Q&A: Microsoft Continues Push to Deliver Sophisticated XML Tools as Customer Adoption Around XML in the Microsoft Office System Continues
April 11, 2005
Governments such as Massachusetts are prominent among the wide variety of organizations embracing XML as used in Microsoft Office to exchange data among heterogeneous systems, platforms and applications.

FRANCISCO, April 11, 2005 -- XML has come a long way in helping businesses foster universal communication among workers in the 18 months since Microsoft began helping customers improve productivity by more deeply integrating XML technology into Microsoft Office System and introducing Microsoft Office InfoPath, an information-gathering application in the Office System.

Organizations of all stripes, from healthcare and financial services to manufacturing and legal services, are embracing XML support in Microsoft Office to exchange data among heterogeneous systems, platforms and applications. And nowhere is this trend more evident than in government. Just last month, for instance, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in issuing a policy to use "open format" software, endorsed XML schemas such as Microsoft Office's WordprocessingML for helping to achieve data interoperability in public-sector IT systems. Such confirmation sounds a familiar theme -- the European Union and Denmark last year recognized that the use of open-document formats such as WordprocessingML greatly improve interoperability.

Jean Paoli, Senior Director, XML Architecture, Microsoft.
Jean Paoli, Senior Director, XML Architecture, Microsoft.
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Microsoft continues to work with customers and the industry to usher in new kinds of software and tools based on XML. The company's first Microsoft Office System Developer Conference in Redmond, Wash. in February was attended by more than 800 software developers and architects. More than 300,000 developers are building Office-based solutions that utilize XML. In addition, Microsoft and Visimation, a Visio partner, released this week a free tool, Visio Connector for MBSA (Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer), which uses XML data to help IT professionals visualize network security information collected by MBSA using Visio network visualization software.

PressPass spoke with Jean Paoli, Microsoft's senior director of XML architecture, at the Gilbane Conference on Content Management Technologies to learn more about how companies are using XML in Office and what other developments are underway at Microsoft that incorporate XML technology. Paoli, widely recognized as one of the co-creators of the XML 1.0 standard with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), will debate at the conference today with Tim Bray, director of Web Technologies at Sun, and John Udell, lead analyst at InfoWorld, in the keynote debate, "Microsoft & Sun: What is the Right XML Strategy for Information Interchange?" Frank Gilbane, chair of the Gilbane Conference, will moderate the event.

PressPass: What do you see happening with XML today and how is Microsoft continuing to demonstrate its commitment to XML for the Office System?

Paoli: XML is everywhere today. People no longer ask, "Should we use XML?" Instead they're asking, "How do we use XML?" We now have a lot of Microsoft customers that are using Office 2003 applications with native support for XML to create, view and edit structured data that is stored in disparate systems. And many of them are using specific data models, or "schemas," to customize the structure of their documents, which makes it easier for them to search and reuse critical company data. So it's made us very happy to see that organizations are starting to understand what XML technology can do for them.

We also continue to push the effort to see how we can use XML in Office to help customers in new ways. For example, more than 300,000 developers are building Office-based solutions that use XML. For our part, we'll release Microsoft SQL Server 2005 in the second half of this year. SQL Server 2005 features a native XML data type that lets organizations store entire XML documents in an XML column. The advantage of being able to store the data in this way is that it allows you to perform operations such as querying or updating the data, XML indexing and executing queries using the W3C XQuery language. Beyond native XML support, SQL Server 2005 also supports Native XML Web Services. This enables companies to access SQL Server using XML Web services from multiple platforms, so they can send any Office XML document from any platform to the SQL Server database using Web services and archive, index and search that data very efficiently.

Microsoft, together with Visimation, a Visio partner, is also releasing to the Web this week a new tool, Microsoft Visio Connector for MBSA. The tool translates the results of system scans performed by the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer and presents them in a clear, comprehensive network diagram using Visio. What's interesting is that Microsoft and Visimation could successfully create this tool specifically because MBSA uses XML to log security challenges in an IT system and Visio 2003 can consume XML. When IT administrators use MBSA to review their networks, Visio Connector takes an existing network diagram and superimposes the security information that is generated by MBSA on to it, visually highlighting and archiving the security status, to make it easier for administrators to see where the vulnerabilities are. Having Visio work seamlessly with MBSA to make information more consumable is not a scenario we could have predicted when we developed Visio 2003. But it's definitely a bonus of the approach we have taken with XML, and it's something we know IT pros are interested in.

The company is also integrally involved in the creation of XML and Web-services-related standards. We recently participated in the creation of the XML-binary Optimized Packaging (XOP) recommendation, which enables the transfer of binary objects alongside XML documents in a Web services environment.

So these are just some of the ways that Microsoft is demonstrating its commitment to XML. A lot of tools are coming out and standards and recommendations are getting finalized, but for me, what's most interesting is the huge adoption of XML we're seeing on the part of organizations today.

PressPass: Can you talk more about how customers are using XML in Office 2003?

Paoli: Today we have a wide range of customers who are using the XML capabilities native to the Microsoft Office System in different ways. For example, some companies like Rohm and Haas, a specialty chemicals manufacturer, use Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Office Excel 2003 and custom-defined data models, or schemas, that detail in the XML structure information that can be published and reused via the Internet. Rohm and Haas implemented a Web-based solution that Microsoft partner QualiSci built on the Microsoft Office System to help streamline Rohm and Haas' product research and development process. Using XML documents created in Word and Excel that detail in the XML structure the company's process for product development, employees can easily incorporate data from other sources and quickly move that document on to the next stage of the R&D process. Then when another team member opens that document, the most up-to-date product development data immediately populates it. The information in these documents can also be extracted using XML technology and displayed on a Web browser, so teammates can access and use company data from anywhere in the world.

Like Rohm and Haas, several other Microsoft customers use custom-defined schemas that detail company-specific information in the XML structure. CUCORP Financial Services, based in Saskatchewan, Canada, has automated its credit-approval process by deploying a solution based on Office that uses Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 electronic forms to automate data collection. Instead of using an outdated solution that grafted together Excel spreadsheets and Word text into unwieldy documents, CUCORP employees now work with InfoPath 2003 forms. InfoPath 2003 provides them with the intuitive Office interface they're familiar with, while detailing in the underlying XML structure customers' credit information so that it can be reused in different applications and processes within the company. Using these forms has reduced time-consuming and redundant data entry, such as annually updating each CUCORP customer's credit application forms with current financial data, thus reducing the turnaround time for the credit approval process.

Another customer, Ingolstadt Hospital, a major regional health facility in southern Bavaria, Germany, automated its paper-based admissions process in its emergency ward using a patient-admission solution based on Office 2003 and InfoPath 2003 deployed on Tablet PCs. The solution uses XML-based forms created with InfoPath that are designed to communicate with the hospital's databases through Web services. The forms, which detail in the XML structure important patient information, are stored on a Windows SharePoint Services site, where they are processed by a Web service into the hospital's back-end databases. Doctors, nurses and clerical staff no longer need to interrupt patient care in the emergency ward to attend to paperwork. Instead, they use a pen to enter patient data into InfoPath forms stored on the Tablet PC while they work with patients. They can also retrieve patient information using the hospital's wireless network.

Busyukogyo, a Japanese automotive parts manufacturer, also uses Office 2003 and InfoPath 2003 with custom-defined schemas to improve the company's quality control and workload-planning processes. Busyukogyo implemented an Office 2003 solution that lets line workers automatically build workload plans using InfoPath XML-based forms, which detail workload data in the XML structure and access work process instructions related to each work order stored in the company's production control system. With this solution, staffers don't have to manually create workload plans, and managers are improving quality control by comparing plans against actual performance.

Finally, Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear, one of the largest intellectual property law firms in the United States, is using WordprocessingML, an XML format in Word, to generate invoices directly on the server rather than having to create them within the Word application itself. Using a customized billing document solution that takes advantage of WordprocessingML to create invoices automatically, the legal firm has been able to eliminate disruptive bottlenecks and improve its average processing time for invoices by 75 percent, which translates into improved customer service and increased cash flow.

