Microsoft Rolls Out a Bear of a Product
Microsoft Corp. this week went from talking about being a knowledge management tools provider to being one. The software giant rolled out of a workflow-design product that is code-named Grizzly.
Grizzly consists of two components that will become part of Office Developer 2000: Access Workflow Designer and SQL Server Developer Edition. Licensed owners of Office Developer can order the additional components for free from Microsoft’s Web site.
"This is Microsoft’s first tool being delivered in the knowledge management space," says Neil Charney, group product manager for developer tools at Microsoft.
The release focuses on the structured end of knowledge management. Knowledge management products tend to focus on structured data such as columns and rows or unstructured data such as documents and e-mail. The goal is to be able to draw from both types of sources from across the enterprise and to bring the right information to a knowledge worker when needed.
"[Access Workflow Designer] is for handling workflow with information being in SQL Server," Charney says. The team that developed the Access Workflow Designer will work on the next version of Exchange Server, formerly known as Platinum, to leverage unstructured data in the organization.
"The teams that are building both of these are the same. We’re recognizing that workflow involves both structured and unstructured data," Charney says.
Not precisely an enterprise tool, the workflow-design products are designed to make it easy to automate a business process for a team that may span branches of an enterprise.
A developer uses the Workflow Designer within Access to design the linear workflow process, which resembles a Visio diagram via a wizard. The tool automatically generates business rules for the workflow process. Scripts are attached to actions displayed in the workflow diagram to automate the action.
SQL Server Developer Edition is, in essence, a five-client license of Microsoft’s flagship database with management tools and documentation. In addition to helping Office-based developers create more powerful applications, the strategy has an added benefit of encouraging developers to drive new business toward the high-end database, instead of Access.
Developers can reuse templates they’ve built using the workflow designer, accelerating their ability to create team-based solutions, Microsoft officials say.
In addition to the design goal of automating business processes, the toolset integrates with other Microsoft products for user names and security settings and allows for offline work.
Access Workflow Designer can integrate existing user lists from Microsoft Windows NT or Microsoft Exchange directly into a SQL Server workflow process. Developers can assign SQL Server roles and permissions to different stages of the workflow process using the visual designer. The tool also helps developers integrate role-based permissions for viewing rows of information stored in a SQL Server database table. This feature prevents users in a workflow process from viewing, for example, the CEO’s salary in a payroll database.
The toolset is designed to encourage Web-based workflow solutions, Microsoft representatives say. One of the benefits of integration with Internet Explorer is the ability to take a workflow offline.