How to minimize the pain of an Office 2007 upgrade

Ignoring dead documents, wrestling with templates, and other changeover joys

Moving to a new office is never fun. The same goes for moving to a major new release of Microsoft Office -- which Office 2007 happens to be.

There is new, heftier software to be installed, employees to be retrained for Office 2007's new 'Ribbon' interface, documents that need to be migrated to 2007's new XML-based file format, and more.

Office 2007 is the ninth version released by Microsoft in the last decade and a half. Many companies have developed expertise on how to plan and perform this migration. And Microsoft offers tools -- some of them free -- to help.

Still, many companies find themselves beleaguered with the scope of the task and decide to seek outside help.

ConverterTechnology is one of the leading consultants in the "help space." The 10-year-old Nashua, N.H. firm started off as a Y2k remediation consultancy; when that problem subsided, the company applied the tools and expertise it had gained toward the Office arena, starting with the migration of Office 97 to Office 2000.

The company has migrated 1 million users of Office from older versions, according to CEO Rob McWalter. ConverterTechnology is usually brought in by a larger consultant such as Accenture or Hewlett-Packard Co. at the beginning of a wider corporate upgrade.

"Deployment plans are big and complicated, we are just one of the many moving parts," McWalter said in an interview last month.

First step: A good housecleaning

One of the first things the firm does is help determine what documents need to be converted to the new format -- in Office 2007's case, that new format is Open XML. Surprisingly, that's usually not a high percentage. Up to 80% of documents are "out of service," as McWalter puts it, while only a small percentage of the remaining files are business-critical enough to justify a migration.

For example, ConverterTechnology recently worked with a "top five global bank" that had 75,000 desktops holding more than 43 million Office files in older formats, and of those it ended up migrating only 2.5 million, or about 6%, McWalter said.

A good rule of thumb, he says, is that each PC has on average five documents critical enough to merit a conversion.

Word files, especially forms that rely on templates from human resources departments, lawyers or insurance firms, can be tricky to move. But the most important files are less likely to be Word documents or PowerPoint presentations and more likely to be spreadsheets and other files with financial data residing in Access and Excel files.

Those files often use extensive macros, Visual Basic code or Access programming code, and they could even be linked to other spreadsheets.

Microsoft's tools can convert the data files, but "they don't take you the whole way if there is any complexity [like macros, programming code or links] to the files," McWalter claimed.

Losing access to those files might not only be crippling to businesses, but could also violate data retention laws and other regulations, he said.

McWalter is loath to disclose exactly the ingredients in ConverterTechnology's secret sauce, which he claims can cut Office migration time by 80%. But it does involve, he says, the ability to "identify and remediate 200 compatibility threats" between Office 97 and 2003, and a similar amount between Office 2003 and Office 2007.

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