April 27, Microsoft Corporation's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Microsoft
Business Solutions (MBS) division announced the acquisition
of accounting products from a Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada-based vendor, Encore
Business Solutions, Inc., that could be critical to
the success of the customers and partners in the public sector. The acquisition
includes Encore's not-for-profit (NFP) accounting products and the intercompany
payables management and requisition management modules, some of which have currently
been sold by MBS under an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) agreement with
Encore. Namely, the only modules that have been OEM-ed so far have been the
purchase order enhancements and cash flow management functionality, but these
are not a part of the NFP solution.
a result, MBS Great Plains 8.0, scheduled for release this
summer, will also include functionality essential for MBS and its partners to
conduct business in the public sector, such as grant management, fund accounting,
and encumbrance management. According to both companies, in North America alone
there are an estimated 2.3 million public sector entities, which include government,
not-for-profit, education, and healthcare organizations. Since Encore and MBS
have identical support policies, they insist customer support will be provided
for the current and previous versions of all modules. Also, Encore's code has
been developed with the same developer toolset as MBS Great Plains, which should
make it an attractive opportunity to enhance existing horizontal financial management
The announcement follows closely on MBS's recent provision of details on its strategy to enable independent software vendors (ISV) to build additional industry-specific solutions by focusing on providing an extended platform and applications. MBS believes that enhancing the core horizontal functionality in MBS Great Plains 8.0 by offering an industry-enabling layer for organizations in the public sector is a vital step in taking action on the strategy it recently outlined.
vendor claims this will let its ISV partners go further with it as they will
be building on top of a more robust foundation, while they will have greater
opportunities to really focus on their specific areas of expertise and develop
applications that address the challenges of organizations in the public sector.
Encore's code acquisition might be reflective of MBS's two-fold vision for business
develop applications for small and midsized companies with an emphasis on
ERP and CRM solutions; and
2) extend the Microsoft platform with business applications at the core horizontal
functionality level, providing greater opportunities for ISVs to develop deeper
and richer vertical functionality.
platform focus should offer ISVs multiple opportunities to engage with MBS,
since they can
connect their products to Microsoft's suite of solutions;
2) leverage their products to extend the core functionality of the Microsoft
business application; or
3) embed and sell a complete solution that includes Microsoft's products as
well as their own. ISVs can also engage even directly at the platform level
if they choose not to use MBS's tools.
is Part One of a three-part note.
Two will discuss the Market Impact.
Three will cover Challenges and make User Recommendations.
Convergence 2004 Report
the end of March, during its annual conference for North American customers,
Convergence 2004, Microsoft Corporation's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Microsoft
Business Solutions (MBS) division previewed upcoming versions of its enterprise
resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM)
solutions: MBS Axapta, MBS Great Plains, MBS Navision,
MBS Solomon, Microsoft CRM, and related services.
The main takeaway was that MBS continues to invest in its current offerings
to provide customers with the enriched functionality they need to remain competitive
in today's evolving marketplace and exploit their existing information technology
(IT) investments by streamlining business processes and by more easily accessing
the information they need to make educated business decisions.
that end, mainly incremental releases across the above MBS product assortment
during 2004 are aimed at improving features, particularly manufacturing and
distribution capabilities, further integrating the MBS portfolio with other
Microsoft products, especially Microsoft Office and other desktop
and productivity applications, and fostering better cross-integration amongst
most MBS products. Logically, there will hardly be any effort in 2004 to consolidate
overlapping product functions within the product set, while far-reaching technology
and architectural changes within the established ERP product lines are not the
short-term priority either.
plans thus belong to the Project Green, which will supposedly
feature all MBS products on a single, global code foundation built on the Microsoft
Business Framework and .NET Framework, some time in
2006 or later, when Microsoft is also aiming at coordinating the delivery of
its next-generation Longhorn OS platform.
the nonetheless immense development undertaking, which began at MBS even before
its strategy was espoused in 2002 (see Microsoft
Lays Enforced-Concrete Foundation For Its Business Solutions), the
incremental approach towards building a more complete enterprise applications
portfolio seems logical, if not the only possible option. MBS strives to hereby
not only retain the existing install base within the maturing ERP product lines,
but also to stimulate the acceptance of recent product additions, some of which
are featuring parts of the latest technology mentioned above, and drive sales
or upgrades of high-volume products like Office 2003 within
MBS's large install base that is nearing the 300,000 mark.
