Profoss / Events / June 2008-OpenOffice / Speakers / Eric Descamps / Eric Descamps interview

Eric Descamps interview

You are now the project manager at the Belgian Post for the deployment. Did you have experience with before?

Yes, I have been using for myself for a long time on both Linux and WinTel platforms, and then I introduced as the standard office automation suite for my former employer, Aubay.

Why at the Belgian Post? Is the native support of the Open Document Format a reason?

ODF is not the reason but it is a positive side-effect.


In order to initiate a successful migration plan we wanted to have positive answers to two questions:

  1. can we technically and functionally safely migrate to and
  2. is the business case positive on a long term view.


The migration project to implies the use of ODF format, which will gradually become the standard document format at the Belgian Post.

You started with a Proof of Concept that you will present during your talk. How was this POC organised (number of users, which departments, had the test users only access to, and what was its purpose?

A proof of concept has been initiated with a very little set of users (+/-10). The positive outcome of this POC leaded to the planning of a real « pilot project ». Here, 250+ users (mainly from the ICT department) were installed with Although became the default editor for all office files, Ms-office was not removed from the pilot users workstations.


We wanted our pilot users to use as far as possible for Writer, Calc, Impress and Draw (Base was out of the pilot project scope). We wanted to know if users were feeling as efficient, more efficient, as if they were using Ms-Office. We also wanted them to raise potential conversion issues between ODF and Microsoft file formats: therefore the default format for saving files was kept on Microsoft. Finally we wanted to measure if we were ready to ensure a fair support of this new suite using our own resources.


We also wanted to deeply test the conversion of documents because we know that in large organisations like the Belgian Post there will always be a part of users who will need to deal with both Ms-Office and documents. Until now the converters provided by provided us with better results than the ODF plug-in that is provided for Ms-Office.

What was the reaction of the end users when they first heard of the project?

Each pilot user was invited to a one hour « briefing » telling them the objectives of the pilot project, asking them for feedback, and introducing the main differences between the two suites. We also provided each pilot user with a set of two brochures (quick guides) especsially designed (with to help them finding their way in the software daily use. The reaction was positive for a majority of pilot users.

What's their opinion now that the PoC is over?

People started using in November 2007. In January 2008 we asked each pilot user to fill out a survey (30+ questions and sub-questions).


A majority of pilot users who really did use on a daily base were feeling that the efficiency of an user was comparable to the efficiency of a Ms-Office user. However we had to notice that

  1. for « advanced » features more people thought that was not that efficient compared to Ms-Office (which showed some learning issues), and
  2. that people were resisting to the idea of migrating to a new system even if they had a positive opinion on the suite (because they had no direct benefit to their daily work, rather, they expected a time strain induced on their daily schedule because of possible problems introduced by the change process and because of the need for training).

Based on your own experience, what are the main advantages and disadvantages of OOo in a professional environment compared to other Office suites? The migration itself is still in a planning phase, so our expected benefits are still to be confronted to reality. However we expect benefits from different points of view:

  1. financial: licence costs savings, of course
  2. functional: we plan to customise in order to improve the use of standard document layout, integrate with 3rd party software used at the Belgian Post, facilitate the use of PDF format for publishing documents, etc.
  3. organisational: such migration project is a unique chance for ICT to help the business in finding a better or optimised way for document management « standard functions »: create, save, share, retrieve, update, archive...


However during the migration project and even after it, we will have to build smart solutions in order to share documents with other companies or individuals in both ODF format (whenever possible) and Ms-Office format (when it is required). Such conversion utilities will have to be transparent to users, who cannot be disturbed in their daily job by such issues. We are currently working on solutions about this.

Will OOo be integrated with other systems at the Post? If yes, how heavy was the integration work?

Yes, we will have to find smart solutions for what we call « composed documents » (documents that are generated or modified by third party software currently integrating with Ms-office). We will approach this case by case in close collaboration with the business. Depending on the case we'll adapt the existing documents, rewrite macros if needed, or find technical solutions with the appropriate 3rd party software providers. The goal is to reduce the Microsoft licences to a minimum set of users, but it would not be realistic to say that we can go up to 100% immediately.

OOo can open and store documents in formats from other Office suite. Are you working with the Open Document Format?

Yes ODF will gradually become the standard document format. We expect a « smooth migration » from the presently installed suite to the new one, while we will « smootly migrate » from one document format to another. This will significantly reduce the conversion workload during the migration project.

Are the documents produced by OOo going to be exchanged with external entities? How do they react? Until now we are exchanging documents in Ms-Office format, but we are preparing guidelines and smart solutions in order to:

  1. publish “read-only” information in PDF format
  2. exchange “read-write” documents in ODF format whenever possible (within the Belgian Post and with some external partners or individuals)
  3. exchange “read-write” documents in Ms-Office format when it is an absolute necessity (a priori only with external partners or individuals)