The release of Microsoft Office 2010 has provided some useful new features for users, including greater collaboration and communications tools. However, like any big refresh project, there is potentially a significant cost associated with moving over to the new version of a software suite, especially one that will be used by so many individuals across an organisation.

Looking at the versions of Office that are installed across hundreds of thousands of desktops around the world, almost half of users are still running Office 2003. While this version of Office is still useful for everyday needs, it is looking a bit long in the tooth. ODF support is lacking, and with the impact of social networking tools on how users want to collaborate, the new version of Office is a good option, particularly for users on 64-bit machines.

For an individual user, the upgrade to Office 2010 is pretty simple. For a business, this process is not so straight-forward: the wide variety of different PC hardware platforms that can be deployed within an organisation can make getting everyone up to the same standard version difficult and labour intensive.

The second issue for businesses is the version of Office that are deployed to users. There are multiple different license versions available from Microsoft, some of which are available through volume license agreements and others not. Not all users will need every application that comes with the full version of Office, so there is the opportunity to save on costs by deploying the appropriate version to users or installing simple readers to those that do not need to edit documents.

From a management perspective, all these different licenses can be a substantial headache, particularly as some users will be upgraded from existing versions of Office, while others may receive it with a new PC running Windows 7 as well. Making the actual switch over to Office 2010 should be simple, but the management and license tracking around this implementation will require some forethought and planning in order to prevent pain points later.

Judging who needs which version of Office is actually a job that your systems management skills can help with. Because so much data on what assets people have access to and the PC hardware they are using is contained within the systems management function, this can make assigning the right licenses to users in the first place easier. This license data can then be available to help manage assets into the future as well.

Alongside this preparation work, there are other opportunities to reduce the amount of time spent on the migration process. Automating the deployment process out to multiple machines can reduce the effort required to get the new version of Office out to user machines considerably.

The biggest challenge in this process is removing any opportunities for the user to interact with the installation. This silent install approach means that users can be upgraded without requiring them to do anything, which makes it easier to have a uniform approach to implementations. This can be carried out across an organisation, or in groups if one ‘big bang’ install would be too risky.

Another method of getting the new version out to end-users is to set up a self-service portal, where users can download the software to their machine as they are ready to do so. Not only does it remove some of the management headache from IT around the installation, it means that users can move at their own pace. Again, scripting any install so that it requires little or no interaction from the user is a good idea here.

Some users may have to be either assisted in the move or forced over to the new version of Office. Your systems management tool should be able to provide you with a list of assets that are installed and the versions of each software product that are out there, making it easy to see where any laggards are in place. Once the situation has been remediated, old versions of software can be automatically uninstalled as well to keep everyone on the same product version.

Many organisations are looking at Office 2010 alongside their Windows 7 migration plans. To some extent it is easier to make the move over to a new OS and application suite at the same time, as it cuts the amount of work from two projects down to one. However, Windows 7 migrations require much more detailed planning around hardware support and moving user settings over. Accuracy of inventory is therefore critical in these situations.

Office 2003 has now moved beyond standard support, and is in ‘extended support’ until 2014. While this means that many users could remain on this for the next few years, the overall shift to support for new formats and the requirement for interoperability will force companies to upgrade in the near future. Planning for this activity has to begin now, so that problems don’t arise in the future.