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Microsoft Readies Updated ERP Apps And 'CRM Live'

Four acquired enterprise application product lines begin to get a more common look and feel.
Is Microsoft going after larger customers in the ERP market? Company officials have long denied such aspirations, but they may be ready to cross that invisible line as Microsoft's Dynamics ERP products take on new capabilities and broader ambitions.

Microsoft will unveil a slew of upgrades this week to Dynamics, which is comprised of four ERP suites--Axapta, Great Plains, Navision, and Solomon--that it acquired from 2000 to 2002. Microsoft developers have been laboring away for the past three and a half years to bring greater uniformity to those disparate lines.

This week marks the end of the first phase in that effort. Microsoft has developed common interfaces and more shared code across the various Dynamics lines, and a desktop Dynamics client that works alongside its Office applications. There are new versions of Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains), Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision), and Dynamics SL (formerly Solomon), all scheduled to be released by midyear. Those applications will share some underlying code, including user interfaces with some of the look and feel of Office 2007, a Web services interface in SharePoint, and the business intelligence services that are part of the SQL Server database.

With the new client, users can, for example, bill time from within Outlook, do collaborative budgeting from Excel, or modify workflow through SharePoint. The new releases also add dozens of customizable interfaces based on employee job functions, as well as tools to adapt Dynamics apps to specific business needs.

Microsoft has shown it can sell ERP applications to its target small and medium-sized businesses; Dynamics sales have grown 19% each of the last three quarters. Now, VP Satya Nadella is touting Dynamics' ability to scale to the needs of larger companies. "I don't ever talk anymore about scale or performance limitations," he says.

Don't be fooled. Dynamics doesn't yet measure up to SAP's or Oracle's enterprise applications, and there's still integration work to be done among the various pieces of Dynamics. The completed integration effort probably won't result in one unified Dynamics suite as Microsoft once envisioned, but the products will increasingly look and act alike.

Dynamics as a service comes next. Microsoft will introduce its CRM Live service around the same time as the ERP releases this summer. Microsoft hasn't discussed offering ERP apps as a service, but don't be surprised if it happens. It has a version of Dynamics that other companies can sell as a hosted service, so there's nothing stopping Microsoft from hosting Dynamics itself. Says Nadella, "Customers ultimately need choice."