Microsoft Juices Up SMB Offerings

Microsoft Business Solutions, which peddles solutions from its Great Plains development arm, unveiled significant upgrades to flagship products Dynamics 7.0, a mid-market financials offering, and eEnterprise 7.0, a suite of e-business applications. These upgrades are aimed at system-to-system integration and automation of business processes, both inside and outside the firewall, and tout new accounting features. Both releases enhance integration with solutions, such as Microsoft Office XP, as well as third-party software from FRx Software. More importantly, the new versions integrate tightly with Microsoft's upcoming and much-awaited CRM offerings, whose pricing was announced last week. According to Microsoft, CRM interoperability will give companies detailed profiles of customers, including sales opportunities, credit limits and service and payment histories. The new versions target small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), as well as mid-market enterprises, according to Microsoft. "We are providing powerful solutions that are cost-effective for the mid-market and that can easily scale and grow as the business grows," said Jeff Edwards, director of global solutions at Microsoft Business Solutions, in a statement. The wording is significant, considering that some industry watchers remain leery of Microsoft's CRM intentions. The products are supposed to be aimed at the low-end of the mid-market and thus not compete with Microsoft partners in the CRM space, such as Siebel, Onyx and others, but speculation continues that Microsoft will eventually move its CRM products up-market. On the employee front, the new versions utilize smart tags that allow employees to access certain information. Smart tags provide a unified view of information that spans business functions such as sales, accounting and payroll, Microsoft claims. There's also a raft of financial control enhancements that let companies defer revenues and expenses over time, schedule payments for customers and to vendors, and track landed costs and inventories throughout the enterprise. Information can be consolidated into reports and automatically emailed to appropriate people. Call it e-business for the little guy. Microsoft Business Solutions fill a need for SMBs, according to IDC. Over the past five years, IDC research has found that "companies with fewer than 500 employees are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to implementing ERP technology that can integrate with their business functions and link their information with suppliers and customers," stated Dennis Byron, vice president of ERP (enterprise resource planning) and industry applications research at IDC. "Solutions such as Dynamics and eEnterprise can help small to mid-size enterprises achieve the type of sophisticated business-processes automation that many larger enterprises have already achieved." Tom Kaneshige also writes for
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