For much of the past year, the treasury at Microsoft Corp. has been actively pursuing a single global communications platform for its cash management. While the treasury team knew about consolidation services, such as Citigroup's award-winning TreasuryVision, Microsoft ultimately wanted something it could control in-house. The software giant began the process by joining member-administered closed user groups (MACUGs) at six banks where it did not already enjoy electronic connectivity. But before Microsoft could piece together its vision, international banking network SWIFT opened its doors to corporate members through a new program called SCORE (Standardized Corporate Environment), and Microsoft saw a ready-made solution.

Of course, Microsoft is pushing the envelope as one of the first multinationals to take advantage of SCORE and bypass MACUGs in favor of the SWIFT single direct link to the vast majority of Microsoft's 1,000 bank accounts worldwide, pulling in next-day and even intraday bank account data. "By getting electronic visibility in one snapshot of nearly all of our cash in something approaching real time, we are finding a tremendous opportunity to move that cash and make it more productive," says Microsoft's treasurer George Zinn. "We're looking at a powerful infrastructure play."

No doubt, Microsoft is creating a vision of a centralized cash management that will become the standard for 21st century treasuries–the new competitive imperative. The aim: perfecting working capital management or what at Microsoft they call "the life cycle of the dollar." Fortunately for Microsoft and other companies even less likely to build their own solution, a series of technological and standards-setting initiatives, similar to SCORE, are providing shortcuts to the kind of control and transparency over global cash holdings necessary to push the envelope on working capital management. With names like SEPA, ISO 20022, FpML, Target 2, MACUG and TSU, the new banking programs open communication lines and standardize financial transactions to move the needle on straight-through processing and real-time data flow. "This is a really exciting time," enthuses Richard Moseley, head of global transaction banking–corporates for HSBC. "We are getting closer to straight-through processing, complete visibility of all cash around the globe, the replacement of paper with electronic communication, and the evolution of sophisticated value-added services based on emerging new standards."

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