Using Office Business Applications to increase productivity

August 8, 2007

This post is long pending. I have been fascinated by the new generation of composite applications which are very powerful and help in boosting productivity and operational efficiency. So let’s take this step by step.

What are OBAs ?

OBAs are basically a new breed of composite applications which enable information workers to work on their legacy systems and other systems in the backend with a Microsoft Office 2007 front end. These systems surface up the data from the Line of Business (LOB) applications and enable people to perform actions on them.

What is the need for OBAs ?

People typically perform significant additional work outside of the formal processes of a line-of-business (LOB) system as they collaborate with other people via phone and email, obtain information from multiple sources in the form of documents and spreadsheets, and switch between online and offline modes for meetings and business trips. OBAs help simplify this interaction by fitting within the informal processes that information workers actually follow. Organizations can use OBAs to build their won solutions, integrate with it and connect to an external line of Business (LOB) application so as to ensure that information is easily available and people can be more productive. This also rules out the need for getting resources trained on the Line of business applications.

Typical scenario for an OBA

Let’s look at a typical scenario where OBAs can be used and how they can help solve problems within the existing systems. The legacy systems are based on transactional processes that are necessary in order to accomplish specific tasks—for example, creating a Purchase Order. What is not effectively captured are the ad hoc, local people-driven processes that people do in order to accomplish a task like this. For instance – people have to collaborate with other members in their team to get required inputs from them for completing a purchase order. The purchase manager will also require to get information from suppliers and other requirements which need to be collated. Once he has completed the purchase order, he might also have to get it approved from his maanger. The exisitng systems do not support these activites and they are outside of the system.  So these systems are being used for merely storing the data and not for collaboration and decision making.

However using an OBA, the purchase manager can collaborate with other people in his team using a sharepoint team site, brainstorm on ideas using a wiki and then collate all this information easily as this available in one single place. He could also have ad hoc meetings and discussions if his MOSS portal is integrated with Live Communication Server, enabling him to start a chat conversation with any of his colleagues or suppliers. On completing the purchase order, he has a custom workflow which routes the document to his manager and once it is approved, he has it automatically sent to the suppliers. The business application simulates the actual way the work gets done rather than just being a repository for information.

If you are interested in browsing OBA solutions built by Microsoft Partners, check

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