MS Study: Office 2003 Boosts Productivity

A study commissioned by Microsoft points to productivity gains using the new updated Office suite. Company defends funded research practices and findings.

NEW YORK—Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday will not only announce the worldwide availability of Office System 2003, but will also roll out the results of a commissioned study. According to the findings, its latest suite brings big worker productivity improvements and a rapid return on investment. /zimages/1/28571.gif

The study, commissioned and paid for by Microsoft, was conducted for Microsoft by Navigant Consulting, Inc. It found that information workers using the Office solutions gained an average of two hours in productive time each week without working longer hours. The full version is available here for download.

It also found that the companies realized a median net present value of $4,000 a worker, and that the solutions paid for themselves in an average of just eight months.

But the study sample was extremely small for a product that has several hundred million users globally. It looked at common business processes at just 14 small and large companies.

When asked by eWEEK how a study of just 14 users could be considered representative of the hundreds of millions of Office users worldwide, Joe Eschbach, the vice president of Microsofts Information Worker Product Management Group, said the Redmond software titan wanted an in-depth study of what the Office System was providing users.

"I do believe this study is representative of all our customers and applies to them. The documentation deals with processes like creating and compiling content, which apply to all businesses, both big and small," he said.

The Navigant framework for measuring process improvements was able to break this down to a level of detail that was "realistic, understandable and which could then be used to see how the results would scale across other companies. But the results do vary," Eschbach said.

"The important thing here is that our customers have been telling us we need to make decisions on business value, even in the best of times there needs to be a return on investment. In difficult times like weve had, they want to see the money, the payback and this is, for the first time, hard evidence of that. This is the type of payback that a CIO or CFO would understand," he said.

The study also took a varied group of customers that ranged from global companies like Siemens AG and Hewlett-Packard Co. to Franklins Solicitors, a U.K. law firm. It also targeted different verticals from banking and finance to operations and manufacturing, he said.

Erschbach also stressed that while Microsoft had commissioned and paid for the research, it had not interfered at all in the framework and model used by Navigant, which was its own and based on industry-standard best practices.

Asked by eWEEK how credible it thought research it had commissioned and paid for would be to customers, Erschbach said the veracity of the research lay in the actual customer testimonials.

"They have their own legal departments and executives and if Siemens stands up and tells us they have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and are going to deploy it on over 300,000 desktops as a standard, imagine, thats the proof. No matter what Microsoft claims, the proof is in what customers are willing to stand up and say," he said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifQuestions continue to dog Microsoft over its practice of touting research that it commissioned and paid for, especially when the claims concern ROI and open source software. Click here for more on the controversy.

For its part, the study found that information workers using office System at Siemens, the global diversified manufacturing, information and communications firm, were able to cut the time it takes to insert contact information and standard legal text into company documents by 20 percent, while at the same time reducing the document error rate by 20 percent.

Other companies cited in the study include Nordea, one of the largest financial services companies in Scandinavia, Hewlett-Packard and medical device company Guidant.