Microsoft Office System 2003: Part 2: - Office Upgrade Considerations

Although most organizations will not feel rushed to upgrade to Office 2003 on features alone, the end of extended support for Office 97 (January 2004), mainstream support for Office 2000 (June 2004), and an expected refresh of previously deferred PC replacements will be the primary drivers for organizations upgrading to Office 2003 through 2004/05.
Written by Timothy Hickernell, Contributor

Although most organizations will not feel rushed to upgrade to Office 2003 on features alone, the end of extended support for Office 97 (January 2004), mainstream support for Office 2000 (June 2004), and an expected refresh of previously deferred PC replacements will be the primary drivers for organizations upgrading to Office 2003 through 2004/05.

META Trend: During 2003, economic pressures, tool proliferation, and technology overlap will drive enterprises to optimize information, collaboration, and learning infrastructure to reduce costs and promote reuse. By 2005, progressive enterprises will formalize strategic planning, architecture, standardization, platforms, and support structures, resulting in a cohesive knowledge worker infrastructure (KWI) portfolio by 2007.

While Office 2003 (3Q03) contains significant XML enhancements that will ensure it a place in the Web services-enabled enterprise of the future (see Figure 1), organizations are becoming immune to the expected list of new features that accompany an Office upgrade, especially since Microsoft won the Office suite wars long ago, and two-thirds of large enterprises already own the upgrade through some form of maintenance. However, the Microsoft support life-cycle policy that went into effect in October 2002 withdraws all support for Office 97 (January 2004). It places Office 2000 in the “extended support” category (June 2004), which will require organizations to purchase additional service agreements to maintain full support of Office 2000. Although we do believe new applications in the Office 2003 family and XML enhancements should be included in an Office 2003 upgrade assessment, OS upgrades and hardware refresh will drive Microsoft Office upgrade decisions through 2007/08, rather than new applications and software features (with some exceptions like significant XML requirements).

New Applications
The Office 2003 family contains two new products in the 2003 version: InfoPath and OneNote, which can add value to enterprise users. InfoPath
InfoPath is a new application that is included with Office 2003 Professional Enterprise Edition and is also available as a standalone product. InfoPath uses XML to construct forms that can unify structured and unstructured data, import custom XML schemas, and use Web services to import and export data from enterprise systems. Although it is ideal for ad hoc forms solutions that do not require sophisticated workflow, it can be integrated with SharePoint Portal Server and BizTalk and gain basic library services and workflow services, respectively. However, the lack of directly supported BizTalk integration remains a large barrier to more sophisticated e-forms applications. Indeed, we do not consider this combination of Microsoft application infrastructure as a high-end enterprise forms solution. Rather, it is likely that InfoPath will be a part of many enterprise forms solutions and integrated with forms architectures from enterprise forms vendors such as Adobe and Cardiff. It should be noted that there is no free InfoPath form-fill tool analogous to Adobe’s Reader, so process participants need the InfoPath application to use InfoPath forms (unless developers create transforms that can use variants of HTML as user presentation layers).

Because InfoPath’s role is really that of a development tool and process automation tool front end, we recommend organizations deploy InfoPath on an as-needed basis - even if the firm has an enterprise license for InfoPath - as part of Office Professional Enterprise Edition.

OneNote is a new personal note-taking and productivity application aimed at the typical knowledge worker who prefers taking notes on a PC rather than on paper. OneNote targets the information-gathering activities of a knowledge worker and note-taking professionals such as meeting and research notes and simple sketching, and will also be very compelling to student note-taking processes. The most useful feature for educational use is OneNote’s ability to index audio recordings of meetings in the time domain with each text and drawing item that is created for quick recall of the audio at the exact moment a note was taken. Users of Tablet PCs will find particular value from OneNote, since pen-based data input is recommended to take full advantages of its sketching and drawing tools. Although support for Outlook tasks is included, the first version of OneNote does not integrate with other Microsoft productivity applications and enterprise systems (e.g., filing of information in Outlook contacts, Outlook appointments, Project Central, enterprise systems) as well as it could. However, we expect Microsoft to tighten integration of OneNote with other applications in a future version (2004). Because OneNote is available only as a standalone application, we recommend that organizations offer it to business users as a non-standard application at the business unit’s cost, rather than supporting it as a core Office application, unless electronic note-taking is a core business process such as in higher education. It is likely that many hardware manufacturers (e.g., laptops, Tablet PCs, digital pens) will bundle OneNote with their products (2004/05) or offer it as an optional add-on.

Recommended Upgrade Scenarios
We recommend that every organization perform a detailed upgrade assessment within the context of its firm. Such scenarios assume the enterprise is eligible for an Office Professional or Office Enterprise Edition upgrade through maintenance. The most typical enterprise upgrade scenarios for Office 2003 are the following:

  • Scenario 1 - Enterprise standard is currently Office 97: Office 97 officially becomes a retired product in January 2004. No further support will be available from Microsoft, not even on a pay-as-you-go basis. We recommend that organizations standardized on Office 97 consider the impact of support withdrawal and at least plan to upgrade to either Office XP or Office 2003 at the next scheduled operating system upgrade or hardware refresh, if not sooner.
  • Scenario 2 - Enterprise standard is currently Office 2000: Office 2000 will transition from mainstream support to extended support in June 2004. Companies that are standardized on Office 2000 should plan to upgrade to Office 2003 at the next regularly scheduled operating system upgrade or hardware refresh.
  • Scenario 3 - Enterprise standard is Office XP, and no OS upgrade (Windows 2000 or Windows XP) is planned in 2003/04: Organizations standardized on Office XP are unlikely to gain significant value from upgrading to Office 2003 without other reasons to refresh every PC software build in the organization. Even if targeted applications exist for InfoPath, InfoPath can always be installed on an as-needed basis. Organizations in this situation should synchronize their next Office upgrade only with the next major OS upgrade. However, Exchange users should evaluate enhancements in Outlook 2003 and consider upgrading to Outlook 2003 if sufficient value can be achieved (see Figure 1).
  • Scenario 4 - Enterprise standard is Office XP, and an OS upgrade (Windows 2000 or Windows XP) is planned in 2003/04: Even if an organization is already standardized on Office XP, planned OS upgrades (including those linked to hardware refresh) represent an opportunity to synchronize Office upgrades with OS upgrades, thereby establishing a more strategic PC upgrade schedule that optimizes IT resources. In this case, upgrading to Office 2003 concurrent with the planned OS upgrade can synchronize update schedules with the organization’s primary PC software investments and better synchronize PC life cycles with Microsoft support life-cycle policies.
Business Impact: Failing to coordinate Microsoft Office upgrades with Microsoft support life-cycle policies and OS upgrades risks incurring additional support costs, withdrawal of product hot-fix support, and redundant PC software refreshes.

Bottom Line: Organizations should coordinate Microsoft Office upgrades with operating system and hardware refresh cycles. Demand for new applications and functionality in Office 2003 before scheduled refresh cycles should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis according to business value added.

META Group originally published this article on 4 November 2003.

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