New products help for now, but rebuilt apps will require a multiyear development effort
For Microsoft's enterprise applications team, the talk these days is about filling in missing pieces and providing the glue to hold its dozens of applications together. But much of the development work involves starting from scratch.
Having built a multimillion-dollar enterprise applications business in the last two years through the acquisitions of Great Plains Software and Navision, Microsoft is about to deliver products that help make some of those apps act more like members of the same family. The company last week previewed a software platform, code-named the Microsoft Business Network and due in June, that supports business-to-business collaboration using XML and EDI standards. It will work, eventually, with Microsoft's Great Plains and Navision applications, both of which support enterprise resource planning and other requirements.
Microsoft also introduced its Business Portal, scheduled for availability next month, which provides browser access to Great Plains, Solomon (another ERP suite), and other data. And the company plans to deliver upgraded versions of Great Plains and Solomon in the second quarter.
Yet fundamental differences remain in the makeup of Microsoft's enterprise applications, and not everything works neatly together. To address those issues, Microsoft is working on a Web-services layer, called the Business Framework, that will replace some of the middleware unique to each suite. Parts of the framework are included in Business Portal, with more to come later.
Microsoft wants to provide more of the "plumbing" that goes into enterprise apps, senior VP Burgum says.
The vendor also has embarked on a years-long effort to develop a set of business applications that fill many of the same needs as its existing apps, but which share a common code base. The software will span ERP, supply-chain management, and customer-relationship management, "all the applications we have today," says Doug Burgum, senior VP of Microsoft business solutions. Microsoft's goal, he says, is to provide more of the "plumbing" that goes into enterprise applications so customers and other software vendors don't have to.
Microsoft thinks it can drive down the cost of buying and deploying enterprise applications. "We believe customers are overpaying for established solutions," group VP Orlando Ayala says.
Catalog company Fingerhut Cos. cut millions of dollars from its IT costs by moving to a Microsoft environment that includes Great Plains and SQL Server. "I bet my job on this," CIO and senior VP Frederic Argir says. Now he's looking at Microsoft's Business Portal and CRM apps.
Microsoft's ambitions could increasingly put it into competition with developers that have been longtime partners, although officials say there's plenty of room for others to add value via new functionality, specialization, and customization. Victor Raisys, a financial analyst with SoundView Technology Group, which holds Microsoft stock, expects the company to tread lightly. Says Raisys, "It needs other software companies to drive its strategies."
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