Microsoft links Office with ERP, CRM software

Microsoft is rolling out tools it hopes will more tightly weave together its business applications with its popular Office suite.

Microsoft Monday announced its Dynamics Snap line of programs, which will enable users to trigger workflows or access data in their AX 3.0 (formerly Axapta) ERP and CRM 3.0 systems via Outlook desktop-based applications. Dynamics, formerly known as Project Green, is the name for Microsoft's next-generation business applications platform. A major goal of Dynamics is to integrate various applications to eliminate redundant data entry, boost productivity and more tightly integrate business processes.

The company has in various ways already been releasing Office integration tools for its flagship GP 9.0 (formerly Great Plains) and its SL (formerly Solomon) applications, said James Utzschneider, general manager of marketing for the Microsoft Business Solutions unit. However, the four new tools for AX 3.0 and Dynamics CRM 3.0 are the first branded under the Snap name. Microsoft is hoping that its partners will lead the way in customizing and extending the use of the tools, but Utzschneider also said power end users are welcome to download it as well.

The first set of programs includes the Timesheet Management Snap-In, which links an appointment or meeting created in Outlook to a back-end time entry in AX. Customers in the service industry or those with personnel who have to keep track of their time will be able to do so without having to manually re-enter their Outlook data into AX. In the same vein, Microsoft has released the Vacation Management Snap-In, which lets end users submit time-off requests through Outlook. Once the request has been made, an e-mail is automatically sent to a supervisor for approval and the vacation time is entered into the AX time-and-attendance module.

Microsoft is also offering Business Data Lookup for AX, which will let users search for information through the Office interface and copy the data directly into Word documents. And the company is releasing a lookup tool for its CRM 3.0 application.

The Snap-Ins are available now for free at the development community Web site. More Snap-Ins are planned for release, depending on how the partner and development community respond to those announced today, said Utzschneider.

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