Microsoft steers apps toward collaboration

Microsoft Corp. this week will detail plans to push out technology designed to simplify software integration and to support increased collaboration capabilities for users of its business applications.

At its Convergence 2003 conference in Orlando, Microsoft will try to sell users on the idea that its applications can be used to integrate various business processes, said Lynne Stockstad, general manager of global solutions at the company's Business Solutions Unit.

For example, companies could link their employees and business partners in automated workflows that support customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain operations and other activities, Stockstad said.

As part of the strategy, Microsoft will unveil integration and user-interface enhancements to simplify the development of collaborative applications, Stockstad said. Although she provided few details, she did say the plan includes adding an end-user portal or a similar role-based interface that will give workers a view of the business functions relevant to their jobs. Integration is a major issue for Tom Racca, vice president of sales and marketing at iQ NetSolutions Inc. in Westboro, Mass. IQ NetSolutions, which makes telecommunications equipment, runs Microsoft's Great Plains back-office applications and its new CRM software in a hosted installation.

Racca, who plans to attend the Convergence conference, said it's particularly important to see continued improvements in the integration between the Microsoft CRM and Great Plains applications. He said he also wants to combine the different functions of the applications into a portal-style user interface and open up the systems to his company's business partners.

The integration moves planned by Microsoft are key requirements for the midsize companies that the software vendor is targeting with its applications, said Katherine Jones, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston.

Companies at that level often are plagued by continued reliance on repetitive manual processes that bog down productivity, such as having to copy customer information from one application to another, Jones said. Adding a portal isn't a unique step for Microsoft, but it does have the potential to help end users do their jobs more efficiently, she said.

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