Office Business Applications: What is it, and how can I get started?

I’ve had this topic in my blog wish-list for a while and today is the day to talk about this. I have been listening the term “OBA” so I decided to research a bit on the topic to understand what is it and put together a list of resources that can help developers and architects get started. I realize some of you might already know about this, but I know some people are not familiar with this technology, so here goes a quick intro for all of you who want to know what is it and how to get started.

What is it?
Office Business Applications are a new category of business applications that connect line-of-business systems and processes with the people that use them through a familiar user interface: Microsoft Office. Basically, you have back-end systems (data access layer) and you can build a middle-tier of business logic to connect into business processes in line-of-business applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Supply Chain Management (SCM), this is your business-logic layer. We are still missing the presentation layer. Instead of building a Web application, Windows client application, or use a specialized CRM UI, you use Microsoft Office programs as the presentation layer and let users interact and run business processes while using the programs that are already running. Finally, you can also integrate to SharePoint sites that use Web Parts to report data.


I stole this little diagram from an MSDN article and I recommend reading Atanu's article: Building Better Business Applications Using the 2007 Microsoft Office System if you are interested in learning more about the architecture of OBA solutions.

So why use Office as your presentation layer? One of the advantages of using Microsoft Office as a front-end to work on business processes is that it’s easier for users to work with an application that is already open. No need to have a context-switch between Office and a specialized CRM UI. Anyway, you have an open window running Outlook all day…

Customers are building OBAs using Office 2003, SharePoint Portal Server 2003, and Visual Studio Tools for Office, so technically, you don’t have to use Office 2007 for an OBA. However, the 2007 Microsoft Office system, Office SharePoint Server 2007 and VSTO 2005 SE provide built-in features (such as workflow, Excel services, Ribbon extensibility, InfoPath Web forms, the Business Data Catalog, the Office Open XML File Formats and more) that help you get there with less code. Let’s just say it’s easier to build.

How to get started?
A good thing to know is that we released a couple of weeks ago the Reference Application Pack for Supply Change Management that will help you ramp-up.

The OBA RAP for Supply Chain Management includes a reference application with scenarios for collaboration between the different levels of a multi-tier supply chain starting with a retailer, and then extending back through a manufacturer and a tier-1 supplier.  In addition to the application and associated templates and scripts, it includes a white paper outlining the architecture and implementation, and screen-capture demos.   The OBA RAP for Supply Chain Management is available for download at

What are the pre-requisites? What do I need to run the reference app?
To use the OBA RAP for SCM, you need to have the following:
• Windows Server 2003
• Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
• Microsoft Office 2007
• WinFX runtime June CTP
• Visual Studio 2005
• WinFX SDK June CTP
• Visual Studio extensions for WF 2.2 & WinFX
• VSTO “3”
• SQL Server 2005
• Active Directory

The package includes:
• A reference solution and a reference implementation for building Office Business Applications using Office 2007
• An OBA for Supply Chain Management, with scenarios for collaboration between the different levels of a multi-tier supply chain starting with a retailer, and then extending back through a manufacturer and a tier-1 supplier
• Downloadable bits, including:
• Demo websites and site templates
• Supporting documents (.doc, .xls) for reference scenarios
• .NET Assemblies (workflows, utilities, activity libraries)
• Web services (.asmx)
• Reference data
• XSLT files
• BDC XML files
• Scripts
• White paper on how to architect and build a supply chain OBA
• Screen-capture demos

OBA: useful resources...

• Channel 9: Javed Sikander: Office 2007- Office Business Application
• Javed Sikander: OBA blog: Talk to Javed if you want to learn more about OBA.
• OBA RAP for Supply Chain Management
• Office Business Applications Developer Portal