With Office 2007 rapidly approaching final code, Microsoft announced plans for a series of sample code packs called Office Business Applications Reference Application Packs (OBA RAPs), which show developers how to create new business applications using the Office interface.
The OBAs are designed for use with Office 2007 only. They show how to connect existing line-of-business (LOB) systems with Office applications. The purpose is to provide users with a familiar environment rather than force them to learn a new interface for accessing back office systems.
Microsoft has heard this request for some time. “An issue that consistently comes up is using the Office client to connect people to apps in the back-end,” said Tim O’Brien, Director of Platform Strategy Group.
The OBAs will use Word, Excel and Outlook as the interfaces to back-end systems through Microsoft’s SharePoint, InfoPath, Windows Server, SQL Server and Active Directory.
OBA RAP for Supply Chain Management (SCM) will come with demo websites and site templates, reference documents, .NET code, Web services references, XML (define) :and XSLT (define) files and scripts.
Using the Office applications instead of writing custom front-ends means less time spent writing the UI, and not forcing users to context switch from one application to another.
“Training is the number one problem in the enterprise software space today. Most of the time you are putting users in front of an interface they’ve never seen to do things they’ve never done before,” said Josh Greenbaum, principal analyst with Enterprise Applications Consulting.
“After dozens of years and billions of dollars, the industry has come to the realization that Office might be the best place to go and cut off a lot of the problems of interface design,” Greenbaum told internetnews.com.
The OBA RAP for SCM is the first of what Microsoft hopes will be many others, all for Office 2007, said O’Brien. In the future, Microsoft is looking at producing more vertical RAPs for retail and financial services, he said.
It has been possible to build connections between older versions of Office and back end systems, but it was very difficult, said Greenbaum. “It was hard enough that it wasn’t done that often. It just wasn’t advantageous,” he said.