RealTime IT News
Microsoft Debuts First Office Solution Accelerator
By Thor Olavsrud
October 08, 2003

Microsoft Wednesday launched the first of its new line of Office Solution Accelerators, geared to providing packages that will help customers take existing Microsoft applications and systems and use them to streamline organizational tasks.

The software titan used the HR Technology Conference & Exposition in Philadelphia as a platform to unveil the product: the Office Solution Accelerator for Recruiting. Microsoft introduced its new line of products in September.

The package is designed to automate the process of planning and scheduling hiring interviews, and capturing interview feedback.

"We thought we could add a lot of value in the recruiting space by helping to automate a lot of the touch points," said Jon Clemens, HR Solutions Planning manager within the Information Worker New Markets Group at Microsoft.

"The reason we really focused on recruiting is because that's where the major pain is in the HR space," Clemens told internetnews.com. "Customers say 56 percent of their time in the recruiting process is spent scheduling interviews."

Clemens explained that the recruiting accelerator focuses on interview management in an effort to automate scheduling and give interview managers deep visibility into interview feedback in order to expedite the hire/no-hire decision.

Steve Davis, vice president of product services and technology at Hire.com (a provider of talent management software), told internetnews.com that this makes the recruiting accelerator a big deal, because the hiring process tends to break down when interviewing begins. Many departments do not have defined interview plans for interviewers, meaning questions are often redundant. Also, transferring feedback generated from interviews into a useable form that can be analyzed is often time consuming.

"Now we can capture information in a structured format," he said. "By structuring that information in XML, we can now pull that information back into our solution."

Monica Barron, research director with AMR Research, said the new package does a good job of adding the Office suite, where much of the scheduling and interview feedback information is captured, into the recruitment business process and linking it with a recruiting application.

"Up to now, you've had to go into a separate application," Barron told internetnews.com. "[The accelerator] gives you a linkage between the two. The data is visible and accessible through the recruiting application."

She also noted that Microsoft has been careful not to step on the toes of partners, like Hire.com, which offer recruiting applications. Instead, the company is focusing on specific pain points that have not been previously addressed. As Clemens put it, Microsoft's efforts are focused on providing the "glue" between process steps, rather than duplicating the efforts of partners.

On the front end, the new accelerator depends upon Microsoft's new InfoPath application and SharePoint Services, Microsoft's portal server.

Microsoft will ship a version with a SQL Server database, and the accelerator already has a pre-built integration point with Exchange. However, Clemens noted that InfoPath is the only "must have" portion of the package.

"You could use a different calendaring system instead of Exchange, or a different database; you could even use a different portal server," he said.

InfoPath is a brand new application for Microsoft; an XML authoring tool designed for end-users, which allows them to create XML-enabled forms which leverage the capabilities of documents. In the recruiting accelerator, Microsoft uses InfoPath to allow interview managers to design an interview plan for each interviewer. This, Clemens said, will allow interviewers to optimize their time by focusing on specific areas.

Interviewers will utilize InfoPath forms that map to HR-XML schemas (HR-XML is a consortium that has put together a suite of XML specifications designed specifically for the automation of human resources-related data exchanges). When they enter data into the forms, it is pulled into a backend data source. From there, another application, like one supplied by Microsoft partner Hire.com, can utilize the data, providing views and metrics that will allow human resources departments to select the best candidates.

Clemens noted that often, it is essential in interviews that they happen in a sequential order -- an applicant needs to meet with a particular interviewer before moving on to the next. And currently there is no automated way to do that. With InfoPath, interview managers can create a detailed, customized plan for each interviewer, and then go into a different view within InfoPath to see who is available at which times, based on their calendars. From that point, the package can generate free/busy information and automatically create a schedule. Once the schedule is generated, the manager can send it out as a standard meeting request.

"The benefit to the customer is that the hiring manager or interviewer doesn't have to learn another application," Davis said. "They can use the common set of tools they're used to using every day."

Davis explained that Hire.com utilizes the recruiting accelerator to link Office up to its Hire Enterprise Platform (leveraging its .NET API). Davis said it can utilize Tablet PCs to good effect, with interviewers checking out tablets when they perform the interview. Data is sucked into the backend database as it is entered into InfoPath, giving managers "complete visibility to feedback in real-time."