Microsoft showcases CRM, ERP business applications

Microsoft business applications will be on display to partners this week as the company shows off Dynamics AX 2009, Dynamics CRM.

Microsoft business applications will be front and center this week as the vendor talks up its latest customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to customers and partners.

At its Convergence 2008 conference this week, Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) will spotlight Dynamics CRM 4.0 and Dynamics AX 2009 ERP.

Dynamics AX 2009 (also known by the code name AX 5) has new government, risk and compliance capabilities and features to help businesses assess their environmental impact, said Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of MBS, in advance of the Orlando show.

Following in Dynamics GP's (Great Plains) footprints, the new AX will flaunt role-based user interfaces. That means the user's screen will display features and functions appropriate to that user's tasks and applications. The role-based interface, as Microsoft has said, will be a common layer across all four ERP lines and Microsoft CRM.

In pushing Microsoft business applications, Microsoft also expanded its relationship with EDS, the giant systems integrator, around CRM. EDS will integrate the Microsoft technology into call centers sold into both midmarket companies and enterprises.

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In an interview with SearchITChannel.com, Tatarinov also said that the once hyped "Project Green", which was to result in a single ERP code base, is done and gone.

"It was a research project: We got a lot out of it, and it's over," Tatarinov noted, stressing again that the company remains committed to updating and supporting all four ERP Lines -- Dynamics AX, GP, NAV and SL, previously known as Axapta, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon.

Tatarinov, who has been in his current role for eight months, is in the hot seat to clear up any lingering confusion about Project Green, launched several years ago by former MBS senior vice president Doug Burgum, who has since who left the company. Project Green has morphed over the last six years from a grand, unifying vision of ERP to a series of staged upgrade waves to a completed research effort.

Are business applications a priority at Microsoft?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer -- who has been a daily news fixture recently given the company's $40 billion buyout bid for Yahoo, the Windows Server 2008 launch, its open API and standards push and the Mix 08 Web development show last week -- will be on hand to say that business applications are a key part of Microsoft's overall customer solution set.

"Ballmer will be there to show how important [business applications] are, and he's a busy guy," Tatarinov said.

Revenue for Microsoft business applications grew 26%, year over year in Microsoft's second fiscal quarter -- although the company no longer discloses real profit-and-loss figures for its business applications, which are now included in the overall Microsoft business division. In that group, MBS figures are dwarfed by the company's huge -- and hugely profitable -- Office applications. Overall, that division logged over $4.8 billion in profit for the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2007. The company says MBS revenue has grown over 20% for six consecutive quarters.

Tatarinov's point is that Microsoft business applications are the icing atop the Microsoft cake. Partners have said the latest Dynamics CRM release is solid and feature-rich, and they expect brisk sales. Full availability of the on-premise and partner-hosted version came in December, so it's too soon to gauge adoption. The Microsoft-hosted CRM Live version is still coming online, but partners like InterDyn Business MicroVAR CEO John Hendrickson say it's a door-opener for partners facing customers who want a hosted CRM offering.

These VARs often confront the Salesforce.com issue, and if the customer is inclined to go to a vendor-hosted model, it helps to have CRM Live in their pocket as a counter, Hendrickson said.

"We can get them started with CRM Live, and I fully expect many of those customers to move to on-premises CRM down the line," he noted. CRM Live gives VARs like Hendrickson a leg up. It can go in and get a referral fee on CRM Live and then take the on-premise business as it becomes available. Or, if the customer likes the hosted model but requires more customization or integration to other applications, the partner-hosted CRM option is also attractive, he said. Microsoft Dynamics CRM lets VARs deal with one code base but three deployment options.

And best of all, from the customer point of view, any training or work done on CRM Live will carry over to an on-premise or partner-hosted implementation, Hendrickson said.

One of the biggest questions Microsoft partners had going into Convergence didn't have much to do with Microsoft: Several MBS partners said they wanted to hear the company's take on the order pipeline and business trends going forward.

"Maybe it's the press, but people seem spooked out there [by the economy]. They may be buying or updating infrastructure if they have to, but they're not buying applications," said one Microsoft Gold partner with an MBS practice.

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