Microsoft’s Underlying Platform Parts for Enterprise Applications: Somewhat Explained - Part 1

I can partly understand analysts’ temptation to beat up on Microsoft’s forays into the enterprise applications space. To be fair, "the empire" has had its share of strategic and tactical miscues, as if it had wanted to give these naysayers some ammunition. For one, many analysts and market observers first criticized the giant for not having a unified enterprise resource planning (ERP) product line, but rather several diverse ones, coming from acquisitions of former Great Plains Software and Navision Software a/s.

Today, we are talking about the following four Microsoft Dynamics ERP product lines:

  1. Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains) [evaluate this product];

  2. Microsoft Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision) [evaluate this product];

  3. Microsoft Dynamics SL (formerly Solomon) [evaluate this product] ; and

  4. Microsoft Dynamics AX (formerly Axapta) [evaluate this product] .

Additionally, in the early 2000s, Microsoft developed its own customer relationship management (CRM)  product, today called Microsoft Dynamics CRM [evaluate this product]. Last but not least, the Dynamics product family includes two retail management applications, which are a combination of an acquisition and in-house development. These are:

Good and Bad “Green”

Perhaps as a knee-jerk reaction or a temptation (who on earth wouldn’t be tempted to manage a single code base and technology set instead of multiple ones?), in the mid 2000s, Microsoft espoused the ill-fated “Project Green.” When the serious concerns of existing individual ERP products’ users, partners, and even Microsoft developers surfaced about the products' full-blown convergence into a single "uber-product" (a la SAP), the project was first backpedaled, reduced in scope, phased (via Wave 1, Wave 2, etc.), and than fully scrapped.

It was a waste of a good name at an inopportune time, given the public’s infatuation today with anything that is environmentally-friendly, i.e., “green.” In any case, with the Project Green frenzy subsided, the analysts can always resort to picking apart the Microsoft Business Solution’s (MBS, part of Microsoft Business Division) profit and loss (P&L) statement.

In other words, is it growing faster than the market and is it profitable? Well, having recently attended some of Microsoft's applications user conference (Convergence 2008) and partner events (Worldwide Partner Conference [WWPC] 2008), at least I think I got some answers and clarifications for myself to both the Project Green and P&L issues.

Once and for all, Microsoft has given up on the lofty idea of building an entirely new ERP system to replace all existing code lines.  The daunting “new code line from scratch” effort was admittedly stopped a year ago or so for lack of platform readiness to realize vision (since it was too hard to catch up on the applications breadth and depth), and because it would cause immediate channel disruptions in all ERP product lines.

In other words, each individual product still has its own areas of strengths in terms of vertical industry fit, partners' geographic coverage, and so on. The more appealing direction was thus to “incubate the vision for a business application suite for the future.” A successful incubation is based on sharing the following research & development (R&D) principles across all the products:

Share (if not SharePoint) is the Key Word Here

In other words, rather than converging (or “fusing”) all products into a next-generation one (which Epicor Software might miraculously pull off with the upcoming Epicor 9 product), Microsoft has opted for the following design principles:

  • To natively build on the core Microsoft platform, as much as possible;

  • To leverage standard Dynamics tools for high productivity, and proprietary platform tools for specialized requirements (with an 80/20 percent or Pareto approach);

  • To share technology across the Dynamics portfolio whenever appropriate, whereby the idea is to develop assets shared by design, to develop for one product to then adopt across the portfolio; and

  • Information scenarios and user requirements will be driving future platform innovation.

The best example of sharing (synergy) would be with the single UX design team. The role-based user interface (UI) was implemented with shared controls and gadgets, and delivered for all the Dynamics ERP products after introducing it and testing first in Dynamics GP. With such an ability to share future innovation, Microsoft will continue to look for opportunities to innovate in one product and then share (roll out) across the entire portfolio.

The “Better Together” Themes

Given that all of the acquired and developed products have always been on the Microsoft Windows operating system (OS), it is a no-brainer that they will continue to leverage this platform. Some of the potential future benefits of all the Dynamics application products being “better together with Windows” could come from the following: being certified with virtualization capabilities, integration with Windows Essential Business Server (that is suited for mid-size businesses), and from integration with Windows System Resource Management (WSRM) Management Pack.

The situation is also quite clear on the database layer, given Microsoft SQL Server support across all of the Dynamics product lines. There will certainly be much more  joint feature development with SQL Server and Dynamics products' workload benchmarks in the SQL Server performance lab.

Part 2 of this blog series will continue to analyze what other Microsoft platform parts are slated for shared use within Dynamics products. Your views, comments, and opinions about and/or experiences with any above-mentioned solution are welcome in the meantime.
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