Microsofts Dynamics Snap Initiative Fits CRM into Office

Like the company's Mendocino project, the Snap initiative allows users to plug functions from Dynamics apps into Microsoft Office.

Taking the lessons learned from its joint Mendocino development project with SAP in-house, Microsoft announced on Feb. 20 its namesake Dynamics Snap initiative. The initiative consists of mini-functionality components culled from Microsofts Dynamics ERP (enterprise resource planning) software that can be snapped into Office and utilized from that environment.

Mendocino, due this year, looks to tie SAPs ERP process into Microsofts Office and Outlook. Similarly, Dynamics Snap brings in functionality from Microsofts own Dynamics (CRM 3.0 and Ax 3.0, in this case) into Office.

The result, Microsoft says, should be two-fold: Business users dont have to go back and forth between environments to input base level data, and developers can build on the software to fit vertical needs or to build composite applications.

While the functionality of the initial Snap applications is similar to Mendocino—both have time- and vacation-tracking capabilities—Snap differs in that it provides what Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., refers to as in-context data lookup in Office programs like Word and Excel.

Snap is also a shared-source initiative, so ISVs, partners and customers can build out or customize functionality.

The first four Snap programs are available now as a free download from Microsofts .Net community Web site. The source code is available under Microsofts Permissive License deal to ISVs, customers and partners.

The Snap applications available include Time Sheet and Vacation Management for Dynamics Ax 3.0 and Business Data Look-Up snap-ins for Dynamics Ax 3.0 and CRM 3.0. The Timesheet snap-in does pretty much what its name suggests: It links Dynamics AX time entries with Outlook appointments and meetings, automatically filling in the data and tracking changes.

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Likewise, Vacation Management lets AX 3.0 users submit vacation requests through Outlook. A submission triggers an e-mail to whomever approves the request, and that person can view the requesters vacation history and approve or deny the initial request.

The Business Data Lookups for AX and CRM let users search and browse data using Word, Excel and Outlook, copying data back and forth between the programs and Outlook, or attached to ERP.

The Snaps are a continuation of Microsofts Dynamics strategy that will, by 2008, bring together the companys four disparate ERP packages and its CRM (customer relationship management) suite under a single code base.

The Dynamics road map is laid out in two phases, or waves, in Microsoft parlance. Wave One, expected in 2007, will look to provide a common Office user interface across the applications. It will include some role-based experiences, SharePoint integration, and SQL-based business intelligence functionality to enable reporting from a contextual user interface. This first wave will also include Web services-based application components, which is where the Snaps come in.

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The second wave, due some time around 2008, will provide a common server base, or business rules that are process-based. An enhanced "user experience" and a process model that combines the best processes from each separate release are also planned.

The snap-in components are part of Microsofts effort to design business applications that are based on the way people work.

"This wave of applications … is definitely a part of our larger strategy of empowering information workers," Satya Nadella, corporate vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions Group, said in a statement. "We will continue to make strides in providing innovation in the realm of connected systems that bridge the unstructured world of human processes with the structured world of business applications."

Microsoft said it plans to ship additional Snap applications with future Dynamics and 2007 Microsoft Office System releases.

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