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Commentary: An enterprise push for Office

Microsoft's Office System 2003 is more than an upgrade. It's a platform for building applications that wire employees together and link them into enterprise data and processes.

Commentary: An enterprise push for Office
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET News.com
October 21, 2003, 11:00AM PT

By Ted Schadler, Principal Analyst

Microsoft's Office System 2003 is more than an upgrade. It's a platform for building applications that wire employees together and link them into enterprise data and processes. Microsoft will grow its Office business by reallocating funds from other software categories.

Office System 2003 isn't just an upgrade to Office XP. If it were, companies would be justified in staying with their old version of Office--or even checking out open-source alternative OpenOffice.org. Features like the Research Task Pane and new desktop tools--the OneNote research note-taking tool and the InfoPath business form tool--aren't enough by themselves to warrant a wholesale upgrade. But with Office System 2003, Microsoft is offering a new communications and collaboration platform to host applications that do the following:

• Wire productivity tools into corporate data. We've all loved--or loved to hate--the PC as a "personal" productivity tool. But analyzing data from business applications in Excel is still a hassle for employees. With Office System 2003, a sales manager can get the latest sales pipeline from a Siebel-generated Web service or set up a field service call sheet with the address and service details.

• Link ad hoc people processes to rigid transaction processes. Corporations still comprise the system of record and the foundation for how businesses are managed. Yet employees have a largely disconnected set of work processes to push decisions forward and complete basic transactions--often by e-mailing around documents. With Office System, companies can couple those separate universes by, for example, using InfoPath as the front end to an Oracle-based service request rather than rekeying a printed business form.

• Bring live communications to document-based collaboration. Office System 2003 brings instant messaging and "presence awareness"--the magic that can tell when someone is online and available--into its desktop tools. So from within the Excel sales pipeline report, a sales vice president can ping the western sales manager to question the data in that region's shaky forecast. And the beleaguered manager can then launch a Live Meeting Webcast to offer explanations about the shortfall--with data both can directly view.

Getting with the system
Office System 2003 is a provocative solution to the Microsoft challenge of finding new growth for the software maker's $10 billion Office business. With Office System, Microsoft can tap into other corporate budgets that are earmarked to harness information and make workers more productive--through portals, enterprise content management, business intelligence, instant messaging, even corporate travel. But companies that have a sizable existing Windows Server footprint can view Office System 2003 as a way to consolidate their communications and collaboration tools, because it is:

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• Made up of mature components. Although Office System is in version 1, most of its building blocks are mature products. The SharePoint Portal Server, for example, scored well in Forrester's most recent Process Portal Platforms TechRanking, and Exchange powers corporate mailboxes around the world.

• Connected and enterprise-aware. Integration is Microsoft's passion and its best opportunity with the Office System tools. Even when the components aren't best-of-breed, the bundle is often cheap enough and good enough to handle the need. Microsoft continues to build links between Office and other products like BizTalk, and the Content Management Server is now part of the Office business group.

• Primed to attract thousands of solution providers. Microsoft is good at leaving money on the table for partners. With Office System 2003, Microsoft is already ramping up its partner programs, like hosting their wares on Office Marketplace. What attracts partners? The opportunity to build thousands of new applications--like a claims-processing application that's built around Word to exploit connections to InfoPath, Project and BizTalk.

The ripple effect
The downside? Office System 2003 is not shipped ready to do any of these things. Even with the Office Solution Accelerator templates, companies must still fund application development, build out a content-aware security infrastructure and master Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Web service design to get real value from Office System. But Microsoft will relentlessly improve the platform and woo partners and IT shops until every vendor feels the force.

• Specialists like Adobe will ride on Microsoft's marketing coattails. Although Adobe Systems at first glance appears to be in Microsoft Office's crosshairs, it isn't. Adobe's high-fidelity intelligent document architecture gives it the upper hand for business communications that must carry the watermark of authenticity and security.

• Software vendors in each market will gain a formidable competitor. Standalone vendors of instant messaging, portal, enterprise content management and business intelligence applications alike will feel the heat from Office System 2003. Watch for a stronger BEA Systems-Vignette partnership, as each looks for a converged communications and collaboration platform.

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• Business applications vendors will first resist, then embrace, Office-ready interfaces. At first glance, the XML-ready Office tools will look like a threat to SAP and Siebel Systems, as they see companies move off their hard-to-use client interfaces and portals in favor of dedicated Office forms. But Web services already opened that door to enterprising information technology departments and software makers like Macromedia. Watch for business applications vendors that will build new InfoPath and Excel data feeds. In the meantime, use Westbridge Technology's tool to host Web services for Excel.

• IBM will accelerate its communications and collaboration commitment. IBM pioneered groupware, enterprise e-mail and enterprise instant messaging. And the giant has been quietly revitalizing its Lotus business as a WebSphere-based communications and collaboration platform. Lotus customers will see a steady improvement in the e-mail, Sametime and Domino platforms. But IBM will be forced to also support XML data feeds for Excel and InfoPath.

© 2003, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.