Toolkit breathes life into static documents
The Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework integrates documents with live data via Web services
The new Microsoft Office IBF (Information Bridge Framework), currently in Beta, is a toolset for extending Microsoft Office applications using data look-ups and workflow actions implemented via Web services.
Simply put, it combines a metadata repository with a client-side plug-in for Office to turn static documents into actionable interfaces based on XML Smart Tags. For example, IBF would enable a call-center representative to link a customer e-mail request directly to an ERP or accounting system without leaving the familiar Outlook interface.
I found the Beta somewhat green, with limited room for customization, no support for Microsoft’s InfoPath or Visual Studio Tools for Office, and no real road map for developers or offline testing tools. Yet it’s on the right track.
Working with the metadata constructs was easy. I had no difficulty programming the task pane with multiple views into context-sensitive data, populated by SOAP calls and action handlers. I was also able to bind external data to the user interface directly within the document or by using Windows Forms or dialog boxes.
Developers should have no trouble grasping the schema guidelines. And with the addition of the included Metadata Designer plug-in tool for Visual Studio .Net, they will be able to use them in a familiar development environment.
I don’t see IBF being used to replace every interface. Notably, in cases where specialized front-end UIs are used to collect generalized information and where processing turnover trumps the need for data look-up and sharing, dedicated tools will persist. But in instances where communication-laden processes keep taking bites out of efficiency, as in CRM and call centers, IBF offers a promising way to create smarter documents and unify data access.