Microsoft Corp has revealed the next stage in its desktop-to-business application client interface gambit at its Convergence conference in San Diego, with the announcement of a new client designed to enable users to access its Dynamics ERP and CRM applications via Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server.
Microsoft Dynamics Client for Office and SharePoint Server addresses an issue the company has discussed for several years said James Utzschneider, general manager of Dynamics Marketing for Microsoft Business Solutions, which is the problem of user access to ERP systems, where routinely around 85% of staff within an organization are not licensed to access the ERP system and its data and processes, including data on customers, costs, orders, and schedules.
The problem is that the information is used by a subset of the user population, he said. The new offering should extend ERP to the masses via a low cost product that provides access to information and processes managed by the Dynamics range of ERP and CRM products, via a familiar interface.
The package includes an enterprise license for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and access rights to all the information and processes managed by a Microsoft Dynamics ERP system. It is also supplied with 12 self-service applications built in Microsoft Office and SharePoint such as Time and Attendance for Microsoft Dynamics GP, Project Time and Expense for Microsoft Dynamics SL, Microsoft Dynamics Snap Business Data Lookup for Microsoft Dynamics AX, and FRx WebPort and DrillDown Viewer, reflecting common types of usage expected once the back end software is opened up.
The offering also includes licensing rights enabling customers or partners to build their own Office Business Applications. Microsoft describes Office Business Applications as a new category of programs where Microsoft Office becomes the front end for accessing the back-end ERP functionality of Microsoft Dynamics.
Essentially it gives customers and partners the right to build new applications within a framework where the Dynamics applications stand at the back end and Office and SharePoint provide the access point. Between those two points, parties can build new functionality, creating and integrating new applications, using web services as the glue. Microsoft is hoping it will help drive the development of industry specific applications.
It is a superset of what we started doing with SAP on Duet, said Utzschneider. Duet has four or five self service applications for SAP. This includes rich self service applications and SharePoint , which are not in Duet. It is a platform that gives customers unlimited access rights … and a catalyst for the creation of hundreds of business applications.
There are two licensing price points. Microsoft Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and Windows SharePoint Services costs $195 per user and includes the self service applications and the right to access applications via Office or SharePoint Services. The more versatile Microsoft Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server costs $395 per user and includes everything offered in the less expensive package plus access to SharePoint Server.
Microsoft is one of several players involved in developing a new category of software that aims to make use of a familiar desktop interface to provide access to enterprise systems, connecting two previously disconnected application categories.
This type of initiative, which SAP, Oracle and the other ERP vendors are also heavily involved in, is seen as a major new customer acquisition strategy and revenue generation opportunity. It is particularly attractive because of the potential for high volume sales, which offsets the low cost of the individual licences, and the knock-on positive effect on long term maintenance revenue.
In terms of software vendors’ competitive strategies the battle resolves down to a packaging issue – creating license packages that will attract the greatest number of new users due to the scope or flexibility of the offering, hence Microsoft’s additional focus on application development within the Office to SharePoint and Dynamics framework.
Utzschneider described Microsoft as taking a very aggressive licensing approach. Other vendors offer lower price, restricted access to modules. We say you can build out any front end to access any part of the Dynamics systems.