Software: Mash-Ups Ahead?


When telephones first entered the consumer market, they were used much differently: People often went to a central location, such as a store, and paid for their use. It's not surprising it started this way. That was the way telegraphs were used-at a central office. It took years for consumers to think of the telephone as a personal communication device for home use.

A similar change is likely to take place in how we use and think of computer applications over the next few years. How quickly this comes on is anyone's guess, but Microsoft is pointing the direction with what it calls composite applications, or more "business mash- ups" to use a phrase from Satya Nadella, the corporate VP for research and development who handles the Microsoft Dynamics line.

Currently, we treat applications exactly like tools--there's a wrench for this, a hammer for that, a screwdriver for something else. In the PC era, there have been word processors, spreadsheets, databases. Take a tool out, use it, put it back in the box.

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The existence of these separate tools stems from the fact that separate companies invented many of them. Also, it took years to develop the hardware power and sophisticated code writing needed to pull them together.

The Return of Payroll

Once upon a time, accountants did payroll and then they found payroll wasn't profitable and now they find it's a good business.

Of course, not all accounting firms have been in and out of the business. But that's a summary of a commonly held view of the return of accounting firms to payroll processing. Paul Demery examines how smart firms are handling this business in "The Return of Payroll."

And while there isn't really anything such as Sarbanes-Oxley-certified accounting software, there are things vendors are doing to help clients meet requirements. Associate Editor Riccardo Davis writes about what it takes to make accounting software SOX-worthy in "SOX-Ware."

Meanwhile, Antoinette Alexander covers issues about the use of e-newsletters. How valuable are they and should firms publish their own or buy prepared publications? Read about the topic in "eNewsletters."

When credit cards are used, those purchases have to be made available for the accounting system. It's just another step to having vendors and their resellers involved in the whole payment processing business. That's the subject of "Card Swiping."

But we don't work this way. The words in a word processing document are the end products for journalists. But most people use these applications as part of a larger task. The spreadsheet is used to calculate amounts for an invoice. The word processing document requests the customer to pay up. The database provides a check on the customer's credit.

That may all change with composite applications, which go beyond mere integration of packages in Microsoft Office.

Much of this rests on the SharePoint portal technology that makes composites possible. What this means to the end users is that the functionality of different applications can appear in Windows on the same page, so users will have the application functionality that is needed (limited may be the better word) by their predefined role.

This has the look of one of those concepts that will come about because it has the corporate investment behind it. And it just sounds sensible that software should more closely reflect how we work instead of being artificially compartmentalized.

Of course, this requires more than a shift in technology. It will require a shift in thinking about technology, and this is usually the hardest part of technology change to accomplish. People like to continue doing things the way they have been doing them.

Microsoft started pointing the way with its "Snaps Ins," functionality that can be snapped into Dynamics applications. These include timesheet and vacation management Snap-Ins that can bring their functionality inside the financial package.

This looks like the baby steps that will enable Microsoft to get to this new concept of software. It's how users look at it that will dictate the pace.

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