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History has shown that a new software version usually takes a few years to catch on in business. Not so with Office 2010.

At Vitalyst, we’ve helped dozens of companies upgrade from 2003 to 2010, and the call volume is steadily increasing.  Most calls are coming from customers whose IT departments skipped an Office 2007 migration and were holding out for 2010. As with 2003-to-2007 migrations, 2003-to-2010 promises a steep learning curve on the part of end users.

Here are a few sites we found with valuable tips and tricks for Office 2010:

Ultimate List of Office 2010 Tips & Tricks (Techie Buzz)

10 cool features to look forward to in Office 2010 (TechRepublic)

MS Office 2010: 10 Tips and Tricks (PC Mag)

And here are the top five challenges you can expect with an Office 2010 migration:

1. Adjusting to a materially different interface

The “ribbon” and other new aspects of the Office 2007 interface reflected major changes in the look and feel of the core Office applications. In Office 2010, these differences are carried forward and are combined with the incorporation of the ribbon into Outlook, impacting usability of this critical communications application.

User confusion and frustration is almost guaranteed when attempting to learn and work with the ribbon for the first time. Basic functions that were performed without effort in the past, such as opening and closing files, managing day-to-day calendar and meeting entries, and applying formats, require a relearning process with the new application versions. For some users, relearning these basic functions is fairly straightforward, and for others it takes a more effort and help. More complex tasks in PowerPoint, Excel, Word or Access often require a combination of training and support in the migration process.

2. Recreating and reformatting important documents

As with any new or changed software, incompatibility with prior versions may require users to manually rework documents. Compatibility of versions has been a focus for Microsoft over the years, and improves with every new release. But users don’t always follow the best practices when creating documents, and end up with versions which are not automatically converted with an upgrade.

Files received from outside the organization in older formats may not open properly and need some rework or, sometimes, may need to be resent. Files with links, Access databases (especially if they integrate with other systems or use extensive code), and custom animations in older PowerPoint versions may be corrupted or impacted by compatibility issues. In cases where users have documents they regularly use, often containing complex formulas or formatting, and which need to be updated to the new versions, there can be a significant amount of time spent on reformatting and recreating documents.

3. Dealing with deadlines and urgency

In reality, business cannot be put on hold while users adjust to a new software version. Critical deadlines loom, and day-to-day urgent matters still need to be handled. During a migration, end users may find themselves stymied by lack of familiarity with a new Office application just at a time when they are facing these deadlines.

Of particular note among these end users are administrative support staff, who are often managing calendars and communications for managers and executives. Downtime is not an option for them either. In these circumstances, self-help, training and tutorials often compound frustration.

4. Using Office across a range of mobile devices and computers

The proliferation of new and different mobile and computing devices is changing the corporate computing landscape. Employees now access standard Office applications across a range of devices and often from remote locations. Adapting to and syncing upgraded software and OS versions impacts end users in these mixed environments.

For example, to edit documents in the new Office 2007 file formats on a Windows Mobile device, an Office Mobile upgrade is required. Many users are not aware of this and don’t understand why they cannot successfully use the application. Another example, this one from the Apple side: The settings to sync an Entourage calendar to an iPad are not entirely obvious, and end users must also make sure they have the latest updates from Microsoft.

Many help desks have altered their policies to allow outside devices but are not able to offer support for these non-company issued devices. End users often search on their own for “how-to” support in online help communities and in-product menus. Even worse, they attempt workarounds that bypass updates and patches altogether, forgoing improved functionality or simply not making full use of the devices or applications.

5. Finding help when it’s needed

According to a Gartner report, one of the Windows 7/Office 2010 migration pitfalls to avoid is not seeking professional help early enough.

“Don’t underestimate the requirements for skills and services. It is often common to enlist an external service provider, especially for help with design and planning features,” writes Gartner researcher Michael Silver in Computerworld article about the report. “In addition to proper training for technical staff, make sure the service provider is contracted to transfer sufficient skills so staff can manage the new environment after the cutover.”

In addition to help with migration design and planning, help is needed on the end user side as well. As the migration process unfolds and users begin incorporating new or upgraded software into their everyday routines, it is essential that they quickly master tasks and processes relevant to their specific jobs in the new software environment. It is also important that they have access to additional help if they need it – which may be at points before, during or beyond the migration dates. Issues and causes users experience related to finding help include:

• Training was taken at the time of the upgrade, but a particular application or function has not been used since, and the user has forgotten how to use it. (Classic “use it or lose it” scenario.)

• Training and tutorials were planned by the user, but not completed due to limited time availability, and user now has an urgent need. Executives and higher level staff, or personnel who spend most of their time on the road, frequently experience this situation.

• General training and help tools may not be specific enough to the users’ particular needs.

• For a number of reasons, in-product help and search tools do not provide the help needed, or are considered inadequate by certain user groups.

• Some personnel may rely on an assistant for support, and with that person unavailable, may not know how to access certain critical documents or handle certain tasks.

When employees find themselves in these situations, they often need help right away. They can’t afford the downtime associated with submitting a help desk ticket or waiting for next-day follow up. If they can’t get the application expertise needed from the help desk, they will seek out help from their co-workers, struggle with generic help menus, look to hand off the work to a delegate if they have one, or just not complete the task.

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