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Office 2013 compatibility, interface hurdles don't trip one migration

Walsh Construction has built its business with Office 2013, whose new features make up for third-party software-compatibility problems.

A combination of new features and assistance from Microsoft Consulting Services helped offset problems with third-party software and Office 2013 compatibility, as well as an unfamiliar interface, when Walsh Construction Co. migrated from Office 2010 earlier this year.

The Chicago-based company completed an Office 2013 migration from Microsoft Office 2010 in March. The upgrade affected 2,600 of Walsh Construction's 7,000 employees.

A variety of users work with Office; for example, project managers in the field use Access to track shipments of steel and other materials as they arrive on a jobsite, and accountants use Excel's GeoFlow 3-D data visualization add-in feature.

Walsh Construction is part of Microsoft's Rapid Deployment Program for Office 365, which gave the company early access to Office 2013, as well as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online. As part of the program, Microsoft provided two consultants free of charge to help with the migration. One consultant handled the Office 2013 Click-to-Run deployment, and the other helped with the move to Exchange Online.

"The key part for Microsoft was the Click-to-Run installation method, which is different than the traditional MSI installation of Office products," said Patrick Wirtz, innovation manager at Walsh Construction. "The Office 2013 installation does not grow as updates and service packs are released like it used to with Office 2010 and earlier versions. This makes it easy to manage and maintain from an IT standpoint, as well as from an end-user perspective, since updates are quicker to install."

Office 2013 compatibility challenges

Despite the assistance, Walsh Construction encountered Office 2013 compatibility problems with third-party software, including Articulate Studio, an e-learning authoring plug-in for PowerPoint, and Avecto Privilege Guard privilege management software.

Articulate wasn't updated for Office 2013, so Office 2010 had to be run beside the current release. Wirtz said his company had to work with Microsoft and Avecto to sort out initial compatibility issues with that software.

"Avecto allows us to whitelist software so people can install it without being admins, which saves us a help desk call," Wirtz said. "For instance, we could whitelist Hewlett-Packard so users could go home and still install their home printers. When we first installed Office 2013 Click-to-Run, Avecto wasn't familiar with the new way the software worked, so we had to do a workaround." He added that as of the June release, Office 2013 Click-to-Run works with Avecto.

The Office 2013 interface presented another challenge for users who had to get used to its new look and feel, but a new feature that allows PDFs to be imported into Word helped alleviate this concern. With future updates occurring incrementally, users won't have to learn an entirely new interface, Wirtz said.

"There is no more Service Pack, so with updating, you just get the new version and change the innards. That makes it easier for IT to deploy and support," he said. "This interface is the normal three-year big update that people need to get used to with Office, but it is our expectation that it will be easier as Microsoft updates parts of Office on a more continual basis ... making it easier on the end user in the long run."

New input, formatting and updating features

Microsoft includes touchscreen support in Office 2013, and since Walsh Construction is beginning to standardize on two tablets from Lenovo -- the ThinkPad Helix and ThinkPad Tablet 2 -- the new touch feature is attractive. "We needed a version of Office to work with those tablets," Wirtz said.

Another beneficial new feature for Walsh Construction is Flash Fill for Excel. According to Microsoft, Flash Fill automates corrections of improperly formatted spreadsheet data. When a user creates a new column adjacent to an existing column and then types the properly formatted data, Flash Fill automatically fills in all rows below that example.

"Quite often we receive Excel sheets from subcontractors or external firms that have data that is not properly formatted into separate cells. Flash Fill takes what was once a tedious task [in] separating those columns manually and makes it [a] simple and easy process to complete," Wirtz said.

Microsoft also made it easier to apply software updates to groups of users. Although Group Policy management is the same as in earlier versions of Office, Wirtz said that with the new version he can take advantage of the Windows Distributed File System.

"The biggest change is the flexibility [in] how updates are applied, with the easiest way being the DFS share that we're using to have updates applied to the end-users' computers."

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