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Microsoft launches intranet solution

Microsoft has launched Solution for Intranets, the second of its planned series of software, service and support packages intended to help companies solve specific business problems.

The first, Solution for Supplier Enablement, announced last month, aims to help companies hook into online procurement systems and electronic marketplaces.

Microsoft officials said customers can expect to see three or four more "full-blown" solutions within six months.

Publicly unveiled in July at Microsoft's Fusion 2001 partner conference, the solutions approach required Microsoft to spend months training sales, service and support specialists and partner systems integrators on the fine points of configuring various products for specific business scenarios.

For example, the Microsoft Solution for Intranets includes architectural and deployment guidance plans to bring together SharePoint Portal Server, SharePoint Team Services, Office XP, SQL Server, Windows 2000 and Windows Media Technologies.

A Microsoft solutions specialist works with a customer to determine its needs. The customer then has the option of building the intranet with solutions-based documentation aids or enlisting the help of Microsoft consulting services or recommended outside systems integrators.

An early adopter, H&R Block Financial Advisors, enlisted a Microsoft architect and two local Microsoft consultants to work with two of its IT staff.

The firm also hired a local Microsoft partner to integrate Microsoft software with various packaged and homegrown applications, such as its customer management system, financial planning and portfolio management software, and Internet research tools.

John Thompson, director of e-business at H&R Block Financial Advisors, said the solutions-based approach brought "a series of products that were all near or at the top of their respective genre in the industry" and gave his company knowledge "about the way the products fit together."

Although the solutions-based approach has been lauded by some analysts and corporate users, it may not work for every company.

Gene Phifer, an Gartner analyst, said that in the case of intranets, many vendors offer products to help build single front-end layers for portals, and the Microsoft Solution for Intranets may not be a good fit for enterprises running applications on a variety of operating systems. He warned that the SharePoint Portal Server "is not the most robust portal platform in a truly heterogeneous environment".

Until the .Net development platform is ready, Microsoft's solutions might make more sense for small to medium-sized companies, especially those that are relatively new to intranets and want to work in a cohesive Microsoft environment, Phifer said.

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