Sheri-McLeishBy Sheri McLeish

Last week, Microsoft disclosed that it expects Office 2010 and related products to be generally available to consumers at retail in June 2010. Office 2010 and related products will be available to business customers through volume licensing earlier in the first half of 2010. This launch confirmation means massive effort by the Redmond product teams to work through feedback from the public beta and ready the suite for launch.

For Information & Knowledge Management professionals, it means there’s still plenty of time to plan and refine your Microsoft Office enterprise strategy. Office is a big line item for most companies – an expense that often comes into question the closer it gets to renewal time. I’ve spoken with firms that are weeks away from their license expiring and others that have calculated the ROI for their Office investment six years out. In all of these discussions clients want to get the best value and tools for their information workers.

So what are the best practices for developing your Office strategy? First off, get to know what your information workers do all day. Most all I&KM pros acknowledge that Office is standard operating procedure for certain parts of the business: the number crunchers in finance using Excel won’t function without it. But recent Forrester data suggests that six of every 10 information workers don't need a full-featured word processor to get their job done. Gathering data about your workforce’s use of their tools will improve your negotiating position, help determine who in your organization needs a full productivity suite, and enable you to apply personas to segment your workforce.

But Office strategy isn’t all about license costs, or even usage. For many of the companies I’ve spoken with, there’s no will to disrupt the apple cart. Their calculations of the per user cost through volume licensing are attractive enough to forego the potential for business disruption and cultural upheaval of introducing an alternative productivity suite. For these enterprises, optimizing Office tools for efficiency and integration with collaboration and business processes become a more significant part of the Office strategy.

Microsoft has a lot riding on Office 2010. As it toiled on its fourteenth version of the world’s most popular knowledge worker toolset, the market dramatically changed: Cloud computing and SaaS have fueled Office alternatives like Google Apps and Zoho, while OpenOffice suites have reached a level of interoperability with Office to make them truly viable alternatives for many information workers. But Microsoft still has an ace up its sleeve: a majority of enterprises own SharePoint for content management. And that content is overwhelmingly created in Office apps. In this sense, the strategy for most companies is clear – and now the RSVP date is, too. No regrets.