Microsoft realigns Visio

Hoping to ramp up its strategic appeal to corporations, Microsoft has updated its Visio diagramming tool. The latest version will make more efficient use of Office desktop applications and line-of-business data residing on servers. Down the road, Microsoft plans to deepen the tool's business-intelligence capabilities.

The newly named Microsoft Office Visio 2003, now an integral part of Microsoft's Office System, is aimed at its core technical users and also at business users to help them reduce the manual labor involved in pulling together and integrating information from multiple sources.

"With this release we want to broaden (Visio's) usage among business users by communicating more clearly to them what the value proposition is," said Jason Bunge, Visio's product manager at Microsoft.

Microsoft's goals for Visio 2003 include getting customers to use it as a smart client to better use and deliver Web services and as a process management tool that can quickly document and map out how users conduct business.

Some users said they like the idea of building solutions using Visio as a smart client that can work back and forth with their server-based line of business applications.

"We are deploying a solution built on Visio 2003 and the .Net Framework because it makes it possible for us to take advantage of Visio as a smart client. This project will allow us to streamline our sales process and enhance the quality of the solutions," said Jim Cullen, senior manager of sales tools and software systems at Carrier, a Seattle-based transportation company.

Another user added that he liked some of the new ease-of-use features, particularly in Web services.

"We like the (Visio) platform and its ability to leverage .Net Web services. It gives us more power to model the more complex financial concepts visually," said Howard Keziah, chairman and CTO of Impact Technologies Group in Charlotte.

Microsoft is currently working on a business intelligence tool that will allow customers to use Visio as a way to pull up data from within its SQL database and graphically manipulate, dissect, and analyze it as effectively as some other more expensive tool, Microsoft's Bunge said. Microsoft hopes to have an early version of the product to demonstrate within the next month or two, he said.

In addition, the company is developing a second add-on tool that allows business analysts to map out a process and have greater flexibility in tool choice. A third add-on would allow users to export that mapped out process to a BizTalk server with a single mouse click, allowing developers to more quickly incorporate changes into BizTalk's automation engine, Bunge explained.