How do you install a new version of Microsoft Office?

by Volker Weber


Looks like an easy question, right? You download the installer. You run the installer. Done.

Well, yes, if you are a user with one or two PCs. No, if you work in enterprise IT. Life in enterprise IT is very different. You don't run an installer. You beg for permission to run it.

At the core of the problem is complexity. You serve a business that has users and managers for those users. Some of those managers are tasked with liaison with your enterprise IT organisation. On the IT side of things you have managers to talk to those managers. And then there are service providers who sell their IT services, through your enterprise IT, to the business that eventually uses the new version of Microsoft Office. And then you have more service providers like a help desk that is run with a call center somewhere else. And trust me, I am over-simplifying here. You end up with a management structure that might be six levels deep (or more) and plenty of people who can throw a wrench into your project to install a new version of Office.

Yes, you read that right. Project. You first start to lobby for a project, then you ask for a budget, which will only be assigned to you, if you low-ball your estimate, then cut in half to save money. As more and more managers get on your calls, you get delayed again and again, so that you are missing both your "on time" and "within budget" targets. Feature creep sets in, so you can't even make your "in scope" target. Eventually, after much hand-wringing and hundreds of hours spent in meetings, you install to a pilot group of users. Help desk calls go up, managers get their knickers in a twist because their scorecard numbers are dropping. Managers three levels up start to be scared of potential outages. So they stall again. Now you have two versions of Office installed. A small portion in your pilot group, a large portion yet to get the new version. With every new security scare you don't have to patch one version, but two. Complexity goes up, risk goes up, managers need more reporting. Projects that require your new version of Office start to get nervous because you don't deliver. The pressure mounts and finally you get permission to run the installer everywhere. I am over-simplifying again. There is no installer. There are layers of management software that deploy new packages.

Management then congratulates itself for deliberating the install until they made sure no mistakes would be made. Any problems that may still have shown up in call center logs are attributed to poor execution by the people who actually do the work.

PS: In case you ever wondered why your tools at work are so dated, come back and read this. Office is only a simple example. Imagine operating systems. This is not about any specific company. Enterprise IT works the same, almost everywhere. Exceptions exist.


For Operating Systems that is indeed valid if you are below Windows 10.
With Windows 10 & Office ProPlus it all becomes simpler: Evergreen.

We have enabled AutoUpdate for all our users on Office 2016 (Proplus) (~15,000) and they get monthly the latest updates automatically, no admins or or advanced packinging/software distribution required.

And more over, more and more Microsoft will follow the Apps model, where apps are automatically updated by the app store (like you know from IOS/Android).

And for Windows 10 it is called "Windows as a Service": goodbye "Service Pack X"-projects in the business.

Frank van Rijt, 2017-04-18

Is cloud based software a solution? (As in app runs in the browser, hosted externally)

Or is it the same with just the word "installer" exchanged for "access granted"?

Matthias Welling , 2017-04-18

Welcome to my world.

I work in IT for the Reserve Bank of Australia. We settle payments through 50 000 transactions worth 170 Billion AUD. Daily (This is public information).

Our appetite for risk is very low and a 2 month project in the corporate world equals a 12 or 18 month project in our world. We like to do it slow without surprises.

No news is good news for us.

Erik Ferrari, 2017-04-18

Erik, I see the point and I do not say that I disagree. I am sure, it is all well thought out and there is everything in place needed, especially comprehensive risk management.

I think, using very dated software can be a major risk. Being unable to rollout new versions / patched versions or mitigations in a defined, managed but quick process is even tougher. The danger here, imo, is cultivating 'slow is less risk' too much.

But enough bingo for now 😇

Hubert Stettner, 2017-04-18

I observed situation with an enterprise client once where they pushed out 64 bit Office apps to 32 bit machines and vice versa. Oops. Complexity can be killed by the simplest of errors. Good write up.

Eric Mack, 2017-04-18

I think you can omit "IT" from your essay. Everything you describe, including the toxic role of certain manager types in all of this, apply to every decision in an enterprise, be it product development, sales, finance or IT. One might wonder why these corporations can survive at all. I suppose their comparably easy access to finance (SMEs really have issues accessing funding here in Europe), oligopolistic structures (see United) and protection from competition through regulation play a big role.

Peter Daum, 2017-04-18

Erik, btw. It's clear you don't run your clearing and settlement system on a platform that updates itself or in absence of super-strict change management processes. But why upfront limit your design decisions to one database supplier (as the Swiss have done for their RTGS just for the sake of it), or why apply the super-strict change management process for your clearing system to the Excel addin the staff members in the economics dept need to run some model?

Peter Daum, 2017-04-18

Not to forget all the incompatibilities with existing tools and software which leads to various departments asking for exceptions until they can upgrade their tools and software to work with the new version. Something which can take months and in worst case even longer.

Armin Grewe, 2017-04-18

Like, forever.

Hubert Stettner, 2017-04-18

Hubert, Peter et al.

It is slow at the Bank. It takes time. Mainly because of a one size fits all project management methodology. But we are working on a different approach for smaller projects. We are getting there.

On the other hand we work hard and get things done. Win10 is rolling out this year. iOS is fully supported in the organisation through our MDM. Board members use iPads for meetings instead of print outs. A world leading real-time payment system is being released later this year. Cloud solutions have been approved and is in the works for deployment.

We used to be boring, IT wise, but now the commercial banks look at us as tech leaders in many ways.

Erik Ferrari, 2017-04-19

Mit der Software ist wohl alles Geschmackssache.
Ich bin mit meiner Familie zufrieden mit Samsung (3ŚNote...).
Ein paar Sachen nerven, aber das ist bei jeden Smartphone so.
Es kann mir keiner sagen das bei Stock Android alles perfekt ist.
Ob Android 7 oder 7.1 ist meiner Meinung nach 99% der User egal weil se eh davon keine Ahnung haben.
Ich warte sowieso auf das Note 8.
Was mich am S8 stört ist das Format 18,5:9.
Ist für die meisten meiner Anwendungen nicht so praktisch.

Ulrich Willer, 2017-04-19

And then the Marketing or other department starts using other (newer) tools creating a shadow IT risking much more than the Office update described here. It's a vicious circle and the only solution I see are supportive CIO's that drive and don't block innovation.
PS: That equally includes the C-suite

Robert Jeschonnek, 2017-04-20


very good illustration.
But what is the difference between company and private? I don't agree with you, there is hardly a difference.
Apart from company related things like budgets and business cases the technical challenge is comparable. Nonetheless if you look at Apple (OSX and iOS) or Linux (see Ubuntu) and maybe also Microsoft (not sure there or company runs on MS). They deliver operating system upgrades or application upgrades via there distribution channels to thousands of devices. Mostly succesful (I suppose hardly dead-on-arrival devices).
If this is defined as quality there seems to be a huge difference.

So what is the reasoning there? For me it was merely a topic from windows and internal organisation.

Markus Sperzel, 2017-04-20

Old archive pages

I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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