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Migration in-depth, part 2: Tearing away MS Office's tentacles

Microsoft's tentacles reach deep inside many of the 500 applications used by Health First Inc.'s three hospitals and multiple medical facilities in Brevard County, Fla. To get as many departments using OpenOffice as possible, Health First's migration team is putting its apps under a microscope and getting tough with MS-only third-party application vendors.

In part two of this migration story, Health First network administrators Danny J. Wall and Daniel Bray describe their step-by-step OpenOffice implementation process. In part one, they explained why Health First is backing away from Microsoft Office and choosing OpenOffice. Then, in part three, Wall tells us how Health First is bringing in and will be using Novell's new Linux services.

Daniel Bray
Daniel Bray
After the initial evaluation and planning, what was the first phase of your OpenOffice deployment?
We rolled it out to our [100-person] IT department. We did a demonstration at one of our "Lunch and Learns." Our CIO [chief information officer] talked to the department, saying, 'This is going to be our Office upgrade, and I want you all to use it often.' We then supported our own department as they used it. They saw the differences, but they also saw how easy it was to use for everyday tasks. We're still in that phase, getting our most computer-literate people to use it with all of their different applications. @3089 After the initial evaluation and planning, what was the first phase of your OpenOffice deployment?
Since our IT department consists of analysts that support each and every department, it made sense to get them working on OpenOffice. This way, they can understand it in the context of their departments' work and know where OpenOffice will fit and where it is not going to fit. What problems are showing up in this phase?
We have more than 400 applications, and a handful of those applications have strong dependencies to Microsoft Office. We are working this out in phase one. We are identifying the in-house applications that are dependent upon particular Microsoft Office functionalities, and identifying the tasks that the department performs and how OpenOffice can handle those tasks. What are you hearing from your IT departments?
We are data gathering, and each department's IT analyst is reporting on the issues they have seen thus far and the problems that they might come across. From this information, we'll see where we can just roll OpenOffice out right away. Their input will help us create a strategy of which departments to start hitting first, which ones to do next month and so on. We'll make a list, and we will just go from that list, starting with the high priority departments.
Danny J. Wall
Danny J. Wall
What will the departmental deployment of OpenOffice entail?
Our IT infrastructure makes it very easy to switch over. You will hear reports from Microsoft Office users that it takes many man-hours to roll something out. It takes us a few minutes to just roll out to the whole department or whole organization using Novell ZenWorks. It will be very easy for us, once we determine who we are going roll this out to. @3090 What will the departmental deployment of OpenOffice entail?
It will take me all of a couple minutes -- a couple of clicks -- to remove Microsoft Office and install OpenOffice. One person will be doing all the work, so it won't be 20 man-hours and 20 different people. What are some of the red lights that might stop you from quickly rolling out OpenOffice in a certain department?
We have a lot of proprietary applications in-house. That is a big problem when you have to support 400-plus applications. We already know that we can't hit the financial department because they have such a strong dependency on PeopleSoft, which has a strong dependency on Microsoft Excel.

Many vendors don't code for themselves; they rely on Microsoft to code products for them. So, those applications are highly dependent upon proprietary applications like, say, Excel. So, our CIO and folks from Novell have been contacting these vendors, telling them that if they want to continue business with us, they need to stop coding to a proprietary system. In particularly, they need to stop coding to just Microsoft Office. Are you switching out applications in some situations?
We haven't started switching out applications yet, but we have been finding workarounds, like finding a way to convert a proprietary application's document into an HTML page using Web forms. Or, if data comes from our Microsoft Access database, we convert the data into an open database like MySQL. After all, it is our data, and why would we want our data locked into a proprietary system? We should be able to take our data and put it into any system we want and be able to easily access it. Are you switching out applications in some situations?
Daniel and I hope to use OpenOffice to dig a wedge in and try to take all our Microsoft databases out. We pay more than $200 for Access for one person. For $250, we could license MySQL on a server for 20 databases and have 100 people hitting it. Down the road, we plan on working on the databases. What is your projected date for rolling out to every possible department?
We are going to let the departments set the schedule. We probably won't hit every department within the next year, but our goal is to hit 50%. Our CIO wanted over 20% converted by the end of this year, and that's going to be easy for us. That 20% would be all of our nurses' stations, which will be easy to convert. We can hit 50% by doing the nurses' stations and many technical and admin departments. Then, next year, we'll look at some of the troublesome departments, like finance.

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