Having positioned Microsoft Corp as the vendor best able to bridge the gap between front and back office applications, chairman Bill Gates hammered the message home during his keynote the company’s first Convergence EMEA event yesterday.
According to Gates, there is a results gap between back office applications and businesses and individual users’ ability to make full use of them. Although organizations have back office systems, he said, users struggle to interact with them because the people processes are not as effective as they should be.
Getting rid of the gap is something we feel we are uniquely able to do, he said. We see huge efficiencies, big improvements, if we get rid of that gap.
The premise is that organizations can only become more productive if individual users become more productive and that will only happen if the usability is improved so users are comfortable with applications instead of hostile towards them. Microsoft refers to it as the last mile of productivity between personal productivity software and back-end business systems
The user interface is a big issue among ERP vendors. Oracle made its WebCenter announcement last week and SAP and has teamed up with Microsoft to develop Duet. The difference between their respective proposals and offerings is that they add an extra UI layer to the existing software, whereas Microsoft aims to make it part of the application.
A latecomer to the on-demand world, Gates also stressed the importance of combining Microsoft’s business software with online services for improved usability and businesses productivity in the context of its Live initiative, and provided three demonstrations to show how this could be realized.
It is not advocating and either/or in terms of application deployment models but putting processes in place that can bridge both environments. The company plans to put business processes online via Live, providing users with a choice of running processes internally or through the Microsoft environment. It plans to have the processes rolling over the next 12 months. The first set of processes that will be made available online are the marketing, sales and service capabilities, provided within Microsoft Dynamics Live CRM.
Two other services will follow. Microsoft adCenter integration will enable online keyword based marketing campaigns to be created from Dynamics CRM and run on MSN. Similar integrations to Yahoo and Google are being planned by its partners.
Integration with adCenter will be offered for all deployment options – on-premise, partner-hosted and Live. eBay integration is also promised, which will provide direct interaction between eBay and Dynamics AX, allowing AX users to use eBay as a sales channel, with the ability to place inventory and download information on sold items.
No release dates were announced but the additions are expected to be available within the next 12 months. Business intelligence online processes are to be targeted after that.
Providing insight into the design points Microsoft is working towards regarding improved productivity, Gates also highlighted the importance of collaboration within the business environment again in the context of online. The aim is to enable organizations to connect their processes to those of their customers, partners and suppliers.
This was demonstrated with another planned new service that used hosted Windows SharePoint Services to allow Dynamics users to collaborate and share business processes so they could rapidly configure collaboration and supply chain scenarios.
It is all about providing the technology to enable mid market companies to compete and improve productivity by providing them with access to capabilities they would normally be beyond their reach. The alternative to the proposed service would be an extranet, VPN and firewall technology, according to Microsoft.
The final theme of the keynote was the importance of online communities in improving productivity. Again Microsoft aims to provide the technology that will enable access to online communities to be directly integrated into Dynamics applications, making use of the evolving role-based user interfaces to ensure relevancy. It plans to provide the means to access a set of learning tools such as online forums, tutorials and best practices based on each user’s industry, role, geographic location and language, from inside Dynamics.
Although much of what Gates outlined is still vision rather than reality, Microsoft is showing itself to be more committed to the hosted model than either SAP or Oracle. A further indication of this was the news that it will extend the hosted subscription model it introduced for Dynamics CRM to its four ERP products –
Dynamics GP, Dynamics Nav, Dynamics SL, and Dynamics AX. It will provide customers with the option of subscribing to a partner-hosted version of any of the ERP products on a monthly basis, with no long term commitment. However, the challenge of setting up even a hosted version of an ERP product mitigate against a short term commitment and an easy switch to an alternative provider.
The news of the on demand ERP facility came on the same day that Workday Inc launched the much anticipated new venture of PeopleSoft founder Dave Duffield that is offering enterprise-class on demand ERP applications. Microsoft denied that there was any link between the timing of its hosted ERP and hosted business process announcements and Workday’s launch.