UPDATE: Microsoft Promises More Back-Office Bridges In Office

On Monday, Microsoft executives previewed a set of services to ship with Office 2007 that should make it easier to integrate outside data into their familiar Office applications.

A set of six Office services will ship with Office 2007—workflow, search, business data catalog, extensible UI, OpenXML file formats, and Website and security framework. Microsoft announced the plan at Tech Ed 2006 in Boston.

In addition, a new project called Line of Business Interoperability for SharePoint adds the ability to embed processes as well as data, said chris Caren, general manager of Microsoft Office Business Applications.

The goal is to have Office and SharePoint front ending all kinds of applications, said Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Information Worker Business Unit.

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"This will feel like a natural extension and will deliver line-of-business data and processes into Office clients," Capossela, told attendees Monday morning.

"A big part of what we're doing about is not just exposing line of business processes but also constructing processes the way users want them done. The process moves from being what the ERP system wants it to be to a more client-directed model," Caren told CRN later.

There will be a runtime for LOBi connectivity and synchronization with code is due by year's end. Caren said to think of LOBi as a seventh service to be delivered after the first set surfaces in Office 2007.

"Office 2007 has a business data catalog --LOBi extends this to processesit will let you take informatoin and processes offline --take ERP data securely adn work with it offline and hten write it back to the back office application when you're done," Caren said.

This entire scenario builds atop Microsoft's Windows Workflow Foundation--which will first surface in Sharepoint Server 2007. (Microsoft has dropped the "Portal" part of that product's moniker with this release.) There is no dependency on Vista here, Caren said.

Using SharePoint as the collaboration glue between applications is not a new idea, partners said.

"I think its obvious to most companies that Sharepoint can be geared as the front end to all the backoffice applications, and that coupled with Business Scorecard Manager, could actually start producing really significant dashboards," said Ken Winell senior vice president Pcubed, a New York City-based solution provider.

Microsoft already offers "Snap" links between Office and some of its own ERP lineup and collaborated with SAP on Duet connectivity between Office and SAP's ERP. That product should ship this month.

The Office services and LOBi--as well as Duet--all grew out of earlier Information Bridge Framework work, Caren said.

"IBF was a solution, not a commercial product but the thinking behind it led to Duet and this," Caren said.

This story was updated Tuesday morning with additional detail and executive comments.