Convergence or Divergence – Competing Interests During a MSFT Office Upgrade?

Your organization has decided to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2010 and, for larger enterprises, this is not a trivial decision. As an executive or business line manager, the decision to upgrade is most likely driven by demands from end users within your department. Perhaps it is the expanded functionality in the new Office upgrade, or better integration with SharePoint. It may even be that the current version of Office is so old that the users are complaining their kid’s PC has a much more current version. IT’s decision to upgrade may come from a slightly different point of view.  Perhaps support for the current version of Office is going away or perhaps there is a Windows 7 upgrade planned and touching the desktop once, for both, is compelling. Regardless of the “why,” both business managers and IT managers are unified around one concern during an upgrade – risk.  However, this is where the convergence may begin and end.

From a business line manager perspective, mitigating the risk of business disruption is of primary concern during an Office upgrade. For example, temporarily declining productivity surrounding the use of the new Office Ribbon can be anticipated, and training can be provided to minimize the disruption. However, it is more often that file incompatibilities, especially around those business critical app-like files, are not first and foremost in the minds of non-technical executives. There is an assumption that files will work after an upgrade in the exact same manner as before, which is true for the most part. It’s the small percentage of files which don’t convert, that are the proverbial devil in the details. But wait, the IT department will alert the business owners that file incompatibilities can occur and that certain contingency planning would be prudent, right?

Well, maybe or maybe not. Here’s where we start to see the divergence.

While it is true that IT wants the upgrade to go off without a hitch, with minimal or no downtime, they are not necessarily thinking about the business critical Office files. They are thinking in terms of desktop stability, security, and minimizing multiple versions of software in production, because IT is charged with maintaining a secure and stable desktop environment. And why should they care about the Office files? After all, they didn’t create these files? More often than not IT does not have any idea just how many Office files exist in the organization’s environment, never mind which ones are business critical. Sure, sometimes testing is done by IT on Office files during the initial planning phases, but it is usually conducted on files in the IT group. No offense to the folks in IT, but it’s likely that their files are not the ones that will fail during an upgrade, so there can be a false sense of confidence that every file will upgrade just fine.

So the real question is: who should be responsible for initiating the planning discussion concerning file conversion of business critical Office files at risk during an upgrade?