Microsoft Great Plains 8.0
of the most notable enhancement roadmaps belongs to Microsoft Great
Plains 8.0, a cross-industry ERP solution for the mid-market business
segment, which will contain over 120 feature enhancements to deliver richer
distribution, manufacturing, payroll, and project accounting functionality;
a Microsoft Office "look and feel" and seamless integration to it; a deeper
focus on the MBS Business Portal (MBP) functionality,
which is depicted further on; better access and control of data and expanded
reporting capabilities; and improved usability in terms of intuitiveness and
navigation and of streamlined productivity enhancements. For example, the Letter
Writing Assistant feature, which will work similar to and within Microsoft
Word, should enable users to identify and select specific customers
for certain mail campaigns and promotions.
Great Plains has for some time been offering broad-based out-of-the-box functionality
and a wide set of independent software vendor (ISV) solutions, aimed at mid-size
enterprises, with an emphasis on some service industries (e.g., accounting and
consulting firms), manufacturing, and retail or wholesale (for more info, see
Great is Great Plains' Manufacturing Offering (Did Somebody Say Microsoft)?
, and Great
Plains' Latest Product Offering—Ready to Stampede the SME Market?).
Currently, the product has over 32,000 customers primarily in North America
and Latin America, and it has been sold through 1,600 resellers. Like its MBS
Solomon and MBS Navision siblings, MBS Great Plains' modules are available in
two editions. The upper-end edition, called Great Plains Professional, is aimed
at organizations with 1005,000 employees and with $50$250 million in annual
revenues. On the other hand, the Great Plains Standard edition
is based on the same code base as the "bigger" product, but it features fewer
modules and is geared toward businesses with as few as ten or fewer users, to
ninety-nine users. General availability for Microsoft Great Plains 8.0 is expected
in North America in July 2004.
mentioned earlier on, the above enhancements are in part related to the release
of the Microsoft Business Portal (MBP), a web- and role-based portal application
for two of MBS's ERP solutions, MBS Great Plains and MBS Solomon, which will
albeit in the long run become the primary user interface (UI) for all MBS's
enterprise applications. The idea behind MBP is to extend an organization's
ERP solution to provide business intelligence (BI) and processes to all employees,
helping companies reduce information support costs, providing greater access
to information and enabling users to complete common tasks more easily. The
product uses modular components called Web Parts to format and display
information tailored to particular individuals and their roles within the enterprise.
Microsoft Business Portal 1.2
that end, the Human Resource Management (HRM) Self Service Suite
for Microsoft Business Portal 1.2, which was released in August
2003, was designed to help employees review their HR and payroll information
and complete common tasks, such as filling out and approving timecards, submitting
requests for time off, reviewing paycheck and benefit information, and more
easily changing their employee profile information. The HRM Self Service Suite
consists of five modules: Employee Profile, Employee Pay,
Time and Attendance, Recruitment, and Skills and Training,
and it works with MBS Great Plains US payroll and HR applications. The KPI module,
on its hand, offers executives and other decision makers at-a-glance access
to the key business metrics they need to help them reasonably quickly assess
the health of an organization and take action when conditions change. Key performance
indicators (KPI) can be expressed in graph or chart form and can include green,
yellow, and red alert conditions to identify critical areas of concern. The
module enables executives to drill down into the underlying data for further
analysis, and has been available for both MBS Great Plains and Solomon. Microsoft
Business Portal 1.2 also included the ability to deliver reports created with
MBS Analytics -- FRx through the portal, so
users can more easily access the financial and business reports they need to
accurately gauge financial conditions and make better-informed decisions.
Business Portal 2.0, announced early in 2004, brought the product's
underlying technology in line with Microsoft's most contemporary portal technology
Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), while
the earlier releases leveraged the maturing and outgoing Digital Dashboard
Resource Kit, which in turn uses Web Parts based on the Active
Server Pages (ASP) technology rather than on the newer
ASP.NET. Although the MBP 2.0 release had no new functional
enhancements, its importance lies in the increased security, performance, and
stability that ASP.NET-based web sites inherently bring, and in getting MBS
in line with Microsoft's overall corporate portal strategy. Further, moving
to WSS has resulted with new enhancements such as sharing and collaborating
on documents, creating new pages and parts more easily, adding Microsoft
Excel graphs to portal pages, adding sites for projects and meetings,
and connecting to external data sources. However, MBS Business
Portal 2.5, slated for the second half of 2004, will feature requisition
management for equipment and services, project self-service capabilities including
time and expense (T&E) management, electronic document delivery, enhancements
to HRM self-service, and seamless integration with the Microsoft Office
Solution Accelerator for Sarbanes-Oxley.
concludes Part One of a three-part note.
Two will discuss the Market Impact.
Three will cover Challenges and make User Recommendations.