A demonstration version of this solution, called i2 Intelligence, was unveiled at i2's user conference last fall; it's scheduled for release early this year. Laucka says i2 Intelligence relies on the business intelligence capabilities embedded in Microsoft Office 2007 to analyze supply chain data. SharePoint portals will be the primary user interfaces for i2 Intelligence, but Laucka says users can tap into the solution through any Office application, including Word, Outlook, or Excel.
"We see the SharePoint portal as the first-level user interface that gives users the key performance indicators (KPIs) they would monitor as part of their individual jobs," Laucka says. "Let's say a VP of sales is monitoring customer-service levels for the top five customers. He logs into a SharePoint portal, where he will see KPIs and alerts related to those customers. Inside that same portal, he will have access to Microsoft Outlook and Excel, along with workflow and collaboration capabilities."
Clicking on a KPI or alert will send the VP to i2 Intelligence, where he will find a full report on that KPI, and a series of related reports. SharePoint Server also has document-control capabilities, which Laucka says ensure that users will only see reports that are relevant to them.
Johnson says discussions with partners like i2 about global supply chain collaboration—which requires companies to communicate openly with trading partners while ensuring sensitive information is protected—influenced much of Microsoft's development work on Office 2007.
A new delivery model
Epicor, a midmarket ERP supplier, is giving users direct access to its applications through Office 2007. Epicor used the service-oriented principles of the Microsoft .NET Framework to create its solution, called Epicor Information Worker (IW).
The solution gives users access to any Epicor application through an Office interface. Users can synchronize information from any Office application with data from any Epicor application. For instance, salespeople can look up appointments in Outlook and jump to the area of Epicor that contains the sales histories of the customers they are scheduled to meet with.
Users also can drag information from Epicor applications into Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. They can save such documents to SharePoint and initiate a workflow process that calls for other workers to review and act on that information.
Workflow and collaboration are at the heart of the solution product life-cycle management vendor Sopheon built on Office 2007.
Sopheon's primary product is Accolade, which manages the process of shepherding products from the concept phase into production. Accolade, in effect, automates a methodology known as stage-gating, in which members of a product development team are required to review the status of a project as certain milestones are met, and then decide whether work on that product should continue.
The decision makers, who typically are executive-level people, review high-level project information in an Accolade interface. But that high-level information is based on data created in other applications, including Excel spreadsheets.
Sopheon is attempting to make all aspects of stage-gating easier by linking Accolade with the Microsoft Project component of Office 2007.
"Accolade was built on Microsoft technology from inception because most people in the product innovation arena already use Microsoft applications, and we believed that leveraging tools potential customers were familiar with would magnify the benefits our solution," says Bryan Seyfarth, Sopheon's solutions marketing director.
With Office 2007, adds Seyfarth, those benefits are magnified even more, which is why Sopheon has decided to offer direct integration between Microsoft Project and Accolade.
"The value of this integration is making it easier for the people making decisions about investing in new products to get the information they need without forcing them to wade through data they don't need", Seyfarth says. "Executive-level decision makers don't want to see Gantt charts. The want summary information that lets them know immediately that a project is 350 person-days behind schedule, and what that means from a financial standpoint."
With the new level of integration, project managers can use Microsoft Project to disseminate detailed project schedules to workers and monitor the progress of those tasks. Then, when it's time to summarize information for the executives who decide on project funding, the pertinent information can be pulled from Microsoft Project and fed directly to Accolade.
"There also is the ability to synchronize schedules between Project and Accolade," Seyfarth explains. "So when the detailed schedules are set for the project, that information is used to generate the high-level milestones that Accolade presents to upper management."
Seyfarth says the features in Office 2007 prove that Microsoft understands what manufacturers need in an underlying technology platform.
"They definitely understand our customers' requirements for improving productivity, and how important it is for them to effectively create, present, and share information," concludes Seyfarth.