An App With A Common View

Meridian Systems' infrastructure-life-cycle-management upgrade comes with an interface for Microsoft Office 2003
Meridian Systems Inc., in its forthcoming upgrade of its Proliance infrastructure-life-cycle-management software, will provide an interface rarely seen in systems developed by independent software vendors: Microsoft Office 2003's Word and Excel.

It's that interface in Proliance 3.0, due out June 6, that helped persuade the large architectural and engineering firm DMJM to license the upgraded software to manage $2 billion worth of construction at the Los Angeles Community College District. "It was probably what tipped the scale in favor of Meridian," DMJM executive VP Paul Steinke says.

The Proliance upgrade combines project- and portfolio-management tools that let organizations manage capital projects, including schedules, budgets and contracts, costs, and resources. The software is built on a services-oriented architecture, and XML supports a workflow engine that lets authorized users create, enforce, and automate best practices and processes across the enterprise. Proliance 3.0 also has a business-intelligence layer that gives managers visibility into the entire portfolio of projects, programs, and facilities.

DMJM will manage contracts, support manager McAvoy says.

DMJM will manage contracts, support manager McAvoy says.
But the Office 2003 interface is a key feature that distinguishes Proliance 3.0. Though many businesses use Microsoft Office or its individual components Word and Excel, considered de facto standards for office-productivity apps, the majority haven't upgraded to Office 2003. And, non-Office 2003 users can't use Word or Excel as an interface.

The big difference between Office 2003 and earlier versions of Office is native support for reading and writing data directly to databases via XML and Web services, using the Internet as the transport mechanism. Office 2003 employs Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2003 technologies. SharePoint lets developers create an environment in which Office 2003 documents can be shared, usually stored on a server and not a desktop.

For instance, using this services-oriented architecture will let a system such as Proliance track, automatically collect, and input meta- data in Word and Excel 2003, something earlier versions of Office can't do. To use Word or Excel as an interface, users must have the 2003 software installed on their clients, even though the documents reside on a server.

Analyst Paul deGroot of IT advisory firm Directions On Microsoft says he's somewhat befuddled that Meridian would develop the interface using Office 2003 because most users don't have the latest version. Still, he says he likes the capabilities the 2003 suite offers, noting that with a little code placed on the client, users can easily work with back-end applications.

DMJM's Steinke says he likes the Office interface in Proliance 3.0, which his company will deploy in July, because thousands of employees and business partners who'll use the system are familiar with Word and Excel. "Our users have varying degrees of sophistication in using software packages," Steinke says. "Using a Word-based [interface] simplifies matters. We don't have to spend a lot of time training people in the field to input into the system. And they're less likely to make inputting errors that can become time- and cost-prohibitive."

Proliance 3.0 will help DMJM manage legal contracts written in Word, says Kim McAvoy, a DMJM enterprise project-management support manager, who began testing Proliance 3.0 three months ago. The Word document, populated with fields needed to be filled out by specific users, will be routed to authorized individuals. They will be alerted via E-mails of the documents that contain hyperlinks to the files. After filling out the appropriate fields, the documents can be checked back to the server and routed to the next person. "The application makes the process not so scary," McAvoy says. Those without Word 2003 on their desktops can view the file. If they're authorized to change or approve the document, Meridian president John Bodrozic says, Proliance 3.0 offers a Web interface using XML.