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By Wayne Wurzer - Industry Solutions
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The Technical Specs
"Virtually everything in business today is an undifferentiated commodity except how a company manages its information. How you manage information determines whether you win or lose."
-- Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, from the company's website,
"The Digital Nervous System"
Your eCommerce strategy might keep you ahead of the curve. Your customer management application might keep you in tune. Your e-mail system might keep you communicating.
But all of that might not be enough to keep you on top.
The successful companies, according to Bill Gates and other business leaders, will be the ones who tightly integrate applications throughout their businesses in a way that helps them quickly disseminate information and swiftly respond to customer needs.
Success, in other words, might lie in how well your applications are wired together.
And that's why Microsoft has decided to stage - for the first time - a conference devoted entirely to teaching developers how to integrate applications. The Business Applications Conference '98 will be Sept. 9-11 in Las Vegas, where more than 5,000 corporate developers, systems integrators, and independent software vendors (ISVs) will learn how to create business solutions by wiring applications together. The conference is organized around five tracks, each covering a different type of application: Line of Business, eCommerce, Collaboration, Tracking and Business Intelligence.
Customers drove the need to create the conference, said James Utzschneider, director of evangelism for Microsoft's Application Developers Customer Unit.
"Developers have told us that they want to learn more than how to simply use individual Microsoft technologies," said Utzschneider. "They want to learn how to combine multiple Microsoft technologies, partner products, and existing UNIX and mainframe apps into solutions. We'll provide some practical examples on how to best do that."
The conference will put Microsoft on stage with customers, systems integrators, and other software companies. "That's the cool thing about this," Utzschneider added. "Together, we'll be demonstrating best practices of how to build applications that are plugged together from different parts.
"This is critical, because businesses are realizing that no app is an island."
The five track solutions presented at the conference reflect the work Microsoft is doing with software companies building business solutions.
Here are the five tracks and what they'll cover:
Most organizations have or are working on implementing applications that fall within the five tracks, said Frank Knifsend of Sagent Technology, Inc., which implements star schema-based data marts. "The conference will be a great opportunity to explore how to use products, technologies, and expertise to deliver real-life solutions and applications," he said. "It will provide a unique experience."
By creating these types of integrated solutions, a company can be on the road to what Gates calls a Digital Nervous System. The term means pretty much what it implies: an information-management system that functions along the lines of the biological model.
For example, comments by visitors to your Web site can be automatically funneled into your customer-management application, where they're easily sorted and immediately disseminated throughout your organization. This, in turn, quickly sparks discussions, evaluation, and action. As the theory goes, the Web site is connected to the customer rep, the customer rep is connected to the product manager, and the product manager is connected to the customer.
An end-to-end solution will be developed for each track using multiple ISV products and Microsoft technologies. Technical experts from Microsoft, partner software companies, and customers will lead attendees through a two-day tutorial of the sample application, covering architecture, development, code reviews, scaling, interoperability, testing, and deployment. Basically, attendees
will learn how the app was built and then spend hours deconstructing it.
By the end of the conference, each attendee will walk away with intimate knowledge about the creation and workings of the solution - but also something more tangible: The complete solution on CD, including source code and documentation.
"Developers keep telling us at technical conferences that they want to see fewer slides and more code," said Bob Muglia, Microsoft Senior Vice President for the Applications & Tools Group, who will give a keynote address. "We decided to organize an entire conference around this concept, demonstrating best practices for building solutions."
The focus on partnering also is unique. Some ISVs take prominent roles via the inclusion of their applications within the five track solutions; scores of others will participate in a vendor booth. The focus on ISVs was purposeful, said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft Executive Vice President for Sales and Support, who will deliver the closing keynote with a grand-scale demonstration of the applications.
"ISVs are critical to the success of Microsoft in the enterprise -- our entire application development strategy is centered around partnership with ISVs," Ballmer said.
For many developers, the conference is a unique opportunity to get concrete information about how to fix legacy systems and also get new ideas for strategic approaches to automating business processes, such as enabling supply chains or handling Internet-enabled electronic business functions.
"Such a conference from Microsoft allows us to feature customer-oriented solution views of R/3, while further highlighting the COM-enabled building blocks that make up our business framework," said Stephen Rietzke, National Partnership Manager at SAP America, Inc., whose DCOM Component Connector will be among the technologies used.
When it's all over, developers will walk away with real answers. "This is a way to put it all together to create solutions,'' Ballmer said. "To create solutions to real business problems for use in the real world."
Last Updated: July 20, 1998