Customizing Office 2000 for Business Solutions

REDMOND, Wash., June 14, 1999 — Sales management consultant Mark Maxian is completing a contract to help Bristol-Myers Squibb evaluate how well the company is promoting products like Herbal Essences shampoo and Excedrin pain medicine. Using Microsoft Office Developer, Maxian created a customized application that lets salespeople at the worldwide health and personal care company determine the success of promotions such as store coupons, newspaper ads and mail-in rebates. It also enables them to compare the effectiveness of different types of sales promotions.

“For instance, maybe a $1 off coupon doesn’t give them the same return on investment that a $1.25 off coupon does,” said Maxian, Principal of Charting New Horizons, Inc. in Morrisville, Pa. “Our solution gives them the data they can use to analyze promotions and make business decisions they couldn’t make in the past.”

Maxian says the development tools in Microsoft Office Developer were key to his firm winning the contract. “Bristol-Myers compared our proposal to another proposal and saw that ours was around one-tenth of the cost, and was completely customized to the way they wanted to do their business,” Maxian said. “The reason we could deliver it in the timeframe we did and at the cost we could is only because of the development tools in Office.”

Maxian is among 2.6 million developers who are using Microsoft Office as part of their customized business solutions. “That 2.6 million represents over 50 percent of all the professional developers in the world,” said Neil Charney, group product manager for Microsoft Office Developer and Visual Basic for Applications. “Developing business solutions on the Office platform makes a lot of sense because Office is where knowledge workers spend most of their working day.”

Microsoft Office 2000 Developer, the latest version of the product, is one of five editions of Office 2000 launched last week. The product includes the entire range of productivity applications delivered in Office 2000 Premium edition plus a set of tools, documentation and sample solutions designed to help developers create custom solutions with Microsoft Office.

“One of the strongest benefits for developers is how quickly they can build these solutions with Office,” Charney said. “Why reinvent the wheel? Why build a charting solution when Excel already delivers that functionality for you, and with a very little amount of code, you can harness the power of the application and customize it to meet a specific need?”

Recognizing this benefit, thousands of developers already are turning to Office 2000 Developer to create specialized applications ranging from sales information systems to mass mailings, Charney said. “The solutions developers create help users get beyond cutting and pasting. The end user will say, ‘I need an automated way to produce these letters that I’m generating every day off of our sales database.’ And they’ll come to the IT group who recognize that they can leverage the Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) in Word to access the data and automate that solution.”

Office 2000 Developer is a major enhancement over previous versions of the product because it enables corporations to quickly and easily create customized Office applications. Until now, developers had to write a different piece of code to run with each application within Office, even if the code served the same purpose. For example, an application that lets employees automatically insert names and addresses of customers without typing them in would have to be written separately for Excel, Word and PowerPoint. But because the applications within Office 2000 incorporate the Visual Basic for Applications 6.0 development environment , that is no longer the case. “Since VBA is available throughout Office, developers can now use same technology in all of the applications,” Charney explained. “So that reduces their learning curve when they’re building solutions in any of these applications.”

Office 2000 Developer includes the “Component Object Model (COM) Add-In Designer,” which enables developers to create code that they can reuse in different Office applications. “Let’s say I never want to risk misspelling a company name or a customer name in any of the content I create in Word, PowerPoint, Excel, or any of the productivity applications,” Charney said. “With the COM Add-In Designer from Office Developer, I can write a solution that connects with my database and runs with every Office application. And end users can select ‘customer information’ and have the name inserted into any Office application consistently and without having to risk misspelling it.”

The product also comes with a “code librarian,” a database where developers can store and retrieve snippets of code they develop. In addition to storing developers’ own code, the code librarian includes an indexed file of pre-written code that developers can access and use with any Office application. “What we’ve done with Office 2000 Developer is pre-loaded the database with thousands of lines of frequently used code,” Charney said. “So if you want to know how to programmatically send an e-mail using Outlook, for example, we have that code snippet in there. You can literally drag and drop it from the database to the development environment to use that code.”

