Microsoft: Business apps keeping up with road map

Microsoft wants to reassure partners and users that its business applications strategy remains on track, in line with its previous road map.

Microsoft is seeking to reassure partners and users that its business applications strategy remains on track. Set to be a key theme of the company's Convergence 2006 conference in Dallas, that assurance follows the vendor's announcement last week of a delay in another part of its business, the rollout of its Windows Vista operating system.

Convergence, an annual conference for users of Microsoft's business software, runs through Tuesday.

In his Sunday keynote address to Convergence attendees, Jeff Raikes, Microsoft Business Division president, is due to reiterate the software giant's commitment to its road map which ultimately aims to unify the company's disparate Dynamics enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) applications.

Microsoft mostly acquired its business software through the purchases of Great Plains Software and Navision completed in April 2001 and in July 2002 respectively.

Microsoft has achieved the milestones it laid out at last year's Convergence in terms of product releases and functionality, according to James Utzschneider, general manager of Dynamics marketing. These fall under the first of two planned waves of applications which will eventually result in a converged Dynamics code base.

As part of the first wave of applications, Microsoft is midway through bringing out releases of all the major Dynamics products. Next up is its Dynamics AX 4.0 ERP software which is due to ship in June, according to Utzschneider.

"There were concerns that people didn't understand our road map," Utzschneider said. "This is the year Microsoft Business turned the corner. We've had our first profitable quarter. We've established a sense of road map rhythm."

The first wave of Dynamics integration running from 2005 to 2007 is centered around aligning the various business applications around roles-based user productivity, according to Utzschneider The integration also stresses collaboration through Microsoft's SharePoint Web portal software and improved business intelligence capabilities via integration with Microsoft's Office suite of desktop applications and its SQL Server relational database, he said. Another key feature is easier customization facilitated by a Web services integration layer.

The second wave of applications due to start appearing in 2008 will also share a model-driven business architecture along with further customization functionality.

Responding to recent reports that Microsoft may choose to move away from per-module pricing to per-user pricing for its ERP software, Utzschneider said the vendor doesn't plan to make any announcements in the near term, but is "always evaluating the issue." He pointed out that Microsoft already offers optional per-user pricing with its Navision software in some countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Utzschneider expects Microsoft to come out with hosted versions of its ERP software within the next few months, he said. The company already enables partners to host its Dynamics CRM 3.0 applications. Microsoft is adopting a neutral approach to how users run its business applications, whether all on premise, all hosted or a hybrid of the two models, according to Utzschneider.

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