ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 1, 2001 — Microsoft Exchange 2000 is making the dream of seamless, Web-based collaboration come true for businesses, according to independent software developers whose products were honored here Sunday night at the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) 2001.
“Were at the beginning of the next age of collaborating — the age of contextual collaboration,”
says Bill Pugh, CEO of Ascendant TSG. The Houston company began using Microsoft Exchange 2000 as its collaboration platform last year because it offered what competing platforms don’t — integration of the computer desktop, email and documents.
This allowed Ascendant to build K-Advisor, which uses Exchanges workflow features and other Microsoft technologies to create a virtual place where all the e-mail discussions, decisions and documents related to a big project reside. Individuals make their date-stamped contributions to the project on the virtual site — rather than having to send multiple physical or electronic copies every time something changes.
“It helps you get your arms around the unstructured aspects of business — which otherwise can make things fall through the cracks, make you lose documents, so you have to redo things over and over,”
“It links everybody involved in the process, not just the internal groups but the external advisers and customers, with the security levels you need for each of them.”
K-Advisors first use was to help businesses track mergers and acquisitions, but it is applicable to any complex task, Pugh said. For instance, Texas Tech University is using K-Advisor in applying for research grants, and health systems are using it to track compliance with new rules on privacy of patient records.
Ascendant’s work on K Advisor was among 30 finalists for the Microsoft Exchange Conference Awards 2001, presented as part of the first day of the MEC 2001 conference. The firm was nominated in two categories — Best Use of Workflow and Best Solution by a Partner – and won the award for Best Solution by a Partner.
Earnie Glazener, product manager in the .NET Enterprise Server Division at Microsoft, says that MEC Awards entries increased 66 percent this year.
“People are starting to see the value of Exchange 2000, and theyre starting to look for solutions based on it,”
Another winner in the awards competition used Microsoft Exchange 2000 to improve collaboration and the effectiveness of its own sales and fulfillment process. GenASSIST, built by Genisys Consulting Inc., of Elk Grove, Ill., won the Best Solution by a Customer category.
“Previously, we had a hard time managing and sharing our contact information, managing the performance of our sales people, and even getting project proposals back to clients who requested them,”
says Jamie Story, director of sales and marketing for Genisys.
GenASSIST simplifies such tasks via templates and organizes them via a visual dashboard, customized to each worker. It also uses Microsoft Office XP Smart Tags to retrieve information from legacy computers to complete a project proposal, says Rick Parham, director of consulting services for Genisys. Once a proposal is written, it progresses through the companys processes without actually moving from Exchange.
“Everyone can sign off on it, and the system also notifies people were going to have to put a team together. When the final approval comes back, the application creates a folder on the dashboard where we share all the information,”
“We always know where in the process everything is. Then, when a client accepts our proposal, we have all the information already collected. We just press a button on the project page, it routes the Word document to management for final approval, and when management approves, it sends a copy to accounting for billing. Nothing has to be retyped.”
GenASSIST uses Exchange 2000, Office XP, the Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server operating system, Microsoft Windows CE, Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Windows CE Edition and Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2001. The Microsoft components tie together so well that GenASSIST was created in one-week increments as staff was available, Parham says.
“We went from whiteboard to end production in less than seven weeks.”
The product developed by a third honoree at the MEC Awards ceremony offers another way to develop Exchange 2000 applications.
IT Factory Development Center for Microsoft was the winner in the Best Developer Tool category. A snap-in for Microsoft Visual InterDev (the development tool for Web-based applications), IT Factory Development Center allows faster development of applications based on Exchange 2000.
“It doesnt require a very big learning curve,”
says Robert Ginsburg, CTO of Boston-based IT Factory.
“Its one of those tools that, once people use it, they realize theres just no other way to do it.”
For instance, properties can be dragged-and-dropped on ASP/HTML pages to generate code. Wizards in the software can create a Web-application structure in less than a minute. The ITF system also allows any data object to be enabled for SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol, a protocol for XML, the eXtensible Markup Language) with a single click, which will be important in the transition to new Microsoft .NET systems, Ginsburg says.
Indeed, the MEC Awards judges noted this in their comments on the IT Factory product.
“This tool provides familiar development features while adding Web services capability,”
“Developers working toward XML Web services integration into applications will benefit from the future-oriented functionality in this product.”
The MEC 2001 Awards were presented by Malcolm Pearson, general manager, Exchange Server at Microsoft. Paul Flessner, senior vice president of Microsoft’s .NET Enterprise Server Division, acknowledged all 10 winners during the opening keynote at MEC 2001, where business executives, software developers and systems administrators are meeting to learn more about Exchange 2000 and other Microsoft products. The meeting continues through Thursday at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.