Microsoft has released documentation that allows corporate and third-party developers to take full advantage of the XML-based schemas, called DatadiagramML, in its Office Visio diagramming tool.
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The move will make it easier for users to access information residing in their Visio diagrams and to share that information with server-based CRM and ERP applications from companies such as SAP and PeopleSoft.
The company claimed this made it easier for corporate users to integrate that data into their core business processes.
"We have always had support for user-defined schemas. But this will better allow our partners who work with users to build solutions so that their diagrams will no longer be static. It gives users and their partners a starting place to begin reusing code to create repeatable solutions," said Bobby Moore, Microsoft's product manager for Visio.
One example of making Visio diagrams more dynamic would be working with an organisational chart within Visio and "lock it" into a backend database so that any new information put into the database would, in turn, automatically update the information in the diagram to reflect those changes, Moore said.
Making the documentation freely available, which is under a royalty-free licence, can also improve users' ability to search for information in data diagrams and e-mail files, according to Moore.
"When you can save something as XML, it allows you to build better index queries and to get back better search results. It also makes it better in terms of sharing files, but even more importantly it helps with making Visio more of a smart client in terms of data visualisation," Moore said.
Moore said a number of developers and solution providers are beginning to put together a range of solutions using Visio 2003, including HRW Consulting and the Swiss Post Office, called Schweizerische Post.
Post office officials claimed the product's XML support helped them share information across its entire operation more easily.
"A great deal of the work we do involves a variety of people in different parts of the organisation. Being able to share information broadly has been a boon to the overall business," said Dan Miller, in charge of resource management at Schweizersche Post.
Microsoft has already made documentation available for XML schemas in three other Office System applications including Word, Excel and InfoPath.
Corporate and third-party developers who want the documentation on DatadiagramML schema can download it as part of the company's royalty-free licensing plan from the Microsoft Office Developer Centre on MSDN.
For more information on Microsoft's licensing program for XML schemas, go to www.microsoft.com/office/xml/default.mspx.
Ed Scannell writes for Infoworld