REDMOND, Wash., May 23, 2000 — Last year when business hit high gear at RedChip.com, a research firm providing expert investment analysis of the small-cap market, the everyday mechanics of producing online financial reports for more than 300 companies threatened to throw the company off track.
RedChip.com had recently transitioned from publishing financial reports every two weeks to a Web-based model, in which reports were generated daily, and found it had to double its staff of analysts and increase exponentially its coverage of companies with a market capitalization between $100 million and $1.5 billion to satisfy customer demand. But try as they might, the analysts at the Portland, Ore. firm, who are experts at providing comprehensive investment research and opinion to thousands of subscribers, quickly found themselves bogged down in the minutiae of manually preparing reports — a chore that occupied nearly a quarter of their time.
To expand the online focus of its business successfully, RedChip.com quickly realized it needed an automated and simplified process for creating financial reports online. The company enlisted the help of Minneapolis-based Plural, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in developing Microsoft Office-based solutions. Using Microsoft Office 2000 Developer, Plural built in two weeks an automated solution that evaluates standard metrics, creates finished reports and manages documents. The results have been dramatic: the automated financial model is saving each analyst at RedChip.com more than a day of work every two weeks.
The benefit of automating everyday business tasks is no secret — for some time now, companies have been realizing significant increases in employee efficiency and productivity by creating custom applications that automate specific sets of tasks. But the route developers take to build such solutions can be full of twists and turns, depending on the applications used and the tools at hand. Plural developers are among the 2.6 million developers — over half the professional developers worldwide — that use Microsoft Office as part of their customized business solutions.
“Developing solutions for Office makes a lot of sense, because working with Office is how the majority of knowledge workers spend most of their day,”
said Anders Brown, lead product manager for Microsoft Office 2000 Developer .
“By building solutions with Office, developers are able to leverage end-users’ familiarity with Office — the result is shorter development cycles.”
Millions of professional developers use Microsoft Office and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), the embeddable programming environment, to build solutions that customize and integrate Office with line-of-business applications. The most efficient path for building Office solutions, however, is to use Microsoft Office 2000 Developer, the edition of Microsoft Office that provides a set of applications and tools designed for this very purpose. Office 2000 Developer includes a comprehensive set of development tools designed to help developers quickly and easily design custom business solutions on the Office platform, as well as all the productivity applications in the Office 2000 Premium edition.
For Plural, using Office 2000 Developer was a critical factor in delivering the RedChip.com solution so quickly, and even increased the development team’s productivity by about 20 percent, according to Charles Maxson, associate director at the consulting firm.
“Microsoft Office 2000 Developer lets us use tools like prewritten code snippets to build easy-to-use interfaces and leverage out-of-the-box functionality, a key benefit of Office development,”
For example, in just two hours, we were able to implement the RedChip.com ‘look and feel’ on an intranet server.”
Updated Toolset Eases Development of Automated Workflow
While automating individual business tasks can bring unprecedented levels of increased productivity to a company’s workforce, many businesses are discovering that automating whole business processes, or workflow, is where the greatest efficiencies can be gained.
For example, document tracking can be a difficult and convoluted business process when there is no structured and automated way for workers to manage projects. Users end up spending a lot of time on the phone and forwarding email in an attempt to track the status of a particular project. By developing a workflow solution that automates the tracking process, businesses can be confident that a particular project will follow a predefined set of steps before it is closed, and workers will be able to determine the status of a project with the click of a button, rather than sending a host of email messages or making several calls to accomplish the same task.
To ease the development of customized workflow solutions using the Office platform, Microsoft today announced Office 2000 Developer version 1.5, an updated toolset designed to help developers quickly and successfully build workflow and collaborative Office solutions. Office 2000 Developer v1.5 integrates with the Microsoft Exchange 2000 messaging and collaboration server and the SQL Server 7.0 database server, making it easier to leverage the features of these BackOffice platforms so that Office applications can be extended above and beyond traditional desktop productivity.
“The Microsoft Office platform is expanding beyond the desktop, and the infrastructure that Microsoft Exchange 2000 and SQL Server provide just makes any custom Office solution that much better,”
says Microsoft’s Anders Brown.
“Over 75 percent of developers that write applications using Exchange also target Office, and nearly 70 percent of those who build SQL Server applications are also targeting Office, so we know there’s a great need to provide a development tool that eases and speeds integration.”
Office 2000 Developer v1.5 includes all the applications, tools and servers that developers need to build, test and deploy customized tracking and workflow solutions. New tools in version 1.5 include the Workflow Designer for Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server, the Workflow Designer for SQL Server, and developer editions of Microsoft Exchange 2000 and SQL Server 7.0.
Improving Collaboration and Data Access
Expense reporting, document routing and issue tracking are just a few of the business processes that can be automated using the workflow capabilities in Office 2000 Developer. Workflow Designer for Microsoft Exchange 2000 is designed to drastically cut the number of hours normally required to incorporate workflow automation in Exchange-based applications. Using Workflow Designer for Microsoft Exchange 2000, developers can quickly build Exchange-based collaborative workflow solutions that automate the routing and approval of Office documents, business forms and other Microsoft Exchange 2000 data.
Workflow Designer for SQL Server helps developers design and build solutions that automate business processes using SQL Server data, such as issue tracking. With this tool, developers can build Web interfaces for workflow processes that allow users to access workflow applications online or offline. For example, a developer might build an issue-tracking solution that uses Internet Explorer, so that users registered with the company intranet can access the application at any time and from any location. Any updates or changes they enter while working offline will be re-synchronized when they reconnect to the network.
According to Brown, one of the main advantages of both Workflow Designer tools is that they let developers apply workflow to existing business processes.
“Companies don’t have to turn their business processes upside down in order to implement workflow with these tools,”
“For whatever business process currently exists, developers only need to use Workflow Designer for Microsoft Exchange 2000 or SQL Server to add workflow to the process.”
RedChip.com: From Office Automation to Workflow Automation
As soon as RedChip.com was off and running with an automated application that simplified the creation of individual financial reports, the company again enlisted the help of Plural to streamline the entire publication process by building a workflow application that would give RedChip.com the ability to track the status of financial reports, from the beginning stages of creation to their posting on the Web.
“We need a system in place that adequately addresses our Web presence,”
said Alan Davis, senior equity analyst at RedChip.com.
“With reports being posted daily, we want an automated process for planning and tracking the publication of these reports, so that we can increase our productivity overall.”
Plural is using the Workflow Designer tool for SQL Server, which is included in Office 2000 Developer Version 1.5, to build the RedChip.com solution.
“Because of Office 2000 Developer, we’re able to deliver this solution to RedChip.com in a fraction of the time it would have taken otherwise,”
said Matt Nunn, systems architect at Plural.
“Office Developer provides a standard framework, a springboard to greater functionality and collaboration between Office and BackOffice applications.”
Nunn anticipates the workflow designer tools in the new version of Office Developer will save developers a lot of time when creating workflow solutions for their clients, allowing them to focus on solving business problems instead of getting wrapped up in technical issues.
For RedChip.com, the solution will allow its analysts to focus their energies on providing customers the comprehensive research for which the firm is known, rather than getting bogged down in the logistics of producing timely reports.
“Maximizing our efficiency will allow us to increase the number of companies we cover and the frequency with which we cover them. The more we succeed at this, the more viable we’ll be as a market leader,”