Office Business Applications (OBAs) deliver people-centric, collaborative solutions to the enterprise through familiar Microsoft Office servers, clients, and tools – we’re talking about bringing toegther the component parts of the Office System here. This post will offer an example of the  “results gap” that contributes to reduced productivity, and shows that OBAs are an effective approach that enables enterprises to achieve the “last mile of productivity.” You will see that several key components of the 2007 Microsoft Office system can be used to develop Office Business Applications and that, when Line of Business Integration (LOBi) for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server is released, it will further simplify the development of OBAs.

Before we get to the good stuff lets just consider this results gap. Companies rely heavily on IT to help address many challenges, as evidenced by the huge investment in large financial management systems and solutions for enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and supply chain management (SCM). Nevertheless, many organizations have not realized the expected value from these investments. There is a clear gap between the efficiency and productivity increases that corporate leaders expected to see, and the actual return on investment (ROI) that they have experienced. Not really ground breaking stuff jamesy!

This “results gap” is caused by a fundamental inconsistency between how business systems work and how people work. The systems are based on transactional processes that are necessary in order to accomplish specific tasks—for example, creating a Purchase Order. What they have not effectively captured are the ad hoc, local people-driven processes that invariably arise. The result is that decision makers take a “feed the machine” view to their corporate business applications, but rely more heavily on the people-to-people collaboration for making decisions and taking actions.

Putting this into practice; A common collaborative planning task within an enterprise is the reconciliation of numbers between Sales and Merchandizing – particularly in a retail environment. By using the 2007 Microsoft Office system, a Sales Director and a Merchandise Planner can complete this process more efficiently. They both can use a single underlying Excel document to store the data, and they can use Excel Services to maintain it. In this way, they can have a single definitive version of the data, and the plan can be shared very easily from the server to other persons in the organization.

The document can be stored in a document library in SharePoint. A workflow can be associated with this document library, with custom business logic that is executed whenever the spreadsheet is saved. For example, the workflow could run validation rules on the spreadsheet; apply approval policies to the data; cleanse, validate, or filter the data; or update back-end systems.

You can take the following steps to implement this collaborative planning process with the 2007 Microsoft Office system:

  1. Build application parts—Use the metadata to create an Excel file that contains the Sales and Merchandise numbers. Partition the numbers into different worksheets, based on the type—for example, a Sales Plan sheet for the sales targets, or a Merchandise Plan sheet for the merchandise numbers.
  2. Create a team portal—Create a SharePoint portal, and publish the file to Excel Services within the portal. The document will reside within a document library. Excel Services allows multi-level permissions to be applied to the file. For example, users may be allowed to view the file contents in a browser, but they will be unable to open the file in the Excel client. Or, users will be able to see only the numbers in the Excel client, but they will not have access to any of the formulae being used in the document.
  3. Build custom GUIs—Create personalized sites for the Sales Director & Merchandise Planner within the portal, and provide links to the Excel file on each of the sites. These users will see only those files that they are interested in. Since the file is being hosted within Excel Services, all users receive the same copy of the file.
  4. Design a workflow—Use .NET Framework 3.0 & Visual Studio 2005 to develop a workflow that takes the contents of the Excel file and saves it to a database. Use the OpenXml libraries (under System.IO.Packaging) that are available in .NET Framework 3.0 to get the Excel data. Because the workflow will be hosted in SharePoint Server, it has access at runtime to the attributes of the file. These include, for example, the stream for the file that has been modified, the user who last modified the file, and the library where the file resides. The workflow could also perform more complex functions, such as creating a SharePoint task for a set of users, or sending users an e-mail message with the details of the task. Alternatively, to support communication across partners, the workflow could also send the data externally to a trading partner. As a final step, create a strong-named assembly containing the workflow, and install it in the local .NET Global Assembly Cache.
  5. Build an input mechanism—Create an association form using InfoPath. This form will be used to accept user data when the workflow is associated with the document library. Create an initiation form if required. The initiation form could be used to accept user data when the workflow begins. Install the workflow in the SharePoint portal as a feature, and associate it with the document library that contains the Excel file. Configure the workflow in such a way that, whenever any changes are made to the file and saved, the workflow runs.
  6. Create analytics—At the back end, create a data warehouse that is based on the schema that matches the Excel spreadsheet metadata. Using SQL Server Integration Services, copy data from the database to the data warehouse in a scheduled or on-demand manner. Create an SQL Server Analysis Services cube by using the warehouse. Create a pivot chart in an Excel file, and link it to the cube. Publish the Excel file to Excel Services. Finally, use the Excel Web Renderer Web Part to display the chart to users of the portal. Alternatively, use Business Data Catalog metadata to declare an entity for each row in the database. Use BDC Web Parts to display lists of the entities and enable users to search the database. You can also use the specification to create a parent-child relationship between entities—for example, a Purchase Order can contain line items. Since the metadata is in XML, it does not require users to be aware of any programming language in order to make changes.

