Friday, November 16, 2007

Is It Time To Chuck MS Office For A Less Expensive Alternative?

Some of us are old enough to remember when Lotus 123 was king of the spread sheets, WordPerfect ruled the document space, Harvard Graphics was the preferred presentation tool, and our email client was whatever CompuServe provided. However, Microsoft gave us its Office suite with Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook; and now Microsoft completely dominates the space previously occupied by these former icons.

Many IT managers chafe at Microsoft’s dominance of the office “productivity suite” market. They especially balk at the chunk of their budget it takes to acquire new MS Office licenses (about $500 per seat), upgrade old ones (over $300 per seat), and maintain the Windows Server environments it takes to enable Office desktop use and Internet connectivity.

We now see many alternatives in the marketplace ranging from no cost open source products to lower cost commercially marketed products. On the free end, we currently have, Google Docs, and others. (Example: Lotus Symphony, which is currently free; but will probably fall into the commercial category once it gains traction.) On the commercial product list, there are many offerings. The best known are: Corel WordPerfect Office ($350 or so per seat); StarOffice (under $70); and iWork (under $80).

Are any of these as good as the MS Office standard users are accustomed to? Probably, except for power users who use macros, pivot tables, and collaborators who need to track changes made by one another. However, there are other considerations to conversion that can be daunting. What follows is a discussion of the most critical ones.

1. Conversion. Conversion of documents from one suite to another is not perfect. This is especially true of heavily formatted Word documents and presentation documents: both types may convert with odd results that require reworking the document in the new software. If you have a large library of standard documents to convert, this could be a big effort.

2. Macros. Macros from one suite will generally not translate to a new suite. The work required to build new macros is a factor to consider.

3. Platform. If you want to completely phase out Microsoft, it means changing the operating system for the desktops and servers to something else. That something else is probably going to be some flavor of Unix or Linux. Changing the operating systems on existing hardware is a huge undertaking and will result in user discontent as some favorite applications are not available on the new platform.

4. Email. Outlook has been Microsoft Office’s killer application. It is good and feature rich. In recent implementations it also has integration with other Microsoft applications that will not be found on competing platforms. IT managers may also have to evaluate and select email client software since many suites do not have one. Exchange users who are coordinating calendars, meetings and using other Exchange features also have considerable homework to do.

5. Training. While many competitors have tried to create a look and feel that Microsoft Office users will find familiar, the fact is the applications will have differences and users will need to be trained and supported in making the transition.

6. Collaboration. Compatibility with users in other organizations, “markup” sharing with other users and other collaborations tools are generally weak in the alternative software. If you have these needs, tread carefully.

Based upon the factors listed above, the attraction of replacing Office dims substantially. The conversion costs are just prohibitive. Webs based applications like Google Docs offer the most painless transition; but still have problems to overcome like perceived security of sensitive documents and Internet connection downtime.

In my opinion, converting from MS Office is still too costly for large organizations that have already invested in the Microsoft Office software and supporting technology. However, startups, smaller businesses facing upgrades, and new offices of larger organizations should seriously consider the open source alternatives. The initial savings can be substantial.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Michael Gelb has written a new book

Michael Gelb has written a new book. For those of us who know Gelb’s work, this is great news. Mr. Gelb looks at superstars in the arena of human achievement and extracts the essence of the behaviors that make them more creative, productive and successful than the rest of us. Gelb's published works convey keen insight - some might say genius – in a fashion that is readily understandable and usable by the reader.

Gelb’s most well-known books are based upon the creative genius of Leonardo da Vinci and other great thinkers and extract principles we can employ to empower ourselves with some of that genius.

Gelb’s new work, Innovate Like Edison, is about Thomas Edison’s success as an inventor and his amazing ability to get sweeping changes made to the fabric of American society to allow his inventions to be mainstreamed. His inventions of the phonograph, movie camera, and light bulb created the need for the voice and film recording industry and widespread electric power production and distribution. This process of invention and implementation is innovation.

Gelb ferrets the concepts and then describes the practical use of Edison’s Competencies of Innovation:

1. Solution-Centered Mindset
2. Kaleidocopic Thinking
3. Full-Spectrum Engagement
4. Master Mind Collaboration
5. Super-Value Creation
He also uses lots of practical exercises and list a plethora of resources for innovators. I won’t spoil the surprise by describing them, but be assured every entrepreneur and business innovator can benefit from understanding and mastering the application of these competencies.

The book is co-authored with Edison’s great grand niece Sarah Miller Caldicott. This collaboration provided Gelb with access to the Miller/Edison family archives and that adds to the richness of the product. It is available at and other book retailers.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The power of vision

…I quit cigarettes forever

In 1992, after smoking for the better part of three decades, I quit cigarettes forever. I had quit before --- countless times --- and it did not last. Why did it work in July of 1992? Well, I think there were several reasons: social pressures, rising cost of cigarettes, my mother’s death 15 years before from what was probably smoking-induced cancer, and increasing pressure from the younger people in my life to give it up. However, there was a difference this time which was purely psychological: I could see myself smoke free. I envisioned clothes that did not reek of cigarettes, a fresh smelling car, a day uninterrupted by cigarette breaks, and more cash for other things.

I truly believe that imagining myself as a non-smoker was the big difference. That vision of a smoke free Bob came true, mostly because I could see myself clearly as a non-smoker.

So what? Bob is some big hero because he quit smoking? No, it illustrates a powerful principle that can help us all achieve more.

From the football player who sacks the quarterback to the bride who loses ten pounds before she walks down the aisle, the vision of the goal stokes the fire of achievement and helps get the desired result.

Microsoft spent millions developing and promoting…

It can work in business, too. Microsoft spent millions developing and promoting the Microsoft Solutions Framework for success in managing complex technology projects. One of the key elements of the framework is a vision of the desired outcome(s). This vision assures everyone involved shares the same definition (vision) of the project’s success. Strategic plans routinely include descriptions of the desired future state of the enterprise. This kind of strategic vision for the future status provides both a road map for achievement and a measure of success.

The power of the vision can be effective on a more tactical level, too. I once ran a customer support organization that was struggling to keep up with customer service demands. Working with the staff, I created a vision of the best customer service available and began implementing changes to support it. The first step was to start telling our customers that we provided the best support available in our industry. We shared the vision with our customers and within a few months, the vision became reality. We were the best customer support organization in the industry and we had the awards and customer retention statistics to prove it.

Personalize it for the team members…

So the next time you want to achieve something, create a vision of what the world will be like when the goal is met. Personalize it for the team members, making sure you define what they will be doing, how they will feel, and other clear indicators the goals has been met. Set a time certain for the achievement and be very specific: for example, “I want to complete the vision blog by the close of business on November 2, 2007. When it’s finished, I will feel proud, relieved and happy. I will celebrate with a shot of the good brandy.”

If the goal involves complexity, you may need a plan to achieve it. An easy way to develop a plan is to work backwards from the goal date to the present, detailing the actions needed to achieve the goal. Think of it like building a house. If your planned move in date in December 1, 2007, think of the last thing that has to happen before you can move in: get an occupancy permit. Before that, you need final inspections. Before that, landscaping must be completed. Before that, utilities must be turned on. By moving backwards from the goal, it is easier to identify the milestones and processes needed to achieve the desired end result.

If you try to plan forward from today, it is much harder...

Don’t be afraid to explore alternative sequences and different approaches. But always work backwards from the goal. If you try to plan forward from today, it is much harder and will take far longer to develop a plan. And the likelihood is that the forward moving plan development will produce an inferior result.

Motivate yourself and your team with colorful, carefully crafted visions of the end result and you will be rewarded with a better future.