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Microsoft Releases Dynamics NAV 2009 as Recession Hits

Just in time for a deep global recession, it's a new enterprise software application from Microsoft! This time, it's small-business-focused Dynamics NAV that's getting an update.

Seriously, this doesn't seem like the best time for Redmond to introduce a new enterprise resource planning offering, but Chris Caren, general manager of marketing and product management for Microsoft Dynamics, isn't freaking out.

"We're just doing a lot more reconfirming [that] deals are as solid as we think they are," Caren told RCPU in a face-to-face meeting in Framingham, Mass. "Deals don't go away; they just get slowed down. Decision-making processes are a little more extended and involved."

Caren's confidence is encouraging, and it may very well be that NAV 2009 will fare better than its Dynamics cousins because of NAV's SMB target audience. Still, Dynamics' recent revenue struggles and Microsoft's 0 percent financing offer for the Dynamics product lines seem to be signs that the decision-making process is becoming very slow indeed.

Still, Microsoft has a not unappealing message with NAV 2009, and it's one we've heard many times before from more than one ERP vendor: ERP does an organization no good if users won't touch it.

And still, a lot of ERP applications sit on a virtual shelf in many companies. Caren cites an oft-noted statistic: According to AMR Research Inc., only 10 percent of a given company's employees on average are licensed to use ERP applications, and of that 10 percent, only half actually use the apps.

Microsoft has long developed its four Dynamics suites with the goal of increasing employee usage of ERP and therefore increasing its value in an organization. That theme continues with the release of NAV 2009, which Microsoft announced on Nov. 19 and will become generally available on Dec. 1. NAV is generally aimed at companies with 50 to 1,000 employees that don't need international ERP deployments, Caren said.

The 2009 version of the suite brings further enhancements to its user interface, which looks increasingly similar to that of NAV's up-market cousin, AX, Caren said. The idea is to make the ERP interface as Microsoft Office-like and familiar as possible to users in order to ease their transition to using the back-office software. "It looks like a very modern, consumerized, Web-based experience," he said.

While Caren said that the enhanced interface is the biggest change in NAV compared to prior versions, he also notes that NAV 2009 will include for the first time a database layer that embeds SQL Server. That has allowed Microsoft to build in business intelligence capabilities that weren't present in previous versions, Caren said.

"Our mid-market strategy for BI is to take it to market through Dynamics," Caren said. And by embedding SQL Server and BI capabilities in NAV, he said, Microsoft is helping companies skip some of the more arduous steps in the deployment of business applications. "The advantage of embedding is you have a pre-defined data model. You can build in all the data models and security. The heavy lifting is done when you embed BI into a business application," Caren said.

Caren said that Microsoft can't necessarily keep up feature for feature with other BI vendors, but he points to simplicity as an advantage Dynamics has over other systems: "Functionally we're at 85 percent" in comparison to some BI competitors, he said, "but we transform ease of use and we have price points that are at 20 percent of [those of other] BI tools. Our goal is not to replace high-end data mining. We want to make [BI] an everyday technology that all information workers access."

Well, all information workers whose companies are spending money on enterprise software, anyway.

What's your outlook for Microsoft Dynamics and enterprise software in a tough economy? Share your thoughts at [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on November 19, 2008