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Technologies for Extending your Existing Business Software

Over the years, software vendors such as Microsoft, Intuit, Great Plains (now part of Microsoft)  and others have realized the importance of allowing their customers to extend the capabilities of the software that they supply.  

As a result, they have created a large number of technologies that can be used to extend and customize their software.  Key to these "extension technologies" is that they allow you to make changes to the software but still take upgrades.

Some of these technologies include:

VBA (Visual Basic for Applications)

VBA allows programmers to create custom programs that work within the framework of parent program.  This technology was pioneered by Microsoft in its Office suite of programs including Word, Excel and Access.  

VBA has been licensed to many other vendors for inclusion in their applications.  Microsoft has a list of software vendors who have incorporated VBA into their products at this link: Products with VBA

API's (Application Programming Interfaces)

API's provide a method for safely accessing and modifying the data with which your business system works.  Typically these interfaces are supplied by the vendor (either for free or at a nominal cost) and allow a programmer to develop applications that safely use and modify your businesses data. 

The key advantage of using an API rather than directly manipulating the program's data is that the software vendor has provided the logic needed to safely modify their application's data.  Check with your software vendor to see if they support an API

VB Script

VB Script is a more primitive form of VBA.  It allows programmers to create simple macros or applications that work within the framework of the vendor's program.  Typically VB Script is used by the vendor as a way to provide limited programming functionality without going to the expense of implementing VBA.


Most users are familiar with the concept of macros, even if it is just recording a simple Word keystroke macro.  Macros can be used to automate simple, repetitive tasks within a program.  Sometimes macros hide much more capable scripting or programming languages within the application.

Business Rules Creators

At their simplest, business rules creators allow businesses to define simple rules to validate data entered by users.  These validations might include putting a dollar limit on PO's or defining the range of values that can be entered in a given field. 

Some business rules generators allow for complex validation including using data from external systems.  These types of generators are generally only available on more expensive systems.

Screen Modifiers

Screen modifiers allow you to change the appearance of the program's screens, though not how the program functions.  Many programs allow you to modify the appearance of the screen by changing tool bars or setting Options.  Others allow you more flexibility.  Act! is a good example of a program that allows users to customize the appearance of the program from changing the colors on the screen to changing the fields and tab order.

ODBC (Open database connectivity)

ODBC and its newer cousin ADO (ActiveX Data Objects) provide a standard method for accessing your business's data.  ODBC allows programs such as Access, Excel and Crystal Reports to directly read data in your business applications without the need to use the program.  This capability can be used to create custom reports in formats that meet your business's unique needs.

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