MS to unveil plans for new Office app

During his keynote address on Wednesday at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo conference in Orlando, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer is expected to unveil plans for developing a new desktop application, code-named XDocs, that promises to streamline the cumbersome process of gathering and distributing data from multiple sources.

Scheduled for delivery in mid-2003 and expected to be a member of the Office family, XDocs can be integrated with a large number of business processes because it can support user-defined XML schemas that can be integrated with XML Web services. By so doing, Microsoft hopes to provide users with another way to reuse corporate data and improve information flow.

With users stockpiling enormous amounts of new data that is strung out over a number of islands from desktops to large back-end servers and several places in between, it is getting more difficult for users to even locate – never mind more effectively use – that data competitively, Microsoft officials contend. They believe XDocs offers one solution to that problem.

“Users are always trying to collect information from these islands of data where they need multiple tools just to get access to that information. [With XDocs] we think we have found a solution to that can connect theses disconnected islands of data,” said Scott Bishop, product manager for Microsoft Office.

Explaining how the program works, users can create a dynamic form to capture whatever information they need. Using the product’s validation capabilities, XDocs then ensures the data it is collecting meets the requested criteria and is accurate. And because it supports user-defined XML schema, users can define precisely how that collected information is to be structured.

“Because [XDocs] is in XML, users can disaggregate data from a document, tag it, and distribute it to any XML-based back-end system like SQL Server or Siebel or even a customized back end, which eliminates many steps,” Bishop said.

Offering an example, Bishop said a salesperson aggregating information for a monthly sales report can capture all the necessary information he need for such a report down to his desktop and then automatically send it back out to the appropriate XML-based back-end servers.

“This is good for business processes where many times people want to take items out of the process for exception handling. Now they can work offline where you can take a document out of the process, send it around to other people to contribute things to, and then resubmit it back into the process,” Bishop said.

Helping users to capture and reuse data quickly attempts to addresses the growing problem of using information more efficiently across an enterprise, some observers feel. One users think XDocs can start to address that issue.

“We are exploring the impact [of XDocs] on a lot of our internal processes from custom purchase order solutions to clinical trial data submission. The validation capability of the product lets us check our data against criteria we have set, improving the accuracy of the data entry,” said Art Huggard, director of Digital Strategy at Solutia.

Microsoft officials feel XDocs, for some users, represents a necessary ingredient that has been missing in terms of pulling together a cohesive Web services strategy because it more flexibly draws people into business processes.

“We think XDocs adds the missing link to the Web services story. Web services typically are talked about in terms of server-to-server relationships. But XDocs allows you to bring people into the process. They can now contribute to and consume Web services through it,” said Bishop.

Microsoft has not decided if it will include XDocs in the retail version of Office or how much it might charge for it if sold separately. Company officials said, however, the product is a good fit for solution providers and the company would likely make the product available through its authorized resellers.

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