The business solutions division of Microsoft has rolled out the first major upgrade of the Navision ERP suite since it acquired the company in 2002, focusing on improved navigation, better business intelligence, and a process-based manufacturing platform.
Navision 4.0 is the second of three major new releases of Microsoft’s mid-market ERP products, Great Plains was 8.0 launched earlier this year and a new version of Axapta is due out in summer 2005. A key feature of the new releases is the addition of an Outlook 2003-style interface, which is part of Microsoft’s strategy to unify its portfolio in terms of look and feel while maintaining the individual product lines.
We were always going to extend and provide a common look and feel, so customers standardizing on Microsoft can expect similar things from the products, albeit it with different nuances, said Simon Edwards, UK managing director of Microsoft Business Solutions.
The company also released version 6.0 of Solomon earlier this month although instead of using the Outlook interface, it employs Microsoft Business Solutions Portal 2.5 along with the Solomon desktop. The Outlook interface is designed to improve user productivity and ease navigation while also easing access to other Microsoft systems.
Navision’s KPI and analysis tools have also received a boost with tools to enable data drill down and graphical views of analytic data to ease deep drilling. Catering for various levels of users, the Business Analytics component enables more advanced users to capture data from within the application and put it into a data cube of their own design, which can then be used to take advantage of the analytics capability within SQL Server.
Version 4.0 has been built to tie into Microsoft infrastructure products as it also includes support for SQL Server Business Notification Services whereby automatic email notifications can be sent when a critical piece of data is entered or altered that triggers a business rule such as when a credit limit is exceeded.
The company has also moved to address the issue of pre-built and adaptable processes with the introduction of what it describes as a manufacturing foundation within Navision. This aim is to provide visibility into work in progress and support for order-by-order planning workflow in order to enable more efficient management of production orders, bills of material, manual planning processes, and exceptions.
Overall the intention has been to make the product sharper, easier to use and provide better value, said Edwards.
Since the start of its acquisition activity, MBS has committed to upgrade its portfolio of products while simultaneously developing its next-generation product line, which will be based on a single code base, and is known as Project Green. It looks like the individual products may have an even longer life than initially expected because Project Green has been pushed back because it is dependent on Longhorn, which has itself been delayed. Green will come out when it comes out, said Edwards, it is still a couple of years away.
He indicated that Microsoft is not planning to rush the move to Green and is aware of the challenges in building a product set that has the range and depth of functionality that the current disparate products have. The reality is that people looking at a system recognize that something that is release 1.0 is a new application and will not have had the field testing and range and depth of functionality as those that have developed and evolved according to business requirements.
The functionality needed in an application comes from field-testing. It will probably be six years until we could put out a Green solution with the same level and depth. Rather than seeking to replicate the current generation, he said the next-generation products would take a different approach, where old-style applications fostered a reactive approach to business by the organizations that used them, the next generation will be designed to enable proactive behavior and maximize automation.