Bringing it all together

What’s inside the newest Microsoft Office Systemω How can your business put its new capabilities to work right awayω The bottom line is that the Microsoft Office System 2003 helps you and your organization get more done, more quickly, with greater collaboration and greater integration with your enterprise systems than anything else available.

A common mindset in organizations is that word processing, spreadsheet creation and presentation building are mature processes that previous tools already address adequately. That’s a smart mindset to have, because, in today’s business climate, everyone is being asked to do more with less. Therefore, it’s tempting for business executives or technology executives to think last year’s model is good enough. After all, it worked last year, rightω

I’ve talked with executives from many organizations that believe their people are as productive using seven-year-old Microsoft Office 97 as they could be by moving to new Office technology. There are many compelling new reasons to re-think that mindset with the release of Microsoft Office System 2003. In truth, the Microsoft Office System 2003 answers many challenges today’s information worker faces.

It’s now a "system"

The first thing you may have noticed is Microsoft Office is now called a "system" rather than a "suite" of products. That change in nomenclature is more than symbolic.

In addition to revamped versions of popular Office programs; Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, FrontPage, Project, Visio and Publisher, Microsoft has added two entirely new applications: InfoPath and OneNote. Microsoft also now includes two server products into the Office System family – SharePoint Portal Server and Live Communications Server (although not sold as part of the Office System product).

Those familiar with older versions of Office programs will be immediately familiar with the newest versions and through improved task panes and a completely revised help system; new features will become easily integrated into your daily work processes.

Get more done, more quickly

There are significant productivity enhancements introduced with the new Microsoft Office System 2003. No, this is not simply Microsoft rhetoric used to get organizations motivated to move to their next product release.

Recent research from the MIT Center for eBusiness reveals the importance of productivity enhancements to the bottom line of businesses.

In an article published by MIT in March 2004, "Some companies go only part way, using technology to automate particular function or eliminate specific jobs. But the most successful digital organizations foster a fundamentally new organizational culture – they automate most routine decisions while giving workers the information and authority to make on-the-spot decisions."

It is such automation and empowering of information workers that underscores the greatest benefits of Microsoft Office System 2003.

Each of the Office System 2003 applications brings new productivity enhancements within themselves and between each other. One excellent example of this is the new interface for Outlook – the personal information management application of Office and where most of us spend 90% of the day. Outlook’s new interface provides several new productivity enhancements, including:

1.Favorite Folders displays your most important folders in a separate view.

2.New tri-pane view displays folders, messages, message preview in a single interface (for e-mail).

3.Ability to roll-up messages by chronological periods helps you find messages more quickly than ever before. With the ability to use six follow-up flag colors, you can now further prioritize your pending activities.

4. Message preview and open messages automatically block images and other potentially harmful file types to help keep you secure and productive.

5. Greater collaboration and integration

Office applications are now even more integrated with each other, enabling robust new collaboration scenarios. While we highlighted some of the interface enhancements in Outlook 2003, the improved integration of Outlook into every Office System application is unparalleled.

Outlook has become the headquarters of your own knowledge worker information center.

Improvements in other Office applications include the ease with which you can submit your Word document (or Excel, or PowerPoint) to others for review, or keep data updated from Excel into Word, or consume enterprise data from your corporate CRM or ERP system – all without leaving Office.

Features such as smart tags automatically recognize your contacts within Office applications, provide access to insert data from your contact record or communicate with the contact through e-mail, phone, fax or instant messaging.

Another big collaboration boost is gained from SharePoint Team Services (a subset of the SharePoint Portal Server; and included with Windows Server and FrontPage products) that enables users on a team to quickly create a project web site to share documents, discussion, calendars, and other pertinent information with each other.

Enhancing productivity

There is another side to Office System 2003’s productivity enhancements that are less obvious to the casual or even power business user.

Microsoft has paid particular attention to creating an Office environment that is capable of fully leveraging the capabilities of its .NET development tools and technologies. Microsoft .NET is a set of development tools, web services, smart clients (of which Office is one), and application servers. Office 2003 and .NET together create productivity improvements for automated processes.

One client, Brookfield-based Centare Group, is working with a report they build which previously took nearly 20 hours to produce. The report pulled data from various data sources and compiled, formatted and output a Microsoft Word document report. Using Office System 2003 and Visual Studio.NET (the development toolset for using .NET technologies), Centare was able to reduce the report generation time to 2-1/2 minutes. That’s a productivity boost of nearly 5000%.

The bottom line

When considering ways for you and your organization to increase productivity – to get more things done, more quickly – nothing available in the market can help you do that better than the new Microsoft Office System 2003. With significant enhancements to each of the existing applications, the introduction of several new applications and the incomparable integration within and outside of Office 2003, you and your organization should immediately begin analyzing how the new Microsoft Office System 2003 can benefit your business.

Brian Tinkler is president of the Wisconsin .NET Users Group.

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