The Siren Of Synergy

Some companies avoid integration problems by going all Microsoft, but others consider that too high a price

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 14, 2003

3 Min Read

To be sure, Microsoft engineers work closely with their counterparts at many other software companies to ensure high levels of compatibility between their respective products. Some of those companies have developers on Microsoft's campus for weeks at a time.

"It's in Microsoft's interest to have us interoperate" with their software, says Chris Caren, VP of corporate product marketing with Business Objects SA, which sells data-analysis tools that run on Windows and work with Microsoft's SQL Server database. With that in mind, Caren says, Microsoft gives Business Objects advance briefings on key developments and provides early access to Microsoft database upgrades. The next release of Business Objects' namesake client application, due this spring, will make it easier to create reports as Microsoft Excel documents.

Gerald Cohen, CEO of Information Builders Inc., a business-intelligence software vendor, says Microsoft already does plenty to help other software companies tie their applications into the Windows environment by exposing APIs where needed and supporting standards such as XML. "I don't see any problem," he says. In fact, Cohen adds, it can be harder to integrate software from other companies with each other than to tie them into Microsoft's platform because the latter is such a well-understood development target.

Even so, that's not to minimize the effort required to create seamless data flows. "It's a lot of work," Business Objects' Caren says.

Customers tell product manager Leach that Microsoft's interoperability still has a ways to go.

That's true for Microsoft, too. With its ever-expanding portfolio of products, the company's engineers stay busy with integration projects of their own. The Office 2003 applications suite, which began its second round of beta tests last week, is a case in point. In addition to new features, Office 2003 includes two entirely new applications--InfoPath (an XML tool) and OneNote (for electronic note taking)--plus new spam-filtering software, digital-rights management technology, and a customer-relationship management app called Business Contact Manager, all of which have to work together like a fine watch. In fact, Microsoft no longer refers to Office as a suite--it's now a system.

And there's more to do. Among the technologies that have yet to be woven into Microsoft's .Net fabric: the in-development Greenwich communications platform, Great Plains and Navision enterprise applications, and the PlaceWare Web-conferencing service. "Customers will tell you, 'You haven't solved all of my problems,'" says Dan Leach, lead product manager in Microsoft's information-worker product-management group. "It's hard to get data where people need it."

As tempting as some business technologists find it to let Microsoft solve the integration challenge for them, it's risky, too. They worry about becoming so dependent on the vendor's products that they're at the mercy of Microsoft when it comes to things such as licensing terms, standards support, and system performance and reliability. "How are you going to get out of that?" says Scott Hicar, CIO and VP of IT at hard-drive maker Maxtor Corp. "We look at that as a concern. We want vendor neutrality."

Information Builders' Cohen has a response for Hicar and other CIOs who believe there's greater independence in a multivendor strategy. "Give me a break--every vendor locks you in," Cohen says. There's an element of truth in that. And plenty of integration work ahead.

Photo of Leach by Sacha Lecca

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights