Microsoft's name for the next member of its Office family, formerly codenamed XDocs, is InfoPath.
InfoPath aims to make it easy for end users to edit forms using the XML programming language.
The forms can be used to extract and send business data to and from business applications running on back-end systems, and can help cut down on paperwork and reduce errors associated with manual data entry.
Officials from the US-based Health Level 7 standards group yesterday (10 February) discussed how InfoPath could be used with other technologies as part of a document management system for their industry, said Bobby Moore, a product manager for InfoPath at Microsoft.
An InfoPath form tailored to meet the needs of a doctor might include fields with a patient's name, address and medical history.
When the doctor writes the patient's name in the form, other fields can be populated automatically using information pulled from back-end systems and delivered to the application in XML. The idea is to reduce the time it takes to fill out such forms and minimise the likelihood of error when information is entered manually.
The doctor can save the form in the XML format automatically, and click a button sends the information back out to medical records systems, where it updates those systems and makes the information available for use across the organisation.
Different vertical markets, such as healthcare, manufacturing and finance, have developed versions of XML, known as XML "schema", that are specific to their industries.
"The reason we're so high on this is because it's a real world example of how to leverage an industry-standard XML with InfoPath," he said.
Ted Schadler, principal software analyst at Forrester Research, said InfoPath provides a powerful interface for designing forms that can be manipulated by end users, drawing on some of the familiarity of Microsoft's Office applications. But he admitted the software maker has its work cut out to make InfoPath successful.
Schadler said organisations must be persuaded to invest in the technology by having their developers design the various forms for their business.
The technology also depends to a large degree on upgrading back-end systems to support the exchange of XML data. Some ERP and CRM systems are available that support XML, Moore noted, although implementation of those products by customers has occurred only gradually.
InfoPath will debut mid-year and will be sold as a standalone product in Microsoft's Office applications.