Solomon Stands the Test of Time Despite Changing Masters Part Four: Challenges and User Recommendations




Vendor Challenges

Microsoft Business Solutions Solomon, formerly Solomon IV and Microsoft Great Plains Solomon IV, is a prominent business management and e-business suite of applications for small and mid-market companies. Most recently, in summer 2003, Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) announced the availability of Microsoft Business Solutions Solomon 5.5, which includes several new features and enhancements in the product's Foundation Series, Financial Series, Project Series, and Service Series of modules.

Naturally, the product has many weaknesses as well, albeit many of these may have come in handy to MBS to define MBS Solomon's sweet spot where it would hardly ever compete with its MBS brethren. Such is the fact that the product has very limited manufacturing and work-in-progress (WIP) tracking capabilities without adding a third-party application, where Axapta, Navision, and Great Plains will take a right of way.

Although MBS Solomon has integrated a payroll module, the "missing" native functionality situation is further aggravated with the lack of human resources (HR) and advanced planning and scheduling (APS) suites. Further, the Financial Series does not support fixed assets and debt collection functionality and there is no provision for national accounts (which is demanded by large chains like McDonalds or Staples) and for account-level security in GL. Also, alerts are not wizard-driven as is the case with some peer products, and there is only a limited choice of available attachments for messages. The Communicator features are only available within the Project Series, only with early stages of some similar functionality being replicated within the other series of modules.

In addition to the product functionality gap, Solomon does not exhibit much of a vertical focus, given its VARs offer vertical solutions on an opportunity-by-opportunity basis only, which we believe is insufficient to satisfy the stringent requirements of a highly competitive market. Although Solomon has been very competitive within the project accounting and PSA niches, but overall past revenues from the product line have come from 400 vertical markets as scattered as shotgun pellets. The mitigating factor though would be that, although some of these were non-selective opportunistic pursuits, the vast majority of revenues have still come from a limited number of industries that correlate directly to the product strengths identified earlier. MBS also recognized that Solomon has less overlap than other MBS products and, therefore, it has already begun to take advantage of this in its positioning. Solomon pledges to become very vertically focused from now on, although it will take the VAR and ISV communities time to adjust their offerings accordingly.

Still, even within the PSA space, the product does not cover all the bases outside resource management, and project capturing, tracking, and invoicing—i.e., there is not much functionality for opportunity management (e.g., bidding and proposal automation), which has long been featured by the likes of Deltek Systems. Also, given only an early release of the MBS PSA product, the product's seamless workflow consistent look-and-feel is yet to come (users can quickly discern whether they are in MS Project or in Solomon Project. On the other hand, integrating components with overlapping features sometimes results with a detrimental duplication of features—the product features built-in calendars in MS Project, Solomon Project, and Outlook, and at this stage there is no automatic provision for users to rely only on a single calendar that would synchronize the other two, which defeats the purpose of integration. Also, due to minimal manufacturing features and despite detailed and unlimited hierarchical work breakdown structures (WBS) in the project setup, the MBS Solomon Project is not suitable for heavy construction or capital investment project opportunities.

Further, given Microsoft's intended foray into the reporting sector of the broader BI market with its recent unveiling of SQL Server Reporting Services, slated for a foreseeable future, may seriously strain partnership with Crystal Decisions, which could deprive Solomon of this sleek reporting feature. While a complementary, tandem strategy is more likely than a replacement strategy, given MBS is still currently evaluating the latest offering from Crystal Decisions for incorporation in a future version of Solomon, one can never be sure of how any co-opetitive software partnership may turn out in the end.

Last but not least, while former Solomon has established its worldwide presence, particularly in Latin America and the Pacific Rim, and while it supports five languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean), it continues to be challenged with combining its country-specific variants of applications into a single, global product in order to be selected as a global strategic partner. Double- and multi-byte character sets (DBCS and MBCS) are currently not supported, while the full Euro currency triangulation support is yet to materialize, which is several years late to market.

This is Part Four of a four-part note.

Part One detailed the recent product enhancements.

Part Two discussed the market impact.

Part Three presented the product differentiators.

User Recommendations

We generally recommend including MBS Solomon in a short list of an enterprise application selection to the lower end of the mid-market companies (with less than $250 million in revenue, and with 10—500 employees), which are staunch users of Microsoft technology and have significant financial accounting, project accounting and management, distribution, and service requirements, while currently and in the foreseeable future not needing complex manufacturing functionality.

Also, like enterprises that are interested in a relatively inexpensive product to support their distributed corporate structure, should consider the product when selecting an ERP system. Enterprises with similar needs like the above, but also with simple (light) manufacturing operations (e.g., final assembly/kitting) may also want to evaluate the product. However, companies looking for a holistic, broader packaged, extended-ERP functionality and a particular industry focus (outside of Solomon's "holy grail" of project-driven, professional services, distribution, and construction markets) from a single vendor may benefit from evaluating other products at this stage. Large companies with complex supply chains and business process requirements should consider the enterprise applications vendors with products and channels better suited to support those needs.

Despite the plausible product roadmap (i.e. the next-generation enterprise software suite built on the Microsoft .NET framework, which will combine functionality from all the product lines) and the company's indisputable viability, any organization evaluating any of four major MBS products should keep itself informed, and consider existing functionality only, while making sure that what they buy today will reasonably and painlessly meld into the future of MBS' single-code platform. While the next-generation suite will be unveiled neither sooner than 2005 nor in a single large "big bang" release, each unveiled piece will be supposedly be compatible with existing Microsoft Business Solutions products.

Existing users and particularly the 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. They should, in particular, vigorously question the fate of many remaining questionable ISV partnerships. 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.

Very detailed information about the MBS Solomon product and about its MBS brethren products is contained in the ERP Evaluation Center at http://www.erpevaluation.com/

 
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