Solomon Stands the Test of Time Despite Changing Masters

Event Summary

Microsoft Business Solutions Solomon, formerly Solomon IV and Microsoft Great Plains Solomon IV, a prominent business management and e-business suite of applications for small and mid-market companies, and the product that some had prematurely written off after being acquired first by one of its erstwhile greatest nemeses, former Great Plains Software in 2000 (see Will Solomon Finally Satisfy Great Plains' Insatiable Appetite?), and particularly after its new owner subsequently ended up under Microsoft's roof in 2001 (see Microsoft And Great Plains — A Friendship That Turned Into A Marriage), only soon after to share the fraternity home with yet another former nemesis, Navision in 2002 (see Microsoft 'The Great' Poised To Conquer Mid-Market, Once and Again), seems to be doing just fine, if not even much better than that. It appears that the product has several truly differentiating traits, which cannot be easily or quickly replicated by its seemingly more robust brethren products within Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) division. Thus, Microsoft has reason to continue to bolster the product for Solomon's loyal customer base and resellers instead of promoting less popular options (e.g., stabilization and replacement).

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. Owing to the product's renowned sweet spot of project accounting, MBS has further developed Solomon 5.5 to meet the needs of small to midsize project-driven organizations, specifically in the industries of business services, management and engineering services, social services, special trades contracting, general contractors, and wholesale trade (durable goods). To that end, Solomon 5.5 includes Microsoft Business Solutions Professional Services Automation (MBS PSA) product features that combine the power of MBS Project Accounting Solomon and the new enterprise version of Microsoft Project 2002 to provide externally focused, project-driven organizations with an integrated financial, project and resource management, knowledge management, time and expense, project accounting, financials, and reporting and analytics solution, based on the Microsoft .NET platform. Additional enhancements to the project accounting capabilities include new indirect rate calculation and new audit trail tracking abilities for contractors of the US federal government, particularly those subject to Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) audits.

The MBS PSA vertical solution became generally available in North America at the end of 2002, following its quite vocal announcement during the Stampede 2002 partner conference (see Microsoft Lays Enforced-Concrete Foundation For Its Business Solutions).

This is Part One of a four-part note on the MBS Solomon product.

Part Two will discuss the market impact. Part Three will cover product differentiators.

Part Four will present the vendor challenges and make user recommendations.

Other Features

Solomon 5.5 is now also integrated with Microsoft Business Solutions Retail Management System (MBS RMS), a retail management and point-of-sale (POS) solution designed specifically for the independent merchant. The integration allows for the easy sharing of information between Microsoft RMS and the proven financial capabilities of Solomon. Built on the award-winning QuickSell line of products, it offers a solution that automates a retailer's operations from the cash register right through to the company headquarters. Also announced during Stampede 2002, the solution already featured integration with MBS Great Plains and MBS Small Business Manager financial applications, bringing a sophisticated (POS, inventory management, pricing and promotions, reports, and analysis) yet easy-to-use and cost-effective offering to small and medium-sized retail businesses.

Additionally, with Solomon 5.5, users of Microsoft Office XP will find the capabilities of Outlook, Word, and Excel expanded through .NET Smart Tag capabilities, which should allow users to easily incorporate structured and unstructured information, or information from multiple systems, into a single document. To that end, the Smart Tag Manager lets Office users drill down on customer, vendor, inventory, account, salesperson or employee detail information stored in the Solomon 5.5 database.

Last but not least, Solomon 5.5 includes several new features within the following series of modules:

  • Financial Series — The suite exhibits enhanced time entry screens and the tools needed to print multiple checks per employee per pay period or payroll run, which should be particularly useful for construction companies.

  • Project Series — New features include additional modules in the Solomon Standard edition, revenue allocation rules based on a maximum, Solomon Desktop Web time entry modifications, the ability to enter and adjust labor costs over the Web, automatic synchronization of new project IDs by using Solomon's next available project ID, and ease-of-use enhancements for data entry.

  • Service Series — Additional modules are now available, including equipment maintenance and Service Contracts.

  • Foundation Series — Features enhanced report management capabilities within the Solomon desktop, as well as online user manuals.

Hence, MBS Solomon 5.5 shows continued MBS investment in the advanced distribution, professional services automation (PSA) projects, service, and e-business capabilities of the product and its continued focus on vertically-oriented functionality while balancing strategic investments in broadening the functional footprint. The future should bring the delivery of Microsoft Business Portal (formerly shortly referred to as Microsoft Business Desk) as a replacement for the Solomon Desktop portal application, as well as the delivery of Microsoft Customer Relationship Management (MS CRM) integrated with Solomon, increased integration between Solomon and other Microsoft products, and accelerated development of business applications and the independent software vendors (ISV) platform using the Microsoft .NET platform.

Consequently, MBS Solomon 5.5 represents a natural progression from Microsoft Great Plains Solomon IV Release 5.0, which was delivered in summer 2002, and featured significant new capabilities and enhancements across its advanced distribution, financial, project, e-business, and service series. The release particularly built on the strengths of its advanced distribution capabilities with the addition of the following three new modules:

  1. The Inventory Replenishment module is used to track inventory usage data and vendor performance, as well to plan future requirements in order to optimally set inventory stocking levels and automate generation of purchase orders. By replenishing inventory more accurately through historical use, vendor performance, and planned future demand, organizations should be able to deliver better customer service while improving cash flow and balance sheets.

  2. The Order to Purchase module should benefit customer service and sales representatives through a one-step process of taking a customer order and then placing a purchase order with a vendor to fulfill stock needs when the company does not have inventory on hand to fill the order. A streamlined fulfillment process should provides salespeople with the tools they need to satisfy customer demand and deliver higher levels of customer service.

