Office Business Applications, or OBAs, are a new breed of business solutions built on the 2007 Microsoft Office System. These applications feature the familiar people-ready interfaces that users already know and love in Word, Excel, Outlook and Sharepoint, combined with back-end data from line of business (LOB) applications and MOSS 2007 sites.
Two converging trends make OBAs possible. The first is the increasingly ubiquitous presence of internet connectivity. Most white-collar workers are always connected to the net, and this allows for new creative options for integrating applications.
The other trend that makes OBAs possible is the evolution of Office’s developer APIs and extensibility options. The rich set of new developer features in the 2007 Office System include custom task panes, ribbon extensibility, the Business Data Catalog, Open XML file formats, and many others. These options allow developers to quickly and easily develop Office-based interfaces to back-end systems that would have been difficult or impossible in the past.
People-ready OBAs require minimal training, because the user interface is built around the applications people are already using. And they’re highly configurable: many of the developer extensions in 2007 Office System use simple XML-based declarative programming, and others use simple yet powerful new APIs such as the Workflow Foundation or the .NET 3.0 packaging API.
OBAs are all about closing the “results gap” that has traditionally existed in organizations that have custom LOB systems. Those LOBs — whether Dynamics, SAP, Siebel, or others — provide valuable management reporting and data consolidation/standardization, but they’re not where users typically spend the bulk of their time. Instead, users spend their time in powerful desktop applications such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. And that “last mile” of connectivity is where decisions get made, customers get involved, and the work really gets done. The OBA approach now allows developers to close the gap and integrated back-end LOB systems with the desktop applications users already know and use every day.
Ready to learn more? A great place to start is the Channel 9 interview with Corporate VP Lewis Levin. In it, he talks about the new world of OBAs and how it empowers corporate developers, ISVs, and system integrators.
One of the key benefits of the OBA approach is that you use one consistent topology for web management, document management, and records management as shown to the right. This greatly simplifies deployment and management issues, gives smaller organizations and departments the type of power that was once the exclusive domain of larger organizations. This architecture also enables integrated search across web sites, LOB systems, file systems, and other repositories. Business Data Catalog connectors can be configured for disparate data sources, and users can use a consistent search interface to locate information in a variety of systems.
And just as OBAs don’t require users to learn new interfaces, they don’t require developers to learn a new toolset either. Developers can use the tools they already know to develop rich OBA functionality: Visual Studio, Infopath, Excel, or Access.
To learn more about how to start building OBAs, check out the Office Business Application Developer Portal. And watch for more OBA-related information coming out of TechEd in Boston this week.