Microsoft Reaches ERP Milestone

Microsoft has reached the halfway point in its three-year march to converge four enterprise resource planning suites into a common technology platform.

But it’s still an open question whether the campaign will deliver a fully converged suite that will hold its own in the midmarket that SAP and Oracle also covet, and whether customers still care.

The Redmond, Wash., company’s Business Solutions unit released on June 18 the next iterations of two of the company’s four business application suites: Dynamics GP 10 and SL 7. Both suites feature a new Office-like user interface, integration with Office 2007, Web services enablement and a common business portal architecture with a move over to SharePoint Server code. The upgrades complete Wave 1 of the two-wave process of converging Microsoft’s four ERP suites.

But now that Microsoft is ready to move to Wave 2 of the plan, are customers still looking forward to the evolution? Edward Lux, director of operations and technology at Chem­, is one user who is excited.

“For me it’s great,” said Lux in Belleview, Wash. “I don’t have to look at a day where I am told I have to jump the gorge to get to the other side; what [Microsoft] is going to do is support the other side. [Project Green] would have been, ‘On this date we turn the lights out—either join us or you’re done.’ Microsoft realizes that’s not going to work.”

Project Green, the early code name for the suite’s convergence, was originally a two-step plan to rewrite Microsoft’s four ERP suites—GP, NAV, SL and AX—into a single code base.

Read here about Microsoft’s flip-flop on Vista virtualization.

But at their Convergence user conference in March, Microsoft officials confirmed that the company will likely not move to a single code base but, rather, converge the suites through a common underlying technology stack, including SQL Server, Visual Studio .Net, BizTalk Server and Workflow Foundation.

Lux said he is happy to see that Microsoft has reconsidered its plans with Wave 2.

“What I am seeing happen is the brilliance of how one could achieve the convergence of four ERP solutions into a single solution without disorienting the customer or causing strife within the customer base,” Lux said. “What we’re seeing is the concept of role-based dashboards. It doesn’t matter what suite you’re using; in the end, they all start looking about the same.”

Lux, a beta tester of GP 10, said the feature he most likes is the software’s role-based capabilities. He will use the features to customize the suite for various roles, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, order entry, credit and purchase order inventory. Eventually, he said, he will customize GP 10 for every role in the company, a plan that’s music to Microsoft’s ears.

As part of Wave 1, Microsoft has been working for several years to enable users to customize Dynamics applications by role.

Brooke Davis, controller at Moeller Design & Development, is pleased with SL 7’s roles customization and Office UI.

“A lot of our users haven’t used anything more robust than QuickBooks, so, for them, modular systems are overwhelming,” said Davis in Seattle. “For them, the Office UI and roles customization are huge. It really takes away the anxiety.”

Another big hit in SL 7 is that it’s the first suite in the Dynamics pantheon to be rewritten in .Net. “We cheated a little bit. It was in Visual Basic, so, using Microsoft tools, we moved from Visual Basic to Visual Basic .Net,” said Jon Pratt, senior director of Microsoft’s Dynamics GP, Dynamics SL and Dynamics Retail Management System.

The .Net rationale is that it “improves the enhancement of the developer environment,” said Pratt. It also paves the way for much easier on-demand development by providing a multitier architecture that’s native, he said.

Wave 2 will bring more of the same, providing .Net wrappers for NAV and potentially the other Dynamics suites, Pratt said.

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