SAN FRANCISCO, June 7, 1999 — Teamwork is critical to the success of Maverick Productions, a seven-person film and video production company in Seattle. Employees at the company work as a team to write corporate video scripts. Once written, they gather feedback from several clients and outside vendors before shooting the film.
Until recently, employees sent e-mail attachments to the many people working on a script. Not only was it difficult keeping track of the most current version, but also people sometimes provided conflicting feedback, leading to hours of work trying to sort out all the comments. “It can be a real challenge trying to synthesize all that feedback,” said Guy Tucker, a partner at Maverick.
With the launch of Office 2000 this week, producing film scripts has become a much easier task at Maverick. Rather than sending a copy of the script to each reviewer, the company now posts the script to a Web server. By logging onto the Web, each person reviewing the script can make changes online and see the comments of other reviewers. They can also request to be notified by e-mail each time another person makes a change.
“It’s a really compelling tool that solves some of our most challenging business problems,” Tucker said. “It’s making the flow of communication much easier and faster, both internally and with our vendors and partners.”
Maverick Productions is among thousands of companies that are adopting Office 2000 as their business productivity suite. Microsoft, which launched the new product today at a celebration event in San Francisco, has already sold more than 15 million Office 2000 licenses, and several large corporations have announced they will deploy the product. The launch of Office 2000 follows the largest beta program in the product’s history: more than 700,000 customers tested the product. The product also has received numerous favorable reviews from industry publications and has garnered several industry awards, including PC Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Award and PC Week’s Best of Comdex award.
The product, which will be in stores starting June 10, will be available in five different suite options tailored for different Office customers. No matter what version customers purchase, the product promises to dramatically change the way they work because it creates a “Web work style” in which people can use the Web to get more work accomplished.
“The Web work style is about allowing knowledge workers to take advantage of the Web as a medium for sharing information and for collaborating with others to get their work done,” said John Duncan, a Microsoft Office product manager. “It’s about using the Web to work in new ways, and Office 2000 enables that.”
As it launched Office 2000 this week, Microsoft announced that more than 1,000 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are currently offering the FrontPage Server Extensions that allow users to publish Office documents to the Web. Also announced were partnerships with leading ISPs, including Verio and Concentric that will deliver Web collaboration services based on the Office Server Extensions. This means small businesses and consumers will be able to take advantage of the Web work style, in addition to large corporations that have their own in-house Web servers.
“Think about a small business person negotiating a contract with a vendor,” Duncan said. “They can save a draft of the contract up to their ISP’s Web server, and have the vendor log onto the Internet to take a look at it and comment on it. By offering these capabilities, ISPs are opening up a whole new world of collaboration using Office 2000 to an entirely different set of users.”
Until now, saving to the Web was too complicated to be really useful Duncan said. Employees typically sent documents to a specialized Web master, who would serve as the intermediary for converting the documents to HTML and posting them to the Web. Once on the Web, some of the formatting such as the layout and graphics would often be lost.
Office 2000 solves this problem by making it simple for employees to save their Office content up to the Web without knowing anything about HTML, Duncan said. “It’s just as easy to save to a Web server as it is to your hard drive or to print something out,” he said. “And once you save it to the Web, the document has the same high-fidelity look and feel as it would if you were viewing it in Office itself.”
Another obstacle to using the Web as a work tool has been the difficulty manipulating documents once they are posted to the Web, Duncan said. Office 2000 overcomes that challenge by elevating HTML files to a companion file format with Office files, making it possible to convert back and forth between the two file formats. “You can click on a button on your browser when you’re reviewing an HTML document and return it back into Office, and continue to edit the document after it’s already been saved to the Web,” he said.
Office 2000 also makes it possible for people to use the Web as a medium for working collaboratively on documents. Workers simply log onto the intranet or Internet using their Web browser and make comments within each paragraph of the document. They can read the comments made by other reviewers. They can also request to be notified by e-mail if others on their team have entered changes to the document. And they can access these online documents using Office from their desktop computers, laptops and wireless devices.
“There’s one document in a centralized location, and all the knowledge that’s created around that document resides in the document itself,” Duncan said. “It’s really just a natural byproduct of the way you would collaborate with people if they were all in the same room.”
Lifetime Products, a manufacturer of sporting equipment in Clearfield, Utah, is using the Web-productivity features of Office 2000 to simplify a variety of tasks from managing its employee phone list to working collaboratively on PowerPoint presentations. “Documents around here tend to breed like rabbits,” said John Bowden, the company’s MIS director. “There’s no approved data source, so if someone comes to a meeting, the person next to him might have different data because he’s working off a document that’s two days old. By allowing us to post things on the intranet very easily, Office 2000 will help us to eliminate some of this redundancy.”
William Blair also hopes to use Office 2000 to eliminate redundancy. The Chicago-based investment banking firm plans to use the product’s Web features to compile “pitch books,” comprehensive financial presentations designed to show private firms the advantages of going public. In the past, employees at William Blair have passed around these pitch books via e-mail attachments, making it difficult to monitor changes and keep track of the most current version, said Tony Burdick, principal and manager of MIS at William Blair.
By making the Web the central location for pitch books, Office 2000 will reduce the time required to compile these presentations, and free up valuable time required to develop the strategies behind them. “The pressures on our business are always how quickly can we put something together,” Burdick said. “You have a short window to get something done, so this will certainly help our investment bank spend more time on the investment banking end of things and less time on assembly.”
In addition to turning the Web into a productivity tool, Office 2000 includes several other features designed to save workers time. For example, the product includes “personalized” tool bars and menus that automatically adjust to people’s usage habits. The tool bars include a short list of options workers use most frequently, along with a longer list of items that appear when clicking on an icon at the bottom of the menu. “So the short menus reflect those features that you are taking advantage of most often,” Duncan said. “And if you want to use additional features, they’re available to you on the longer menu that is quickly exposed as soon as Office recognizes you’re looking for them.”
Office 2000 is also self-repairing, which means it automatically replaces missing or corrupt files. “Fixing computers is not what we do well, and it’s not what we’re in business to do,” said Tucker, the Maverick Productions partner. “So having applications that will fix themselves is a no-brainer for us. It’s a great solution.”
Office 2000 also allows information systems (IS) managers to install custom versions of the product if some of the features within the suite don’t fit their company’s needs. In addition, it saves companies time because it is faster to install and easier to manage than Office 97. “Picture this-we can deploy Windows NT with all the service packs, Internet Explorer 5.0 and Office 2000 to a desktop in less than an hour,” Bowden said. “There’s no IS intervention required. It’s just a matter of sticking in a floppy disk with our configurations, walking away and coming back and hour later and the machine is ready to deliver.”
At Maverick Productions, employees have yet to determine all the ways they can take advantage of Office 2000.Yet one thing is clear-the product is generating a lot of enthusiasm. “It’s sparking a lot of new ideas,” Tucker said. “Right after we implemented it, everybody was walking around the office saying, gosh, we can do this now, or we could use the Web to do this. It’s definitely creating a paradigm shift in the way we do work.”