  3. The Landed Cost module enables distributors and manufacturers to account for additional costs beyond the merchandise cost incurred in purchasing inventory items. This should allow these organizations to effectively manage profitability by rolling the shipping, handling and import fees into the total cost of goods.

Solomon IV 5.0 also delivered on continued investments in its Finance Series with payroll capabilities for construction and other businesses. These include union reciprocity (portability), service dispatch integration to advanced payroll, project time and expense integration to advanced payroll, and web-based advanced payroll time entry. In union reciprocity, a new screen has been added to automate the calculation of fringe benefit amounts based on a reciprocal agreement between an employee's home local union and work local union. Unlimited reciprocals can be set up and maintained, and are automatically calculated, saving time for payroll managers who previously had to manually calculate complex union reciprocal agreements each week.

In the Project Series, organizations performing projects or services for customers in other countries can use the new multicurrency project invoice enhancement to have customers' invoices presented in a foreign currency. Amounts from the foreign currency invoice are automatically translated into the system's base currency for postings.

In the e-Business Series, Solomon Desktop now has multi-company capabilities, enabling Web self-service applications and reports to interact with data in all established companies, either in a single database or in multiple application databases. Each Solomon Desktop user will have the opportunity to sign in to any company for which rights have been given, providing remote managers and salespeople with quick and easy access to the full multi-company capabilities of Solomon IV while simplifying administration for the information technology department.

In the Service Series, dispatch integration with Microsoft MapPoint has been added, allowing dispatchers to quickly and accurately locate the address of service calls, plan technicians' routes, and determine alternate routes if needed. The enhancement enables general and specialty trade contractors to better dispatch technicians for higher utilization and profits. However, to use this feature, customers must purchase a license for Microsoft MapPoint separately, and the product must be installed on the dispatcher's computer.

As a recap, MBS claimed at the time of the Solomon IV 5.0 release that the following parties would benefit from the new product's capabilities:

  • Distributors or manufacturers who
    Require enhanced inventory replenishment capability
    Want to improve fulfillment by efficiently creating purchase orders from sales orders
    Require landed cost inventory valuation
    Manage production plans with material tracking and cost accounting
  • Finance officers and controllers who want improved financial reporting, such as improved actual versus budget reports, and improved budgeting tools

  • Construction companies who need a better payroll solution

  • Customers who require advanced payroll processing such as union reciprocity (portability)

  • Specialty contractors with mobile field service technicians who want an easy and effective means for directing their technicians to the correct location

  • Organizations that require the ability to represent customers' project-driven invoices in foreign currencies

  • Customers with large off-site work forces that need to report chargeable labor and expense activity.

  • Organizations with multiple accounting companies that want to affordably provide remote managers and employees easy access to reports and applications via the Internet.

Customization Tools

Again, the Solomon IV 5.0 release was a progression from Microsoft Great Plains Solomon IV Release 4.50, which was launched in summer 2001 and which featured more tightly integrated financials, supply chain management (SCM), project management, and field service management applications. In addition, Solomon IV 4.50 introduced to customers the more powerful tools to customize the solution to meet their unique business needs.

Project Management Enhancements — Solomon IV Release 4.50 provided project managers in the construction, engineering and other service-related fields with the ability to more closely track project details for improved profitability, due to the available views into project profitability, analysis capabilities, and project workflow tracking and management. Several new project management modules were also made available, enhancing review and approval of time sheets and expenses as well as detailed analyses of employee utilization, which offers customers an enhanced interface between projects and chargeable-time employees, all via the Internet. With the addition of the Solomon IV advanced payroll module, general and specialty contractors with union payroll needs also will be able to utilize Solomon IV for project management.

Supply Chain Management — The Solomon IV Release 4.50 SCM Series added two new modules, bill of materials (BOM) and work order, which, combined with the enhancements to Solomon IV's order management, inventory and purchasing modules, further eased use and configuration flexibility. The work order module was also tightly integrated with the project management series.

Field Service Management — Enhancements to the Solomon IV field service management series offered companies with large field service staffs a comprehensive solution that automates all operations and accounting areas of a service business. The new graphical dispatch board allows organizations with mobile field technicians to easily dispatch technicians through a graphical user interface, with access to each technician's job schedule, locations and more, ensuring accurate scheduling and enhanced customer service.

Customization Tools — With Release 4.50, Solomon IV delivered a new Object Model, providing flexibility in automation and integration of third-party applications, as it makes any Solomon screen available for automation, including standard screens and new screens created by developers with the Solomon Tools for Visual Basic. It also will incorporate any customizations in the object without additional or duplicate work. In addition, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) increases the familiarity and usability of Solomon Customization Manager, enabling developers to extend, integrate and personalize Solomon IV to meet businesses' unique needs.

Again as a recap, former Microsoft Great Plains division claimed at the time of the release that the enhancements were made with the idea to move Solomon IV up the value chain and that the following parties would benefit from the new product's capabilities:

  • Distributors or manufacturers for
    Addition of work order and BOM
    Improved automation of the workflow in the supply chain
    Enhanced control of customer priority scheduling automation
    Improved supply chain visibility through the inventory inquiry status view

  • Project-oriented business wanting Internet-based access to their project management

  • Construction contractors requiring union payroll solution

  • Customers with mobile field service technicians who need a better dispatch method

  • Any customer who
    Needs complex or advanced payroll processing
    Wants to improve business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-employees (B2E) communication utilizing XML report formats
    Needs to efficiently capture distributed liabilities
    Wants improved customization and integration capabilities

This concludes Part One of a four-part note.

Part Two will discuss the market impact.

Part Three will cover product differentiators.

Part Four will present the vendor challenges and make user recommendations.

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