So we are really seeing now that XML technology in the Microsoft Office System is being utilized by a wide array of businesses, not to mention all the continued interest we're seeing among government customers in using the XML capabilities of Office 2003.

PressPass: How are governments embracing XML?

Paoli: On March 25, Massachusetts issued an open-format policy that includes the Office XML file format in the commonwealth's list of accepted formats for creating and archiving government documents. We are extremely pleased that these new scenarios that are enabled by XML and Office can serve e-government needs such as those of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In addition, the Danish government last year sanctioned the Office 2003 XML reference schemas for its infrastructure database as an open document format that is suitable for the needs of various government organizations. And the European Union also noted last year that the Office 2003 reference schemas and our support for customer-defined schemas had greatly improved the potential for interoperability of document processing.

XML is also integral to the United States Federal Enterprise architecture, and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the E-Government Act of 2002 both actively endorse the technology. The OMB adopted a set of custom-defined schemas in XML, and then Microsoft partner BearingPoint worked closely with the OMB and Microsoft to develop a solution, based on an InfoPath 2003 form and the custom-defined schema, that provides the same look and feel as a government form that the OMB uses. So workers can populate documents with information based on this format and then send that information via e-mail or using Web services.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture, which used to rely on a manual, paper-based process for inspecting feed-commodity facilities, now uses a custom Office solution developed by Microsoft partner Bfirst Solutions that automates the data collection, analysis and notification process to maintain the integrity of the state's agricultural supply. Field agents record the results of their inspections using notebook computers and Microsoft InfoPath 2003 XML forms using custom-defined schema that details the data collection in the XML structure, and then they send that information in an XML form to the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The result is a more efficient system that collects field data with greater accuracy and ensures more timely notification and response to potential threats to public safety.

And the United Nations' Economic Commission for Europe has been working on an XML project, called UNeDocs (United Nations Extensions for aligned electronic trade documents), to draft XML-based electronic documents that are equivalent to paper trade documents and based on existing Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standards. Because EDI is an expensive technology, its use has been relegated largely to enterprises that can afford it, but XML promises to make the electronic exchange of business documents more affordable for smaller organizations. Microsoft has been working with the United Nations to develop InfoPath XML forms that support their custom-defined schema.

PressPass: What sort of trends around XML do you see emerging, based on how customers are using XML in Office 2003?

Paoli: What's most significant is that people now understand that they can use a standard tool like Microsoft Office System on the desktop to help them accomplish today what would have required very expensive tools and complex programming before. They understand they can use XML on the desktop and extract the data from the documents and connect it to databases via Web services to be reused in different ways. And they also understand that Office documents can be generated directly from the server because XML is much more flexible than other formats.

There's also a huge movement toward understanding how to create custom-designed schema in the document world because organizations understand that XML and custom-defined schemas can help them better utilize everyday documents. So these organizations are using custom-defined schemas built into applications to streamline their own unique workflow processes. And entire industries, such as healthcare, financial services and advertising, are either using or developing custom-defined XML schemas to streamline industry workflow and practices. For example, Microsoft just last month announced its Digital Pharma initiative, which provides an architecture on which life-science applications can be built.

We're also seeing an extreme movementon the part of governments to move from paper-based systems to electronic systems using XML. I regularly travel all over the world, talking with people in governments in Germany, France, Denmark and other European countries, as well as Japan, Hong Kong, the United States and many other countries, who are eager to implement XML technologies to streamline government processes. None of them are questioning XML anymore; everyone is just trying to figure out the best way to do it.

PressPass: And what do these trends portend -- what's next for XML and the Microsoft Office System?

Paoli: Right now there's so much coalescence around XML, within individual organizations and entire industries, that I am convinced a new wave of XML-related content, applications and servers is just on the horizon. I really believe that in the near future, several things are going to be happening in a very dramatic way. First, as the use of XML grows exponentially, there will be an unbelievable level of content generated in XML, with many more sophisticated tools available to help generate that content. Second, we're going to see a lot more tools available for storing and analyzing that content, of which the new Visio Connector tool is just one example. Third, the ubiquity of XML will result in far more sophisticated ways of doing workflows between workers and business processes. We're really just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's possible with XML. And Microsoft is very excited to be a part of that.

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