Office 2003 'Priceless' in Portland

by Patricia Fusco

Big businesses are seeing the value of deploying the Microsoft Office System, but what about smaller businesses? For them, it's not so much about what they spent deploying the software system, but how much they gain as a result of the expenditure.

Microsoft announced the general availability of the new Microsoft Office System this week with great fanfare and hoopla in New York City. Rightfully so, Tuesday marked Microsoft's biggest product release in the company's colorful history.

Microsoft Office System 2003 consists of six suites, 11 products, four server systems, a meeting service and solution accelerators. This includes a Small Business Edition of the new Microsoft Office System, which retails for $449. The Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 includes Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Publisher, PowerPoint, Word and Excel. We have reviewed each element included in the Small Business Edition of Microsoft Office 2003. If our hands-on lab work hasn't impressed you with the advancements Microsoft has made in personal productivity, perhaps bottom-dollar figures will.

Jeff Raikes, Microsoft group vice president of productivity and business services, said initial case studies of 20 Microsoft Office System deployments showed a substantial business impact.

"The average information worker gains approximately two hours of productivity per week with the Microsoft Office System," Raikes said. "The median payback occurs at eight months. Pilot programs reported full payback ranging from three to 18 months."

Big businesses are seeing the value of deploying the Microsoft Office System, but what about smaller businesses? For them, it's not so much about what they spend deploying the Microsoft Office System, but how much more they make as a result of the expenditure. Microsoft reports than one customer was able to increase their sales by approximately 20 percent. Additionally this customer achieved a cost savings of $72,000 as a result of using the new Microsoft Office System.

Connecting the Dots
Based in Portland, Ore., Timbercon specializes developing, manufacturing and assembling fiber optic connectivity products. The company works very closely with its clients to develop specific fiber optic connectivity solutions. Now these aren't your average clients. The small manufacturer makes fiber optic connectors for big companies like Dell and EMC. Timbercon's sales, marketing, and manufacturing staff work expressly with engineers and have to exchange a vast amount of detailed information back and forth to complete a project.

Eric Meslow, Timbercon president, explained how deploying the new Microsoft Office System impacted the small business so far.

"Timbercon consists of about 30 people — about half in the front office and the half in production," Meslow said. "We were using a contact management application on the sales side — the sales team was even using it for e-mail. The rest of the office used something else. Now that we're all using Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 with Business Contact Manager (BCM) we have dramatically changed the way we manage our sales."

Now, with everyone on the same page, Meslow can get his hands on daily sales reports with the click of a mouse. These are the same sales reports that used to take each salesperson an hour to prepare every day. That means three people save five hours of work each week, making the team more productive by 15 hours a week.

"For our business, it has become increasingly important to access integrated information so we can make informed decisions for our business and provide excellent service to our customers," Meslow said. "With Business Contact Manager, we can manage our sales efforts more efficiently, which we expect will result in an approximate 20 percent increase in sales."

Timbercon also had a problem with getting people together. It's a small office, but as the company grew, everyone's schedule has got a little more demanding. Consequently, the amount of time spent organizing a meeting took more time than the actual meeting.

"Sure, the calendar function has been around for a long time on Outlook," Meslow said. "But now that everyone's using Outlook, we're coordinating schedules and making meetings work for ourselves and even our customers."

For Timbercon, the improvements in Word, Excel, Access, and even PowerPoint are relatively incremental. But Outlook with BCM is making a difference in the way Timbercon does business. Publisher is another program that's having an impact on the small manufacturer. Like many small companies, Timbercon uses Publisher to create data sheets for products, business cards, letterhead and the like. But it's also benefiting from using Publisher as a replacement for other applications.

Assembling fiber optic connectors is a lot like putting part of a jigsaw puzzle together. It would be a lot easier if the puzzle came with step-by-step, visual instructions. Meslow said the production manager at Timbercon struggled to use Word to prepare detailed assembly guides for each type of fiber optic connector the company makes. Things changed when Timbercon gave him access to Publisher in July.

"Let's just say that we couldn't show one of these Word documents to our customers if they asked to see it. We would have to reproduce the document in PhotoShop or Illustrator to make it presentable," Meslow said. "With no training at all, our production manager has taken each and every assembly document we have and put it together in Publisher. He took a template, added pictures and text, and produced a series of professional guides we can share with production workers and customers alike."

Tangible Results
For Timbercon, it's hard to put a price tag on some of the benefits of deploying the Microsoft Office System. However, Meslow said the rewards of tapping into their new SharePoint server — a way to organize people and documents working on specific projects — is proving to be priceless.

At first, Timbercon took thousands of images and documents and threw them together on a SharePoint workspace. Meslow said it was nice to have all the documents, pictures and price sheets in one place, but that's not very different from what the file server used to do. However with SharePoint, Meslow can see who has checked out which documents, what's been updated, and initiate an instant messaging session with a fellow employee because he can see who is online — all from one shared workspace.

It wasn't until Timbercon invited a client to share a different workspace that Meslow began to see the power of SharePoint programming.

"We're constantly sharing information back and forth with out clients, and when the client is working on a government contract the paperwork is unbelievable," Meslow said. "Now we have one shared destination that keeps everyone informed on the project. I can't tell you how much that means to the company in terms of money, but I can tell you what it would mean to the company if we lost that client."

When Microsoft says it understands that small businesses face different challenges — getting more done in less time with fewer people and less capital resources — it's not providing lip-service. It is providing new software systems that can make small businesses operate more efficiently, maybe even your small business.

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This article was originally published on Friday Oct 24th 2003
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