By building on the 2007 Microsoft Office system, organizations can deliver LOB data and logic to the people who are responsible for running the business, in the context of their familiar Office applications. OBAs will drive home a higher ROI for the legacy applications by enabling broader access, and they will make process automation a reality to the organizations and people who use them—for just a fraction of what it would cost to deploy these legacy applications more broadly.

Free SharePoint Training

August 30, 2006

 For a limited time these self-paced online learning courses are available free of charge: WSS v3 Development: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/elearning/course/5045.asp

WSS v3 Infrastructure: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/elearning/course/3369.asp

MOSS Development: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/elearning/course/5046.asp

MOSS Infrastructure: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/elearning/course/3370.asp

So recently I’ve been asked several times about using Sharepoint Services as an extranet to securely exchange documents with customers and business partners – think about retailers looking to collaborate with partners and suppliers over merchandising decisons.  The short answer is that this is very possible with Windows Sharepoint Services.  However, you must be familiar with the licensing considerations, and how those apply to vanilla Windows Server compared to Small Business Server . . .

First, Windows Sharepoint Services is a free add-on to Windows Server 2003 – and as such, access to WSS is bound by Windows Server licensing for the product it is installed on.  With vanilla Windows Server, we have two licensing modes – Per Server and Per User / Device.  It is also important to note that while you can enable anonymous access to WSS sites and bypass licensing considerations, for the purposes of enabling a secure extranet, we’re assuming that anonymous access will not be enabled.

With Per Server mode, you are using a concurrent licensing model – so you can have an unlimited number of users accessing the server (and thus any WSS sites) just as long as the maximum number of concurrent connections does not exceed the number of installed CALs.

With Per User / Per Device mode (formerly Per Seat mode), you must have a User or Device CAL for each unique User or Device that connects to the server.  Therefore, if you wanted 100 separate users to access the server (and thus any WSS sites), you would need 100 User CALs. 

Now, for vanilla Windows Server, you can also purchase an External Connector – which allows for an unlimited number of external users to connect to your server (and thus any WSS sites).  Note that an external user is defined as “a person who is not an employee, or similar personnel of the company or its affiliates, and is not someone to whom you provide hosted services using the server software” – so you would still require the necessary CALs for internal users. The challenge that i have faced is that the External connector Licence in a scenario where SPS is being used with a resilaint architecture is that its is quite expensive – blowing most business cases out of the water. (is charged per front end server)

So – to use Windows Sharepoint Services as an extranet solution on vanilla Windows Server, the licensing structure that works best is dependant on the number of concurrent external connections that you are anticipating, as well as the licensing mode you’re using for any other Windows servers in your domain.  For a stand-alone server, you would probably be best served with a Per Server licensing mode and a smaller number of CALs – as you would only need to license the maximum number of concurrent connections (whether internal or external users).  For a domain member server where the rest of the domain is using a Per User / Per Device mode, it makes sense to use the same Per User / Per Device mode on the WSS server, since your users / devices are already licensed.  In this scenario, you would then need to purchase User CALs for each named external User.  Once an organization is looking at more than 40 external users, then the External Connector makes sense (as Windows CALs are ~ $50 each, and the External Connector is ~ $2k).  Again, the External Connector only licenses external users – so you would need CALs for internal users.

New blogging software designed for users with no HTML skills. Windows Live Writer

Most blog-authoring services–including Blogger, LiveJournal and WordPress–assume a bit of HTML knowledge on the part of users. But now that it seems as if everyone has a blog or two, the market has opened up for software aimed at less tech-savvy Web users. That’s the niche that Microsoft’s Windows Live service hopes to fill with Windows Live Writer, now available for a free beta download to Windows users who have installed XP’s Service Pack 2.

The new software, which claims to be easy to use, features a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface as an alternative to the tag-laden HTML coding found in most Web-based blogging clients. Live Writer also is designed to facilitate the addition of pictures, maps from sister service Windows Live Local, and a variety of video and audio players.

