Microsoft Introduces a New Level of Convergence
Connectivity is the theme running through Microsoft's Dynamics development work as the vendor begins to mold its disparate business applications families into more of a single integrated platform. Microsoft made a plethora of announcements around its Dynamics brand of ERP and CRM suites Monday in San Diego at its annual Convergence conference.
Microsoft's announcements center on its attempts to improve different levels of connectivity, for instance, between employees and the business processes in the applications they use, or better connecting a company via its software with its external community of customers, partners, and suppliers. The new productivity tools for its Dynamics product line will extend business functionality and data throughout the enterprise using the familiar user interface and productivity tools of Microsoft Office. "We're paving the way for building truly connected businesses, uniting the systems and the people who make companies successful in a sensible and relevant way," said Satya Nadella, corporate vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions, during his keynote yesterday morning. "The end goal [is] to create a fully integrated Dynamics suite."
In line with these efforts, the company introduced Microsoft Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server. About 85 percent of employees in organizations that have deployed an ERP system are not licensed to use the data, Nadella said, citing figures from a recent AMR Research report. Redmond is targeting those nonusers with the introduction of Dynamics Client, a package of up to 12 self-service applications built into Microsoft Office and SharePoint that act as a data hub, directing traffic to and from various Dynamic applications. Pricing starts at $195 per user, or $395 per user for a beefed-up version with more functionality.
As an example, Nadella demonstrated how a sales manager could approve sales orders from within Office that were originally entered into Dynamics CRM and routed through Microsoft Great Plains. "It's a powerful combination," says Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone. "The user interface integration means the system can send triggers and alerts through Microsoft Office in a manner it just couldn't achieve before."
Microsoft Dynamics CRM is an example of this type of cross-enterprise access into larger systems and databases, Nadella said. All of its reports, forms, and processes for managing sales, marketing, and customer service are presented to the user within Microsoft Outlook using the new SharePoint Server. "The new functionality gives a greater audience access to CRM data," Kingstone says.
Other new offerings, all unified by the theme of better connections for the enterprise, include Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step, a family of model-driven configuration, implementation, and migration tools that make system migration and configuration easier to users to manage across all suites. With Sure Step, companies will "be able to implement Dynamics with best practices," Nadella says. "It's a business modeler; it makes deploying a Dynamics product that much more predictable."
Microsoft also announced RoleTailored, a new design approach that builds upon Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system; a new online finance community for finance professionals; and the upcoming availability of Microsoft Dynamics Great Plains 10.0, Microsoft Dynamics NAV 5.0, and Microsoft Dynamics SL 7.0. "This new generation of Microsoft Dynamics products is designed to work seamlessly with Microsoft Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007, and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, and lays the foundation for new levels of business productivity," Nadella said. As part of that new foundation, Microsoft customers can expect the launch of a new set of BI tools sometime this year, according to Nadella.
In an attempt to make Dynamics business applications more immediately relevant to customers in specific industries, the company announced its Dynamics Industry Solutions initiative for five verticals: manufacturing, distribution, retail, services, and the public sector. Microsoft will build in additional vertical capabilities to its ERP applications through a combination of internal development, small-scale acquisitions, and a deepening of its Industry Builder incentive initiative, says James Utzschneider, general manager of Dynamics marketing at Microsoft. Future industry-specific offerings codeveloped by Microsoft and its partners can be standalone offerings or ISVs can build on top of them, he says.
Utzschneider doesn't see the vendor's increased vertical interest as an issue for its existing partners. "If anything we're strengthening opportunities for our partners," he says. "We're clarifying where we're going to play."
Previously, Microsoft relied on its partners to add industry-specific functionalities to its Dynamics software. That situation was problematic for customers in particular industries,. "Those users were largely dependent on code developed on top of Dynamics, often by very small ISVs--code that wasn't backed by Microsoft," says Yvonne Genovese, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "Moving forward, users will have a better comfort level around guarantees of Microsoft and its partners working together, as the company also announced Microsoft Dynamics Certified Solutions, a 3rd party program that lets Microsoft test and approve new code from all partners that are certified on Microsoft Dynamics software."
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