Microsoft Lays Enforced-Concrete Foundation For Its Business Solutions Part 4: User Recommendations

Event Summary

At the end of September, Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS), an enterprise applications division of Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT), the largest software company in the world, fleshed out the contents of its seemingly well crafted and diligently thought-out product and services strategies aimed primarily at the small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) applications market, consisting of many intriguing value propositions such as an indication of simplified no-frills pricing and enticingly mitigated financing. A central component of Stampede 2002, MBS' annual event for global partners and value added resellers (VARs), the two-hour session, showcased MBS' recent extensive development efforts across its new and existing business applications.

This is Part Four of a four-part note.

Part One detailed the announcements concerning MBS.

Part Two discussed the Market Impact, and

Part Three covered Challenges.

User Recommendations

Despite the plausible product roadmap, any organization evaluating MBS products should keep itself informed, and consider existing functionality only. Users, particularly Great Plains' prospects with strong manufacturing requirements are advised to follow the newly formed division's new product introductions and keep a close eye on its future strategy. Particularly vigorously question the fate of many remaining questionable ISV partnerships. As the current market trend is towards vendors that can provide well-rounded but vertically focused solutions for medium-sized companies, MBS seems to have positioned itself well by garnering the above arsenal of products. Potential and existing customers should evaluate the offered product lines, bearing in mind what the competitors have to offer too. As with all new releases, users should employ a critical approach in their evaluation of the products, and require the local reseller to demonstrate specific technological and functional capabilities.

As a general rule of thumb, consider MBS Great Plains, Solomon and/or Navision if you are rapidly changing small or medium enterprise with less than $100 million in revenues. MBS Solomon suite has only basic manufacturing capabilities, but with strengths in project accounting, PSA and inventory management. Also, MBS Great Plains is a more packaged application, while MBS Navision is more suited to prospect with a need for flexibility and easy customization. On the other hand, MBS Axapta should be evaluated in less agile and changing medium and large enterprises (up to $250 million in revenues) where the traditional product feature-functions and scalability still play very important part of the selection. Although its MorphX Development Suite can be used to customize application components, such as tables, forms, reports, queries and menus, customers should ensure that the system modifications are preserved during the product upgrade. The product is best suitable for manufacturing companies with less than 250 concurrent users within less than 2,500 employees.

Existing customers with products based on a proprietary technology, custom systems or products from other vendors should review the affiliate's development capabilities in order to gain data integration between their various systems. They should be asking MBS whether, how and when the above CRM and B2B capabilities will be added to their investment. They should also inquire about any possible impact (or benefits) of migrating towards more advanced offering.

Small and medium size businesses using former MBS Great Plains (and possibly Solomon and Navision) back office applications and smaller organizations using Microsoft desktop and office applications that have simple CRM product needs (simple sales & marketing, and basic customer service activities) and interest in Web Services should pay attention to Microsoft CRM. They should evaluate the above CRM functional enhancements as a way to add value to their existing applications although bearing in mind that other vendors currently offer mature products. These companies should consider adding the announced functionality to their requirements list, as to secure value in terms of both cost savings and increased efficiency. Approach Microsoft to clarify for you the subtle differences (and likely functional overlaps) between Microsoft CRM and other small business CRM products the company offers.

The fact remains that the product will likely not appeal to companies that need more complex CRM capabilities or must manage customer relationships through diverse lines of business (LOBs) at this stage. These customers would most likely require extensive customization, for example building workflow managed processes to align sales teams by territory, product line or campaign. Moreover, the enterprises that have integration needs outside of the Microsoft environment, have complex sales and call-center service business practices, or need advanced CRM functions such as product configuration, content management, personalization and relationship optimization, will have to look at more sophisticated offerings mentioned earlier.

Small Businesses

Moreover, due to the likely product immaturity small businesses with less than 100 employees should consider other products until early 2003 in North America and in 1Q04 in the rest of the world. Also, bear in mind that the first release of Microsoft CRM will not provide tight call-center integration or permit significant application customization, and it should not be short-listed by larger or more complex enterprises, with multiple-platform and strong scalability requirements. The enterprises should challenge all involved vendors to demonstrate breadth and depth of their vertical expertise and to demonstrate support for vertical business processes and rules through both product functionality and underlying technology.

Discrete Manufacturers

As for potential MBS discrete manufacturing users our advice would be:

  • Evaluate MBS Great Plains if you are a small to medium, North American single-site discrete manufacturing company or division, with a limited IT budget and a timid IT strategy.

  • Bear in mind that if the non-manufacturing modules (e.g., HR/payroll, CRM, e-commerce, financial reporting, etc.) are also critical to you, then MBS Great Plains brings added value to the table, although the integration should be validated during the technical review sessions as a part of a thorough selection process.

  • Companies that require complex engineer to order (ETO) functionality, multi-site and/or more intricate multi-national capability may benefit from evaluating MBS Axapta or other competitive offerings.

  • During the selection process, question the company's executives about the positioning of its manufacturing offering within the total business strategy of MBS.

  • Talk to or visit existing users with a profile similar to yours to assess their past experiences and confidence in the future of MBS Great Plains' manufacturing product and its track record relative to meeting the industry needs.

Also, very detailed information about all flagship MBS products is contained in the ERP Evaluation Center

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