Easy-to-use blogging software is nothing new. Earlier this year, Apple Computer introduced its iWeb software, which lets users use templates and drag-and-drop functions to make Web pages and blogs, as part of its iLife ’06 suite. But iWeb is specifically tailored to Apple’s own Mac.com hosting service, and consequently doesn’t mesh with other providers. Windows Live Writer, on the other hand, boasts compatibility with not only our own Spaces network but also other major blogging services such as Blogger and TypePad.

If Windows Live Writer is as easy as Microsoft says it will be, blogging could become a whole lot simpler for the HTML-phobic crowd.

Darren is the Office 2007 Product Manager for the UK – check this link http://blogs.msdn.com/officerocker/archive/2006/03/18/554420.aspx and watch the bLogcast on OneNote which is just great. If you’re short on time go Play>PlaySpeed>Fast and watch it x3 speed and have it over and done with in less that five minutes!

It might be the fact that i’ve been up since 4am but it made me feel a bit ill at 3x speed?@!

Rich Grutzmacher is a Program Manager on the Office User Experience team. He helped coordinate one of the long-term, real-world studies conducted on early Office 2007 builds.

 I will share with you some of the lessons we learned by following a group of typical Office users for eight months while they used Office 2007 Beta 1 to perform their everyday work.

 Today, I will share with you a few of our early observations related to training (or the lack thereof) that we obtained shortly after the release of Office 2007 Beta 1 in 2005.

One of the most common questions people have asked is “how much training will it require to effectively use Office 2007?”

While we are providing many tools to help with the transition, many concerns can be allayed by simply trying out the product. In our experience, once they try it for themselves, most people agree that extensive training is not required to use Office 2007, despite the new user interface.

As Jensen mentioned a few weeks ago, we designed the new user interface with the goal of requiring little training to use Office 2007. However, we also knew that our users would be the final judges and that we needed to get the UI in front of typical Office users as early in the process as possible to see what we could learn about the learning curve of the product.

One of the primary research questions for this extended usage study was: “Can typical Office users quickly learn how to use Office 2007 with virtually no training in their own natural work environment while performing their own daily work tasks?”

To help answer this question, we tracked the participants very closely for the first 2 to 3 days they had Office 2007 Beta 1 installed. (I recall driving in the snow to visit with participants. Wow, I can’t believe it was that long ago!)

During these early interviews, we found that all participants were able to accomplish their primary work tasks during their first 48 to 72 hours using Office 2007. No test participant encountered any work stoppage issues and no one reported any subjective decline in their performance or in their ability to perform any work-related tasks.

In fact, the participants’ out-of-box experience was overwhelmingly positive.

Participants uniformly reported liking the new interface, but felt that it would take some time to get fully used to. Nearly all of the issues encountered during the first 48 to 72 hours were related to the beta quality of the software and were not a result of the fundamental changes to the user interface.

This finding was very encouraging since it was the first time anyone outside of Microsoft was using Office 2007 to perform meaningful work tasks in a natural work environment. These results helped validate our hypothesis that users could quickly and easily learn how to use Office 2007 even without the benefit of training.

With virtually anything in life, a little bit of training can help you be more effective. That is undoubtedly true with the Office 2007 user interface (and would have been true with the previous user interface as well.) But this extended usage study helped us have the confidence that even on day one, people could get their work done–even without the benefit of training.

As we move towards availability of the final product, case studies which help demonstrate these results will become available for us to share with you.

We’ve recently released information about Windows SharePoint Services momentum in the marketplace, especially as a platform for SIs and ISVs. You can read all about it here:-

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2006/jan06/01-20SharePointServices.mspx

I’m a big believer in WSS as a viral platform for development, its great to see recognition in the article for partners that are building successfully on WSS.

Also, if you haven’t tried the new templates, there are 30 to download and try out here:-

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/sppt/wssapps/default.mspx

Personally, I like the ‘event coordination’ template since my team spends quite a bit of time preparing for events and delivering content at them.

One of the projects the Microsoft design team has been working on for the last year or so has been the development of a new suite of product icons for Office 2007.

With recognition to Jensen H. here are the 32×32 versions of the icons which will appear in the final product:

we’ve recently announced that we are planning to integrate Speech Server 2007 into Communications Server 2007, Microsoft announced on August 8 (i know i’m slow but i needed a break!) at the SpeechTek conference in New York. Microsoft is touting tighter integration, increased simplicity – and the possibility of new apps like a presence-enabled personal call assistant that routes calls on individuals’ preferences – as the reasons behind its Speech Server decision. Microsoft will support current standalone Speech Server users through to 2014, and will continue to offer Speech Server 2004 R2 on its price list through the end of 2007. Communications Server 2007 is due to ship next year.