Review: Microsoft Does Its Civic Duty; A Look At Stimulus360


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Microsoft's Stimulus360 has nothing to do with Xbox.

Microsoft has released Stimulus360, a Business Intelligence solution that government VARs can deploy to government agencies to sort out the bureaucracy associated with The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Stimulus360 is potentially a great way for public-sector agencies to sift through what some are complaining is an abundance of red tape when it comes to Stimulus package funding.

We took an in-depth look at Stimulus360 via an interactive hands-on test run from Microsoft. This solution is designed to help public-sector agencies in tracking, sharing and measuring information about ARRA.

Stimulus360 is a Business Intelligence solution and, in this demo, the main components are Windows Server 2003, SQL Server 2005, Office SharePoint 2007, Office 2007 and PerformancePoint.

Microsoft's demo is in a virtual environment powered by AcXess, a virtual workspace technology. The demo walks a user through several scenarios. In each scenario, a user is set up in a "role" as a State Employee assigned to a specific task involving the Stimulus package. The demo illustrates how Stimulus360 can be used to assist the employee in completing his or her task.

The desktop demo has a shortcut to the Web interface of Stimulus360. An accompanying document walks the user through all of the steps needed to test-drive each scenario.

For instance, the first scenario demonstrates the Recovery Act Research and Collaboration capabilities. In this scenario, the user plays the role of a Funding Manager assigned the task of helping agencies in the user's state identify and apply for Recovery Act grants, track funding received by the state and provide guidance in allocating those funds to counties within the state.

Using this module in the Stimulus360 portal, the Funding Manager has available the Funding Tracking Dashboard. There is also an Excel Services workbook that contains several spreadsheets. This data is displayed in the dashboard as graphical "scorecards."

The Funding Manager can filter funding data in any number of ways. The manager can edit data in the Excel workbook; that data in turn gets dynamically updated to these scorecards. This makes data easy to analyze, contrast and compare without having to scroll through rows and rows of content in a spreadsheet or table.

Another worksheet incorporates Virtual Earth, Microsoft's integrated mapping service. With this module, the Funding Manager can target available funds to certain counties within the user's state. With the tools Stimuls360 provides, funds can be targeted based on certain criteria, such as a county's unemployment rate, for example.

The demo also includes a look at the CRM portion of Stimulus360. In this module, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is included to aid users in a variety of tasks like Grant Management and Project Management.

Stimulus360 also features a Web portal for Public Citizens. This is a great tool that can be incorporated for local governments to give the public the means to know how, when, and where tax dollars are being spent. There is even a link for visitors to the Public Citizens site to submit their own proposals for federal funding requests.

What's nice is how easily navigable the interface is. There isn't a huge learning curve because it's the standard Microsoft User Interface, so users will already have a level of familiarity with it.

Stimulus360 is being offered as a licensed product. Microsoft is touting ease of implementation in agencies already running Microsoft technology. It is also being offered as an on-premise solution or as a hosted option.

Microsoft partners who are interested or plan to implement this product for customers are being urged to join for free Microsoft's U.S. Public Sector Partner program.

Anyone can test-drive the demo the same way we did. Simply go to http://mspublicsectordemos.com. You use your Windows Live account to enter the site. Access to the demo images is via Terminal Services/RDP and client requirements include Windows Vista SP1 or XP SP3. If the necessary service packs are not installed, clients can still launch the demo using a Citrix client.

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