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To be successful today, businesses need to be more than mere warehouses of products, storefronts for merchandise, or headquarters for providers of services. Businesses in the twenty-first century need to be information hubs. A retailer integrates information from suppliers, customers’ and employees’ behavior, and possibly other locations in the same chain of stores. A healthcare company integrates information from medical supply manufacturers and retailers, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and regulatory agencies. Pick any industry and you’ll see the same phenomenon—no business is an island. The challenge for every business is to find the best ways to record and manage the information passing along all these disparate channels so that it can be consumed, used to improve decision-making, and passed on to the next hub as efficiently as possible.
Microsoft BizTalk Server is an application integration platform. To get an idea how it works, imagine a screen divided into three parts. In the middle part is a grid whose fields contain bits of information about a patient in a hospital. To one side of this grid, the items on a government form are listed in order along a vertical column. On the other side of the grid is another column, this one of items on a form for an insurance company. What a BizTalk developer can do is draw a line connecting the item in its location on each column to the corresponding data point on the grid in the middle. Now BizTalk can take either one of the forms and, without anyone having to re-enter any of the data, use it to fill out the other form. In other words, BizTalk adapts the information from one source to the format required for another location.
BizTalk comes equipped with schemas for over 8,000 industry-standard forms. But adapting forms is only one of the ways it integrates applications. Any business that has to coordinate the activity of various departments based on information from different types of input can benefit from this tool. It also has enormous time- and energy-saving potential for any business that relies on coordination between several different external partners.