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Microsoft pushing app development for Office 2007

Office 2007 as an application development platform could mean more tasks in the hands of end users -- or more of a burden for IT managers.

Microsoft is encouraging ISVs to develop applications for Office 2007 in a strategy that the company said could ease the burden on IT managers. But making it easier for users to access apps might actually create its own set of problems.

Microsoft and independent software vendors are working together to develop Office Business Applications, or OBAs, in such areas as ERP, CRM and SCM. If ISVs develop these applications on the Office 2007 platform, Microsoft said that IT shops can take less of an administration role while giving users easier access to such applications.

More on Microsoft Office application development:
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ISVs will soon find out whether users consider this strategy a burden or a blessing when they showcase their OBAs at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference next month. At the show, Microsoft said it will give more details on its office business applications strategy and the latest ISV-developed OBAs.

"OBAs will give more users the ability to get the data they need out of back-end line of business applications using the familiar interface of Office applications," said Daz Wilkin, program manager for Microsoft's Platform Strategy Group. "For IT, this means having to do less tasks for the sales department -- for example, looking for data -- and will reduce everyday requests coming into IT from end users who do not know how to get information out of or use back-end systems."

Epicor Software Corp. is one developer that is working with Microsoft on this strategy. The Irvine, Calif.-based maker of ERP and CRM applications has built an OBA that gives users the ability to work with their applications within Outlook.

There is a flip side to OBAs, however, that could actually put more of a burden on IT, said Josh Greenbaum, principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting based in Berkeley, Calif.

Greenbaum agreed that putting the functionality of an ERP application into an Office application in the form of a window pane or form inside Outlook, Excel or Word would lessen the burden on IT to train end users or gather data for them, but it would also add to the number of users actually accessing the ERP system.

"You potentially have a lot more users accessing the back-end systems through these OBAs, so IT would have to make sure they have a robust enough back office to handle a big user load," Greenbaum said.

IT shops may also be facing a triple upgrade if they move to OBAs, he said.

"High-end OBAs, where IT wants to optimize their whole back-end strategy -- that will take a hardware upgrade and an upgrade to Vista and Office 2007," Greenbaum said. "That's a big cost."

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