than 6500 desktops was currently running Windows XP and Office 2003.
"We only started to roll out Office 2007 from this month (July) so we only have a handful out there at this stage. Most of our stuff is still '03," he said.
Houlahan said the move to Office 2007 was linked with a move to Windows Vista, which will be gradually rolled out across the university. "It's a big project because it impacts all our users and labs," he said. "We are approaching the upgrade project in what I would describe as a 'gentle but formal manner'."
UWS leases most of its computer hardware on a three-year cycle and application upgrades tend to be tied to new hardware. So Houlahan said it was likely there would still be pockets of XP/Office 2003 machines used in three years' time.
The upgrade plan calls for the 1200 desktop machines in computer labs to be upgraded by the start of semester one in February next year. Significant effort is also being put into training staff to ensure they are comfortable with the new applications. "Office 2010 is not really on the radar for us," said Houlahan. "We talked about it and asked: 'What has it got that 2007 doesn't?' It's possibly more stable but not a lot else."
Office 2010 is not really on the radar for us. We talked about it and asked: 'What has it got that 2007 doesn't?' It's possibly more stable but not a lot else.
UWS IT director Mick Houlahan
Meanwhile, Microsoft has started highlighting some of the features it believes will provide sufficient reason for users to move to Office 2010. These include improved collaboration and the offer of a free, web-based version of the suite.
However, such baubles don't seem to have yet caught the attention of many IT chiefs in the corporate world. For them, wringing the most value out of their existing software investments seems to be a much higher priority.
At energy company Caltex, a roll-out of more than 2400 copies of Office 2007 was completed last year. There are now no plans to move to Office 2010 until sometime in 2011. Caltex Australia's chief information officer Nigel Clark declined to say whether there were any features that had been identified in the new suite that would benefit staff.
"We haven't done a technical assessment yet," he said. "This will occur in the first half of 2010." Clark said it was always the company's intent to be using the current version of applications, but this didn't mean it has to adopt new software as soon as it was launched.
"In most cases, we wait for the first service pack on a new application to be released before we migrate. This helps to reduce the change impact on our employees," he said.
When the move to Office 2010 occurred, Clark said a phased rather than "big bang" approach would be taken. Because of the geographic spread of the Caltex operations, this would allow change management and training to be undertaken in a consistent manner.
This approach is one also followed by New South Wales electricity transmission company TransGrid, whose operations cover the entire state. TransGrid chief information officer Henry Tan said his organisation was still undertaking a phased implementation of Office 2007 and this was scheduled to be completed in December this year.
"There are currently no plans to upgrade to Office 2010 when it ships," he said. "TransGrid does not automatically upgrade to the latest version of desktop software. The decision to upgrade is driven by factors such as functionality that adds value to the business, stability, security, cost, training, transition and compatibility."