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Dennis Bottjer | MVP

The following conversation is a conversation with Microsoft Financial Services Sr. Architect Colin Cole discussing Office Business Applications (OBA).  This is a new type of blog post for me and a Drowning In Technical Debt first.  I hope to conduct similar conversations in the future.  Finally, I would like to thank Colin for making time to have this conversation with me.

dbottjer says: So I figured a good place to start would be with a definition.  What is OBA?  I did some research and here is what I came up with. Office Business Applications (OBA) use the Microsoft Office Suite of programs (Outlook, Word, Excel, etc) as a presentation layer for connecting line of business applications and executing business processes.

Colin Cole says: Cool, I have a few more things.

dbottjer says: Ok great.

Colin Cole says: OBA is kind of the centerpiece of what we call a "people ready" solution.

Colin Cole says: It’s really about designing a solution to give the end user more control and agility to interact with the application.  Rather than having the IT defined screens with text boxes and validation.

dbottjer says: The user has more control to personalize.

Colin Cole says: You get instead something that brings data down to the tools you're familiar with (as you state), but also have server piece as well and that's where office server (SharePoint) comes in.  By exposing data through something like a SharePoint the business user can define their own reports bring the data down to a cube and open it up in excel.  Slice and Dice.  Create a dashboard.

dbottjer says: Right

Colin Cole says: Define their own KPI's.  Etc.  So like you state -- leveraging familiar tools, but also interacting with the solution data as appropriate for their role.

dbottjer says: So this leads to the Problem. I thought that a good problem definition is: a fundamental inconsistency between how business systems work and how people work.

Colin Cole says: Agreed

dbottjer says: Basically applications today are very rigid

Colin Cole says: Absolutely, take an investment scenario for example.  The investor interacts with the canned application to analyze their portfolio.  But there's always 5-6 things they want to know to make business decisions that aren't available.  So what do they do?  They call IT and ask for a new report.  2 months later they get their report.  But by that time the need is totally different. 

dbottjer says: Exactly.

Colin Cole says: So the reality is they don't even bother....and just create their own one-off spreadsheets that aren't reused, etc.

dbottjer says: So if they have an export feature they could export to Excel and do some quick processing there.

dbottjer says: But that is an one-off.

Colin Cole says: Right.

dbottjer says: So the idea of OBA is just to allow users to work in tools like Excel to begin with an augment excel with the missing services necessary for the problem domain.

Colin Cole says: Right, as well as interacting with dashboard/reporting type functionality bringing down tasks into Outlook, --like I showed you guys with our lending solution. Stuff like that.

dbottjer says: I guess this leads us to why use OBA? OBA's offer a familiar interface – Most business users are familiar with at least one or more programs within the Microsoft Office Suite.  For example, Outlook is commonly used groupware that remains open throughout the business day on many corporate desktops.  It would seem like a win-win situation to take advantage of a program that users are already familiar with and that is running on their desktops.  Excel.

Colin Cole says: Exactly, why not plug a CRM tool into Outlook, since the sales folks are already familiar with the paradigm?

dbottjer says: OBA integrates line of business applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Supply Chain Management (SCM) in a presentation layer the user is already familiar with and productive in.  For example, a sales associate may depend heavily on Outlook to communicate with his/her clients.  The associate keeps To Do lists within Outlook and a calendar of all meetings.  Integrating the sales associate’s Outlook with CRM would centralize all the company’s customer information.  This would give the sales associate a place to add customer notes and perhaps a way to look up additional customer information such as support cases.

Colin Cole says: Exactly.

dbottjer says: So it seems like an efficient model for developing line of business applications?

Colin Cole says: Right, obviously not for everything, but some % of apps it's a better fit.

dbottjer says: Something else I noticed is that OBA is a great reuse story. For example, to implement an OBA solution you use an office product like Word, Excel, Outlook, SharePoint, etc. You also can use existing web services. Furthermore, you use VSTO and .NET.

Colin Cole says: InfoPath plays nicely as well.  Especially the server forms stuff.  Very cool, each InfoPath form can have C# Code Behind, just like aspx.  It makes for a simple model to build professional looking web pages.

dbottjer says: So OBA is a culmination of technologies to provide a business solution designed for how people work. It seems like OBA's have the potential to have a big impact in the line of business application space.

Posted on Thursday, May 24, 2007 6:27 PM Architecture , .NET , C# , Office Business Applications , System Integration , VSTO | Back to top

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