Microsoft eyes the enterprise with Project

Intent on moving products higher into the enterprise, Microsoft has announced new versions of its Project software and said that next year it will begin selling a solution based on its project management software.

For starters, while Microsoft has thus far offered only a single version of Project, as of this week the company will now sell three versions: Project 2002 Standard, Professional, and Server, the company announced at the Project World show in California.

The trio has been designed to help users manage projects and knowledge and to collaborate on projects through data sharing. The end goal is to ensure that business initiatives are aligned with company goals, according to Brett Bentsen, group program manager for Microsoft Project.

"Microsoft is trying to take a better approach to selling applications, and this fits into the solutions," Bentsen said.

To that end, the Enterprise Project and Resource Management Solution, which consists of the Professional and Server versions of Project as well as SQL Server, will provide users with a means to centralise project collaboration via a central portfolio repository. The products also will include project intelligence and notifications.

Bentsen said that the overall solution will be extensible and scalable because it supports SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and XML. An optional component is available for integrating with Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server.

The Enterprise Project and Resource Management Solution will act as a bridge between CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, and PLM (project lifecycle management)systems, said Sharon Ward, an analyst at Hurwitz Group.

"The solution enables project management to straddle ERP, CRM, and PLM," Ward said.

Project Standard is the most logical upgrade from Project 2000, Bentsen said. Meanwhile, the Professional version is a beefier form of the standard and it uses SQL Server as its database.

Project Server provides the basics for collaboration by enabling people to connect via the Internet. Inside the server, users store related information, such as project details, to-do lists, and status reports.

"They're trying to take Project away from being only a desktop application more up toward an enterprise app, with things like messaging and workflow that are required by high-level users," Ward said.

Microsoft is partnering with San Francisco-based Business Engine, and by the second half of next year Microsoft's Project 2002 will start to show up inside Business Engine's software.

Business Engine makes PSA (Professional Services Automation) software that is designed to manage service organisations. "Project management has always been a part of PSA," said John O'Neil, CEO of Business Engine.

"We have always had integration with Microsoft Project, and this just makes it that much smoother," O'Neil said.

He said two things make the tighter integration and embedding possible: Microsoft has exposed more technology on the Project client and also added a new Project server component.

O'Neil also said the deal is part of a Microsoft's new vision for Project.

"[Microsoft] wants to make Project into a platform, which is the way we have always seen it," he said.

A beta of Project is being broadly distributed now, and Microsoft said it expects to release the final versions in the first quarter of next year.

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