Microsoft Corp continued to press heavily on the connectivity pedal as its Convergence conference motored on this week, demonstrating how it was bringing its disparate applications and technologies together to create a more unified platform.
Its vision is to help businesses connect their business vision to their software, their people to their processes, and the company to its community of customers, partners and suppliers. While the vision is not new, Microsoft has started to deliver products that should help turn these abstract goals into something more meaningful.
We are framing the news around our vision for how Dynamics combines with Office 2007 for a connected business, said James Utzschneider, general manager, Dynamics Marketing at Microsoft.
From a product standpoint various developments are starting to come together, which adds another theme to the connectivity list whereby Microsoft is connecting its applications and technologies in a coherent way based on a foundation consisting of the Dynamics ERP products, Vista OS, Office 2007 and SharePoint Server 2007.
A core ambition is to make the ERP products easier to use and accessible to more users. Microsoft has three offerings in this area starting with the Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server package which enables the use of Office 2007 as the front end to the Microsoft’s Dynamics ERP applications.
The licensing package also enables its new category of applications, called Office Business Applications, giving customers and partners the right to build their own front end applications using Office or SharePoint, that have access rights to the data and processes managed by the Dynamics back office systems.
A new Role Tailored UI is also concerned with ease of use and relevancy. Based on the look and feel of Vista and Office 2007 – but without requiring either – it represents Microsoft’s ongoing attempts to make it easier for users to collaborate and navigate though its business applications. Utzschneider said it was a formalization of its work on improving the user experience for rich ERP clients.
Previously we talked about role based applications, now its is role tailored, he said. The key difference is that the company is moving on from a one size fits all approach where everyone associated with a role has access to the same services, to one where the UI is tailored around 60 or more core jobs within a company and all users can use a custom screen.
The role tailored UI is shaping up to become the common UI across all the Dynamics ERP applications and they will be the vehicle for its delivery. It will be implemented in the forthcoming release of Dynamics NAV 5.0 which is due later this month and Dynamics GP 10.0 and Dynamics SL 7, which are slated for June. A fresh release of Dynamics AX hit the market last summer so it will not benefit from the new UI until the next release, which is scheduled for the first quarter of 2008.
With the emphasis on a unifying UI and tying all the Dynamics products into its technology foundation products for improved collaboration and information exchange, via SOA and Web Services, Microsoft appears to be pulling further back from its original goal of eventually unifying its business applications on a single code base. While aiming to share code where feasible, the company said its priority is providing customers with software and functionality they can use now, indicating it will keep its separate product lines for the foreseeable future.
Commenting on the apparent move, Zach Nelson, CEO of SaaS ERP and CRM provider and developing Microsoft competitor NetSuite Inc, said: It appears Microsoft has thrown in the towel on building a unified business application. Microsoft’s famous Project Green, which they touted as their solution to an integrated, on-demand suite, looks to be no more.
Microsoft also announced the SureStep program at Convergence, a new model driven implementation, configuration and migration methodology and toolset designed to make the tasks more predictable. Designed in conjunction with the partner community, the program includes partner certification and tackles the same sort of issues Oracle Corp’s Accelerate program does.
In terms of the Microsoft vision it plays a role in helping to connect business vision to software by bridging the gap between strategy and the ability execute, using a model driven approach to try to ensure the software is deployed in a way that will support the business strategy.
The final major announcement of the conference was the first of a series of online communities to facilitate communication between the business and the outside world, or connect the company to its community in Microsoft parlance. It aims to show how organizations can extend the Dynamics applications beyond the enterprise, using them to build better links with their customer, partners and suppliers. It also demonstrates Microsoft’s belief in software and services and its ambition to move towards systems that seamlessly combine on-premises and on-demand, where on-demand is used to extend the capabilities of the on-premise system.
The first online community has been created for financial professionals and will use elements from both social networking sites and developer community sites, include support for blogs, forums, tags, structured conversations and so on, to enable users to share ideas. The community site will be accessed from within the Dynamics ERP applications. Financial professionals will be the first group targeted, but Utzschneider said the company plans to create role based communities across all roles, with sales and marketing and operations likely to be targeted next.