Harley Davidson dealer taps Excel 2010 to chop costs

Marshall Horner is an unlikely endorser of Microsoft Office 2010.

But that didn’t keep the partner and general manager of Mississauga, Ont.-based Jacox Harley Davidson away from Microsoft’s May 12 business launch event for the productivity suite. It turns out that aside from chrome handlebars and leather upholstered seats, spreadsheet charts get Horner’s motor purring.

Microsoft hooked up this Harley dealer with a beta copy of Excel 2010 about a month ago. It’s a nice upgrade from his 2003 version, Horner says.

“I’ve always been an excessive user of Excel products,” he says. “The biggest difference I find is just ease of use.”

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Horner wanted to create a chart based on a spreadsheet but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. So he used the built-in tutorials feature to lead him through the steps. After the first hour, he ended up with a chart that was backwards from what he wanted. But then he was able to fix the mistake and produce two charts successfully in 10 minutes. That’s not a bad learning curve.

“I’m not a book learner, I’m a punch and go guy,” Horner says. “But I found with Office 2010, the explanation that was given was very easy to follow.”

Microsoft has been promoting new collaboration capabilities as the premiere feature in its new suite. With the freely available Office Web Apps, workers can collaborate on the same document from anywhere with an Internet connection. New integration with Sharepoint 2010 will allow businesses to collaborate in real-time behind the firewall.

It’s a step Microsoft has taken in a world where working from portable computing devices is now the norm, says Jason Brommet, senior product manger of Office for Microsoft Canada.

“Regardless of where you are in the world, communication and collaboration are delivered in Office 2010,” he says in an interview.

Other reasons for upgrading to support the new collaboration features were given at the media event, hosted at Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame. Businesses must meet the high expectations of Gen Y (younger than 30) employees, who are natural collaborators, the press was told. There’s an explosion of “rich media” on the Web that must be harnessed, lest data overload explode outwards from our bursting-at-the-seams Inboxes.

But to Horner, he could care less about real-time collaboration and social network connectors. He’s worried about the bottom line — and how to get through those long Canadian winters when no one really wants to buy a bike.

“There’s about four months a year you don’t sell a lot of motocycles, so you have to look at replacing that revenue source with something else,” he says.

The large dealership sells more than 300 bikes a year. When they don’t sell bikes, they sell parts, clothing, maintenance, and even organized motorcycle trips across North America. Excel helps the bike shop understand how revenues will be affected as the business shifts from one type of sales to another.

Staffing needs change, for example. When no bike sales take place during winter, no technicians are needed.

“Once you take those costs out, you also take the revenue out for that,” he says. “That’s very important to understand.”

Excel allows him to get a quick visual depiction of what’s happening to the bottom line, and that’s a good insight. Horner plans to train his other managers in using the software as well, and is happy with the upgrade. He’s now considering other new tools from Microsoft for his shop.

Microsoft is suggesting customers already owning Office 2010 through software assurance plans get ready for roll-out right away, Brommet says. New customers to Office 2010 will want to choose the departments where the software will have the biggest impact.

“There’s usually parts of an organization you can think of that deliver immediate gains to the business,” he says. “That becomes a template you can apply across different departments.”

Support for Office 2003 won’t end any time soon, he says. Business users have either five or 10 year support plan options, and can even customize it beyond that.

Businesses buying Office 2010 through volume licensing have two options – the Standard suite, or the Professional Plus suite. Standard includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher and Office Web Apps. The higher-end suite comes with all those programs plus Access, InfoPath, Communicator, and SharePoint Workspace.

“We call that the Cadillac of office suites,” Brommet says.

Maybe then, that makes Excel the “Harley” of Office programs.

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