Microsoft Showcases ERP Roadmap, Ships Great Plains 8.0
by Alex Woodie
Microsoft's Business Solutions unit published its ERP product roadmap last week, displaying its intentions to upgrade each of its four core business applications over the next 12 months. The upgrades start with Great Plains 8.0, which Microsoft started shipping Monday. Nothing in the software giant's roadmap, however, points to the sort of advanced functionality that could pull Microsoft Business Solutions from its small and midsized business roots into the enterprise class of ERP software.
All four key Microsoft Business Solutions ERP products (Microsoft Great Plains, Microsoft Navision, Microsoft Axapta, and Microsoft Solomon) are in line to receive major upgrades in the next year, as part of the ERP strategy and product roadmap Microsoft has revealed. Great Plains 8.0 started shipping Monday and will be followed by Solomon 6.0 next month, by Navision 4.0 later this year, and by Axapta 4.0 next year.
Instead of detailing the specific enhancements customers can expect to see with Windows-based ERP applications, Microsoft's strategy concentrates on what the company calls its "five customer-centric technology themes." These themes include total cost of ownership, adaptive processes, empowered users, connected business, and insight. While these are all notable goals that will undoubtedly help existing customers, Microsoft's roadmap doesn't say how the company will position the products to attract new customers, specifically the enterprise-class organizations that Microsoft is pursuing with its 64-bit server operating systems and database management software.
Microsoft's enterprise-class ERP ambitions were put on display earlier this month when it was disclosed, in the Department of Justice's lawsuit to block Oracle's acquisition of PeopleSoft, that Microsoft and SAP had discussions in late 2003 and early 2004 over a possible acquisition of SAP by Microsoft (see "Microsoft, SAP Considered Mega Merger"). The companies ended the talks when they determined the integration of their companies and products would be too problematic (not to mention the antitrust lawsuit that would likely ensue).
Microsoft's Business Solutions unit did, however, provide some details about the enhancements in Great Plains 8.0, which was originally scheduled for release in July, to coincide with the availability of Business Portal 2.5. Great Plains 8.0 has a new look and feel based on Outlook 2003, and works with Business Portal 2.5 (which is also used with Microsoft Solomon) to provide users with new modules for online requisition management, expense entry and approval, and electronic delivery of sales documents to customers. Enhanced integration with Microsoft Office gives employees better access to templates in Word, while better connections to Microsoft MapPoint software make it easier to attach maps and directions for sales, delivery, and service call routes, the company says. Public companies concerned with compliance issues will gain better analytical capabilities with Microsoft Business Solutions for Analytics-FRx 6.7. Microsoft Great Plains is available in standard and professional editions, which start at $4,500 and $6,500 per user respectively.
When Microsoft Solomon 4.0 ships next month, it is expected to feature better integration with Microsoft CRM, as well as the improvements delivered with Microsoft Business Portal 2.5. What's expected in Navision 6.0, which could ship as soon as October, is anybody's guess, while Axapta 4.0 will likely gain new "lean" manufacturing capabilities.