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Microsoft Partners Buzz About BizTalk

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Microsoft Tuesday launched the newest version of its application server, complete with exaltation from ISVs and partners at the launch event here.

As previously reported, BizTalk Server 2004 builds on the application integration talents of the previous version with business process management capabilities, business activity monitoring tools and health activity tracking features that let network administrators monitor how their business processes fare within the server environment.

Ted Kummert, Microsoft vice president of e-business servers, said that BizTalk Server 2004 is designed to address the challenges of disconnected "islands" of data, multiple applications and devices leading to inefficient collaboration and the need for constant upgrades. For example, different descriptions of one customer may exist in the ERP, CRM and database applications, so that businesses don't have a single "truth."

For service and support partners like Hewlett-Packard , Unisys and others it was a chance to step in and show off their range of support applications and implementations.

"One of the most useful features is the bringing together of different competencies," said Arshad Masood, solutions architect for Xavor, an integration solution provider that created a point-of-sale system to cut inventory loss for Virgin Entertainment.

While typically, business intelligence problems are solved by setting up a data mart then deploying specialized software, he said, BizTalk Server 2004 provides business activity monitoring and business intelligence functions integrated within the server.

"We realized that the POS data is not only important for loss prevention, but a lifeline for other business units," Masood said.

According to Steven Winningam, senior vice president of operations and information technology for Virgin Entertainment Group, Virgin cut inventory shrinkage by 50 percent the first month it used the new system. The same system will allow the company's marketing, product and operations teams to analyze information from all 26 stores.

The new release provides an adapter framework to ease creating custom software adaptors plus a library of over 300 ready-mades.

"The new connector framework makes it easier to integrate applications with the human workflow processes and business activity services," said Wim de Koning, CEO Fenestrae, and ISV.

Dutch-owned Fenestrae announced Fenestrae Communication Server for Microsoft BizTalk Server 2004, a connected application that enables the secure delivery of business documents such as faxes and mobile messages.

Also at the launch, Siebel Systems announced the availability of its new Siebel Business Integration Applications within its Universal Application Network. The series of industry-specific pre-built processes are designed for the communications, media and energy industries. Nimish Mehta, Siebel group vice president, said it would help enterprises that now spend a total of $86.6 million a year in integration services -- and don't get their money's worth.

"We've taken integration that's custom work and offered it as packaged software," he said. "Within half a day you can have end-to-end management of customer accounts in your corporation with no programming, essentially."

Kummert said there are three major areas of improvement in the BizTalk Server 2004 product that will improve customers' insight and provide business value. First, enhanced business process management provides support for long-running transaction processes, better ability to scale, and five times faster performance of the messaging and orchestration functions.

Second, for developers, tools are hosted within Visual Studio .Net 2003 with support for Web services.

"Customers have told us it's taking them less code and less development time to implement the same scenarios they were implementing before," Kummert said.

Third, BizTalk Server 2004 provides access for business users via integration with Office System and a dashboard that lets them view business processes in real time, along with tools for creating and managing business rules. Business analysts can build the specific processes necessary, then collaborate with the developers, who tie those processes in with other systems and processes.