Microsoft 's efforts to more closely integrate its BackOffice server suite and forthcoming Office 2000 package into a knowledge management platform are finally starting to gel.
At NetWorld+Interop 99 this week, Microsoft unveiled Team Productivity Update for BackOffice 4.5, which begins to tie the server suite's components together into a collaboration environment with a common interface. BackOffice 4.5, which is now shipping, is a suite of Windows NT-based servers that includes messaging, database, management and legacy connectivity.
The update lets administrators give end users the ability to create multiuser collaborative work sites that include documents, calendars, contacts and tools to analyze line-of-business data. For the first time, users will be able to do analytical processing using Excel 2000 (part of Office 2000) and SQL Server.
While the initial efforts are encouraging, work remains on features such as workflow and document management. Those features are expected in BackOffice 5.0 next year as part of a package code-named Polar, sources say.
Users and analysts say security is a pressing issue. Freewheeling document and data sharing among end users could erode administrative access control to corporate resources.
"Centralising documents so you can do things like backup is good, but administrators have to control access, or availability of data gets out of hand," says Joe Venturelli, network operations manager for Novant Health, a health care system in North Carolina.
Microsoft's goal is to have Office 2000 or Internet Explorer 5.0 as the single interface to BackOffice, according to Kevin Breunig, group product manager for BackOffice.
"We're pulling together the Office 2000 document-sharing world, the collaborative world of Exchange and the line-of-business world of SQL," he says.
The productivity update includes a set-up wizard; a set of collaborative applications based on Office 2000 Server Extensions, Exchange and SQL Server; and a set of APIs.
"The theory behind this tool is solid," says Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies. "But it raises security issues for IT administrators who will be allowing end users to make data available to other end users. The question is, will administrators retain the right to enforce security over which users have access to what data?"
Davis says IT executives may want Windows 2000's Active Directory, in which access rights can be centrally controlled, before they feel secure with the productivity update.
Microsoft has also added a number of administrative features to BackOffice 4.5, including a branch office set-up wizard and a multisite deployment tool, which allows set configurations to be replicated. The new management console, based on Microsoft Management Console, consolidates administrative functions into a single snap-in software module.