Developers usually build code into their software applications that automatically handles errors when a user encounters a problem with a task they’re trying to accomplish. Office 2000 Developer makes this easier for developers by including an “error handler” that automatically inserts this code for them. “That’s something that will really cut down on development time,” Maxian said. “You ask any developer and error handling is the most tedious thing they do, so it’s just great that Office Developer will go through your code and put in all your error handling for you.”

Along with several other productivity tools, the product also includes documents, sample applications and sample code designed to show developers how to write different types of custom applications. “We’re not sending them to a variety of places for this,” Charney said. “It’s all in one box.”

In addition to making it faster to develop applications, Office 2000 Developer includes several features that enable developers to easily create custom applications that tap into information stored in the company database. For example, Office Developer includes a “Data Environment Designer” that simplifies the task of retrieving data from SQL Server and other enterprise databases and incorporating that data into Office applications. The product also includes “Data-Bound ActiveX Controls” that enable developers to create easy-to-use interfaces for employees analyzing data, and a “Data Report Designer” that enables developers to quickly build sophisticated reports by dragging elements from the database without having to write code. “These are tools that help developers build the solutions that end users need to do a mail merge or analyze data using an Excel spreadsheet, based on enterprise data,” Charney said.

Finally, Office 2000 Developer makes it easier for developers to deploy and manage the custom applications they create. It comes with a “Package and Deployment Wizard” that makes it quicker for developers to distribute the custom applications to employees. It also includes Microsoft Visual SourceSafe 6.0, which enables developers to better manage code at the various stages of its development. “You can see all the revisions you’ve made to your code, roll back to a time where you wish you hadn’t made those revisions, and check the code into a shared database,” Charney said. “You can go back one step at a time or as many steps as you’ve done along the way, and not just the steps you’ve made in a single session writing the code.”

No matter what edition of Office 2000 companies purchase, the product will dramatically change the way they work by enabling every employee to save documents to the Web without knowing HTML. The product is transforming the Web into a place where every employee can post information and work collaboratively on documents.

Office Developer promises to help employees take these Web capabilities a step further by enabling developers to create specialized applications that employees can use to make their Web documents more customized and dynamic. For instance, employees can use customized applications created with Office Developer to generate dynamic Web documents that automatically scroll down to the relevant portion of a document when viewers click on a specific question. “The end user may not know what script is required for that,” Charney said. “But you as a developer can create the solution so the end user has some options for saving content to the Web in a way that’s more dynamic and interactive.”

Micro Modeling Associates, Inc. (MMA), a New York-based company that provides digital consulting and custom application development for Fortune 1000 companies, uses Office Developer as the basis for many of the business solutions it builds. “Office 2000 out of the box is great, but Office Developer is a powerful tool that enables us truly to extend our client solutions,” said Robert Erman, MMA’s Boston practice manager. “Office Developer allows us to focus on large-scale enterprise development.”

Already, MMA has found that several tools included with Office 2000 Developer are making its developers more productive. For example, the code librarian makes the development process more efficient by enabling developers to share, store and retrieve code, Erman said. The Package and Deployment Wizard is making it quicker to distribute code to clients worldwide, and the error handler is freeing up time to concentrate on the more creative aspects of building custom applications. “We used to spend a lot of time and money working on things like error handling inserters and code commenting tools,” Erman said. “Not having to spend our time doing that allows our developers to focus more on the solutions themselves.”

There’s no limit to the types of customized applications developers can create using Office 2000 Developer, Charney said. “You can really customize this product to meet almost any need you might have in your organization,” Charney said. “Name a feature that would make you that much more productive. Any feature you can think of, I guarantee a developer can create it in a short amount of time using the tools in Office Developer.”

For Maxian, the Bristol-Myers Squibb consultant, the best aspect about Office 2000 Developer is that it enables him to deliver customized applications that include the same features his customers are already familiar with. Corporations regularly use features like toolbars and menus included with Word and Excel, he said, so there’s not much of a learning curve. “That’s been one of the main reasons why we’ve been so successful in using Office as a development platform,” Maxian said. “I think companies feel real comfortable with it, and users feel real comfortable with it. They know what to expect.”

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