REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 20, 2003 — Faced with a smaller staff, lower-than-normal revenues and higher airport security costs, Continental Airlines, the fifth largest air carrier in the United States, has turned to its IT department, and ultimately Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution, to streamline its operations and help deploy a solution designed to coordinate projects on a global scale, reduce technical support costs, increase employee productivity and improve the allocation and management of skilled resources. As part of Microsoft’s Office System, Microsoft’s EPM combines client, server and Web-based technology in an effort to provide businesses everything they need to orchestrate company-wide projects smoothly and sustain a competitive edge in their respective industries.
The EPM solution is merely one way the Microsoft Office System works together to provide tools that help companies like Continental Airlines develop efficient, integrated and easy-to-use processes so they are better able to maximize business opportunities, says John Vail, director of Information Worker Categories at Microsoft. Regarding processes, in particular, he adds that the combined Office System serves to streamline and automate operations in order for information workers to better anticipate, manage and respond to changes in the marketplace. In part, the Office System can help businesses cut back on paper forms and time-consuming manual processes, allow for cost-effective repeatable processes, cut back on inconsistent use of processes and enable workers to quickly organize and redirect work results.
“We know that there are numerous 21st century businesses utilizing antiquated systems and processes. We also know that in order for them to compete in today’s marketplace, they must streamline and automate their processes,” Vail says. “The Microsoft Office System was created to provide organizations the tools they need to leverage the power and familiarity of Office programs, while providing the flexibility to create dynamic solutions that meet unique business requirements, be they a graphic-design firm or a clothing retailer or an industrial manufacturer.”
Officials at Continental Airlines anticipate that the Microsoft Office System will allow them to put all of its project information onto one “radar screen,” so to speak.
“With the Microsoft Project Enterprise Management Solution, we have been able to deliver the same amount — and in some cases much more — in terms of the gross number of projects opened, funded and fully deployed. Now we are doing 31 percent more at 69 percent of the cost,” says Blake Burke, Continental’s Managing Director of Technology.
The airline’s workers are better able to collaborate and communicate because the EPM has effectively streamlined numerous processes that would have otherwise consumed their time, Burke adds.
Eliminating and reducing processes using Microsoft Office System products can also boost the bottom line, which benefits customers and employees as well as company principals, says Nicolas Errazuriz, co-founder of Iconstruye, a Santiago, Chile-based, business-to-business marketplace for the Chilean construction industry. Iconstruye recently won a contract to handle the Chilean governments procurement contracts, a deal worth approximately US$700 million. The company selected InfoPath and Excel to help automate its procurement process for small- to mid-market suppliers and construction companies with limited technology resources. Instead of struggling with paper documents and trying to submit catalog details over unreliable Internet connections, customers are able to use XML-enabled documents offline, and then upload or download them to the marketplace where they integrate with Iconstruye proprietary procurement applications.
InfoPath Streamlines Information Gathering with Dynamic Forms
InfoPath (previously code-named “XDocs”) is a new product in the Microsoft Office System, designed to streamline the process of gathering information by enabling teams and organizations to easily create and work with rich, dynamic forms. The information collected can be integrated with a broad range of business processes because InfoPath supports any customer-defined XML schema and integrates with XML Web services.
“The Office System solution will help increase our revenue by encouraging more construction companies to place more purchase orders through our marketplace,” Errazuriz says. “Providing them with access to our services using easy, everyday Microsoft Office productivity tools encourages companies to incorporate our marketplace into their business processes. We believe the Microsoft Office System will improve the productivity of the whole procurement culture in Chile.”
Field engineers at Motorola Commercial, Government, and Industrial Solutions Sector (CGISS) also report similar “process elimination” success with Visio, another application within the Office System. Visio is a diagramming tool, which in its 2003 incarnation integrates with XML, enabling integration with back-end servers, databases, Web services and other applications. A new ActiveX control allows organizations and developers to use Visio 2003 as a front end to a line of business applications or to embed Visio in a custom solution, providing customers with a more flexible tool to meet a variety of diagramming needs.
At Motorola, after years of designing public safety systems on paper napkins, or using various tools not specifically designed for technical diagramming, or trying complex computer-aided design tools that have a steep learning curve, CGISS field engineers now employ Visio to visually configure communication systems.
“Using Visio and other Microsoft solutions, we can do everything in the field from specifying customer system requirements and configuring system equipment to automatically generating racking and cabling diagrams, sales quotes, bills of materials and equipment lists from Visio diagrams,” says John Estes, Motorola CGISS Engineering Manager.”
As a result, we are able to reduce the time it takes to design these systems and help determine optimal cable routes in minutes and increase productivity and design quality.
Adds a Motorola CGISS colleague, Principal Staff Engineer Dan Watkins, “Engineers think in pictures and diagrams. Visio makes it possible to combine the visual components in diagrams with the calculation power of spreadsheets to create a visual, living document. So making the diagram the central piece of the solution was a natural.”
The Microsoft Office System aims to empower enterprise and information workers, Microsoft’s Vail says. “We’re always listening to our partners and customers; we’re always striving to help enterprise meet today’s business challenges. With this system, we are helping you thread together people, processes, customers and intellectual capital and spin information into business value.”