With Office 2007, Microsoft is raising the collaboration bar. To fully realize the new suites collaboration potential, however, Office 2007 must be tied in to Office SharePoint Server 2007.
eWEEK Labs tests show that users will get a productivity boost from the collaboration capabilities in Office 2007, but there are some hurdles IT managers will need to help users leap to gain full advantage of the collaborative features that come from the combination of Office 2007s applications and Office SharePoint Server 2007.
At its most basic level, Office SharePoint Server 2007 gives users a place to store and share content, which can be augmented to some degree with prepackaged document workflow capabilities. During tests, we could configure workflows on a folder, then invite users to participate in a workflow, set due dates and assign tasks.
Office SharePoint Server 2007 includes four basic workflow processes: document approval, feedback collection, signature collection and disposition approval. We liked that workflows can be launched on a conditional basis, such as when a document is changed.
If a document such as a Word document is shared on Office SharePoint Server 2007 or is subject to a SharePoint workflow, the Office Button in that document will include tools that tie in to SharePoints document management constraints.
For example, when we opened a Word document that was subject to a SharePoint workflow, Word displayed a banner just below the ribbon to alert us to that fact. While working on the Word document, we could check out the document or initiate a workflow step directly from the Office Buttons Server or Workflow menu items.
We also found that Word did a good job of exposing workflow alternatives within the application. When we went to follow up on a task, Word presented us with a form that allowed us to either reassign the task or request a change in the document and change subsequent due dates.
Indeed, Microsoft has made a significant investment in the improvement of task management, ensuring that users have the ability to see their tasks both on a SharePoint Server as well as in Outlook, the application most people use for task management.
The Outlook for Office Collaboration
With Office Outlook 2007, users have the ability to import their tasks from other Office applications to gain a consolidated view.
This is a big improvement because the proliferation of task objects in other Office applications has presented a conundrum for users. Office Outlook 2007 can synchronize tasks from Office SharePoint Server 2007, Access 2007, Project 2007 and OneNote 2007.
The latter integration allowed us to use OneNote to take meeting minutes and convert action items directly to tasks. Outlook automatically imports those tasks to its To-Do List. When users mark those tasks in Outlook as completed, the same tasks in OneNote are marked as completed as well. Once a task is available in Outlook, it can be managed with the standard Outlook task management tools.
Outlook also has gained some other general collaboration hooks, including RSS support that can be used to manage internal information and traditional RSS feeds. For example, we were able to subscribe to an Office SharePoint Server 2007 RSS feed that kept us up-to-date with changes to a task list on a SharePoint site.
In addition to task management, Outlook 2007 has improved tools for users who want to share calendars and schedule meetings with external users. The advanced schedule management features require Exchange Server 2007 on the back end.