Microsoft Unveils Its Vision for Connected Businesses

At its annual Convergence conference this week, Microsoft will put into place the final pieces of its Dynamics ERP strategy by announcing a handful of new applications and partner programs aimed largely at small and medium-size companies (SMBs).

The three issues the company is attempting to address with these announcements include helping users and their partners better connect their business vision with their existing business software, better connecting employees to a company's set of business processes and better connecting a company with its community of customers and suppliers, according to James Utzschneider, general manager of marketing for Microsoft Dynamics.

"We will present these announcements in a way that shows how Dynamics can be combined with the rest of Microsoft's products and how they can all come together resulting in users being able to run a more connected business," said Utzschneider.

The new offerings unveiled today include: Dynamics Sure Step, a set of tools for handling implementation, migration and upgrades; the Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server, a low-end licensing package that makes Dynamics ERP solutions accessible to more employees; RoleTailored, a "user experience design approach" that incorporates the look and feel of Windows Vista; an online finance community for finance professionals; and the availability of Dynamics GP 10.0, Dynamics NAV 5.0 and Dynamics SL 7.

The low-cost Dynamics Client for Office and SharePoint consists of 12 self-service applications built into Microsoft Office and SharePoint, as well as an enterprise license for Office SharePoint Server 2007 and access rights to all of the information and processes managed by a Dynamics ERP system, company officials said.

"You can think of this offering as a platform license because it gives users the right to build any sort of front-end app using Office or SharePoint with that $195 or $395 per user price point that can get to all the information and processes on the back end of the Dynamics system," Utzschneider said.

This combination of service applications and lower price points will help SMBs to "unlock more of the power of ERP" for their broad base of employees that they can better afford, according to Utzschneider added.

RoleTailored is intended to make business application navigation and collaboration more of an integrated part of the software thereby making those applications more relevant and useful to a greater number of employees.

"This [RoleTailored] is the formalization of our strategy for redefining the user experience for rich clients that are part of their ERP apps. We hope this moves things from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that is tailored around 60 or so core jobs inside a company," Utzschneider said.

Dynamics Sure Step is one example of how Microsoft is helping its Dynamics users to bridge the gap between ideas and the ability to execute on those ideas through a "model-driven design approach." Sure Step can also result in software that is easier to integrate with existing systems and more relevant to the needs of a particular industry, the company says.

At this week's conference Microsoft will discuss its Real World SOA, the company's approach to systems integration. Company officials will talk about how users over the past year have used XML and Web services infrastructure of Dynamics to deploy solutions that share data and processes across legacy servers.

"Other companies have these pie-in-the-sky SOA architectures that could take until 2011 to complete. But we will talk about these same capabilities we have shipped over the past year through the examples of 20 customers and partners that have done some interesting integration," Utzschneider said. "They represent a real and more pragmatic way of using XML and Web services to do faster implementations."

Microsoft will show how users can extend Dynamics solutions outside their four walls by building richer connections with users, suppliers and business partners. To help accomplish that the company is introducing what it believes is one of the first online sites aimed specifically at finance professionals such as corporate controllers, finance managers and accountants.

The site will include blogs, forums, tagging, syndication and other capabilities that allow this community to do things such as share best practices. Users will be able to access this virtual community from within Dynamics ERP solutions.

"This will be a Web 2.0 styled community that allows for a tag-structured conversation for financial people, complete with blogging and wikis. We find that financial types really enjoy interacting in social settings like the one Convergence offers. This community gives them the chance to do that year round," Utzschneider said.

Buttressing up this initiative will be the introduction of three new versions of core Dynamics applications. The 5.0 version of Dynamics NAV, available this month, features a new way to manage inter-company transactions and purchase cost distribution. Dynamics GP 10.0, available in June, contains over 100 new core features including a Vista-like user interface, enhanced business intelligence and a revamped workflow engine. Dynamics SL 7, also available in June, includes QuickSend for automated electronic communications with vendors and customers and RoleTailored business intelligence views for managers.

As a way to help encourage partners selling these offerings, Microsoft is also unwrapping a Certified For Dynamics Logo program for third party ISVs and solution providers who will build applications and whole solutions on top of the core Dynamics platform.

"What we are doing with this program is creating a higher level of integration certification tasks that partners and ISVs can use via a third party testing service in order to document and demonstrate the level of compatibility of security integration between their products and Dynamics," Utzschneider said.

Pricing for Microsoft Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and Windows SharePoint Services is U.S. $195 per user with Microsoft Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server costing $395 per user.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.