Utility taps into Office 2007, Vista held back

Collaboration, process automation drivers for Microsoft’s next generation productivity suite

Victorian water and sewerage utility South East Water Limited (SEWL) has completed a pilot project of Microsoft's Office 2007 server technologies to improve collaboration and eliminate manual processes.

The state government-owned SEWL services about 1.3 million people in Victoria and has some 700 desktops across two sites.

SEWL identified two "pain points" in its information management processes - the capital approvals process and a corporate key performance indicator - to participate in the proof of concept.

The capital approvals process is largely manual whereby printed documents are sent around the organization, exposing the information to loss and there is no mechanism for tracking the status of an approval.

SEWL's CIO, Marcus Darbyshire, told Computerworld the previous paper-based process had time issues and the use of Office SharePoint Server 2007 streamlined the whole process of capital investment.

"Water is on the tip of everyone's tongues so we need to make decisions quickly," Darbyshire said, adding the use of a collaboration server allows real-time editing of a single document.

Real-time workflow where workers can approve documents is also a feature.

An existing SharePoint 2003 site, Darbyshire said SEWL has "a fair bit" of existing content and with 2007 the key thing is workflow, but some of the new features like Excel Web access, integration with forms, and "nice new things" like wikis and blogs make it easier to collaborate.

"Sharepoint puts the onus on users to manage their own content," he said. "The ability to empower the users to create their own content and collaborate and share that information across the business is the big benefit. In the past users had to go through bottlenecks to publish information."

SEWL's key performance indicators also needed improving as the generation of KPIs was "serial in nature", time consuming, largely manual, and not easily accessible to the whole organization.

"Excel spreadsheets would have to be manually updated now they are all captured in the portal," Darbyshire said. "We have a great looking KPI Web site that all staff can see and the information is accurate and timely."

On the desktop, SEWL plans to deploy the new Office 2007 suite but has not yet completed a business case for the upgrade.

"Excel Web access was the closest we got to Office 2007," Darbyshire said. "We have no plans to upgrade now but will have it rolled out to 700 desktops by this time next year."

The same goes with Windows Vista, which is likely to coincide with the upgrade to Office 2007, but "we need to do more testing".

"It takes a long time to deploy and train people," he said. "The Office 2007 interface is more productive but it's a big change."

Darbyshire said a word processor and spreadsheet can only do so much but when you start integrating them with server products it becomes a "really robust" platform for business productivity.

Microsoft Australia's director of the Office business unit, Tony Wilkinson, said in the past the focus has been on personal productivity, but 2007 brings more integration between the client and server, including search.

"We have had around 86,000 downloads of Office and Vista in Australia [and] worked with about 27 customers where we have done pilot programs," Wilkinson said.

At SEWL, consulting firm BearingPoint projected time savings in the order of $6624 to $19344 with the new software.

"There are three areas to do with managing information in a business and help get most out of people - collaboration, managing the life cycle of an application, and helping people find and retrieve information," Wilkinson said.

Windows Vista will be available to enterprise customers at the end of the month.

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