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The 800-desktop project is using a modified version of Microsoft's Infopath information gathering application as part of a shift towards an XML-compliant architecture. XML is expected to become the key standard for sharing data between systems.
As part of Microsoft's Office 2003 rapid-adoption programme, Northumberland College is the first academic institution in the world to evaluate Office 2003. It plans to introduce Office 2003 Professional Edition to 50 classroom PCs by June and 800 PCs across five sites by August.
The college originally planned to upgrade to Office XP but changed to Office 2003 because of the widespread use of XML in the product.
Luke Rutherford, project manager at the college, said Office 2003's XML support was attractive because the college is using more web-based applications and needed to automate administrative tasks.
Infopath offers the ability to retrieve and collate XML-based data for forms such as timesheets, funding applications and staff self-assessments. This should enable the college to reduce the £25,000 it currently spends on manually gathering information held in disparate areas such as Excel spreadsheets and Word documents.
The new system will also help the college maximise government funding. "We feel we have lost funds in the past due to the way things are at the moment," said Rutherford, who believes the upgrade will also help the college attract new students.
A key challenge is the mixed IT environment in the college, which includes Novell soft-ware, such as Groupwise for e-mail, Zenworks, eDirectory, Novell Directory Services and Netware 5.1 servers.
Rutherford is keen to continue using Netware. "It is a far better operating system than Microsoft," he said. The college is working with consultants from SX3 to integrate and customise Office 2003 applications.
"The way I look at it, we will have Novell driving Microsoft software," said Rutherford, who expects one of the key challenges to be implementing Outlook - a core part of the Office software suite - alongside Groupwise.
The college is also looking at buying Tablet PCs and Microsoft's new notetaking tool Onenote
Office 2003 will be launched later this year.