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Office hunts for new niches

The software giant announces new Office specialty packages from partners to tackle specific business problems.

Microsoft plans to announce new specialty software packages on Monday based on the upcoming update of its Office productivity software.

The new packages, which will combine Microsoft software with third-party add-ons and services, will be sold by Microsoft partners under the Office Solution Accelerator Program. The program is part of a broad effort by Microsoft to court partners to help exploit new enterprise capabilities in the upcoming Office System.

Dan Leach, Microsoft's lead product manager for Office, said the Accelerator Program will help the company ensure timely delivery of new products to meet evolving business needs. "We know it is no longer acceptable to just deliver innovation every two years," he said. "Customers have ongoing issues."

The first seven products from the Accelerator Program will focus on specific business segments and tasks: sales proposals, personnel recruiting, quality-management projects for Six Sigma (an efficiency theory made popular by General Electric), financial reports, compliance projects for new Sarbanes-Oxley Act accounting rules, business scorecards and financial scenarios.

Those and future packages will be sold by Microsoft partners, who will work on integrating Office applications with other Microsoft products and existing business software, said Anders Brown, Microsoft group product manager.

"The Office System is a great platform for partners and developers to build on top of," Brown said. "Everyone can take advantage of this and build the final part of the stack for what they feel their customers need."

Paul DeGroot, an analyst for research firm Directions on Microsoft, said such partner efforts are important for Microsoft as it tries to position Office as a broad foundation for automating business functions and communicating with back-end computing systems.

"It's not necessary that they solve every niche," he said. "They do have to demonstrate how you can apply what's often viewed as a commodity tool to solving specific problems. And they need to demonstrate to partners...that you can turn that into a business."