Microsoft's Burgum discusses midmarket focus

Douglas Burgum, a senior vice president at Microsoft Corp. and president of the Microsoft Business Solutions division, served as chairman and CEO of Fargo, N.D.-based Great Plains Software Inc. until it was bought by Microsoft more than two years ago.

Last week, at the Convergence 2003 users conference in Kissimmee, Fla., he took time to discuss with Computerworld the product positioning and future of the Business Solutions division and what it's like to do business with the competition.

Q: Can you clarify exactly where Microsoft Business Solutions sits in the enterprise applications marketplace? Also, you do business with rivals such as SAP AG and PeopleSoft Inc. Is that an issue?

If you drew a bell curve for us, the center is in the midmarket. All of us [application vendors] need to collaborate and compete with each other. [Unlike competitors], we're not focused on selling applications through a direct sales force to the world's largest corporations. Those applications are very expensive and require ongoing customization. We're in the business of high-volume, low-price software sold through partners. We want to work with those folks [Oracle Corp., Siebel Systems Inc. and PeopleSoft] on our platforms. We want them to adopt our tools that support XML connectivity and offer customers support for the .Net platform. To the degree that SAP has announced aggressive plans in the midmarket [with its SAP Business One initiative], we will find SAP a partner. But also we'll be competing with them in the midmarket for customer accounts.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your portal push?

In the small and midmarket companies, data was trapped in accounting systems -- and that was fine 10 or 20 years ago, when people were relying on minicomputers and terminals. People doing transactional work had access to that data. Today, with an affordable, fairly robust PC, in these small to midsize companies, you can open up access to the information that is already in these systems to everyone in the company. It could be human resources or purchasing. [The portal] is a way of bringing more value to more people.

Q: You recently pushed into customer relationship management (CRM). Any misgivings with taking on market leader Siebel?

We're not taking him on. He sells directly in deals that are worth multiple millions, with lots of rich customizations. That's not the market we're pursuing. We see Siebel as a strong partner doing nice work with our SQL Server database and Windows [software] and .Net and our support tools. We are competing with a company like SalesLogix [a division of Best Software Inc.] in the midmarket, with similar pricing and functionality.

Q: Can you offer some road map on the integration of products you've acquired? Is anything viewed as redundant and slated to go away?

No. The products won't fade away in any near or midterm time frame. There are large customer bases for Solomon and Navision and Axapta and Great Plains. We've got a deep commitment and are planning for the next generation where the major product lines have a migration path. We're not going to try merge those lines together in the traditional sense, so much. To some degree, the future generation will have a migration path to migrate to one single global code base.

The most profitable time span for a product is the tail end of its life cycle. We are working on the current generation to link CRM to the current generation of products with the business portal and will keep adding additional value to current generation products.

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