Great Plains keeps its distance from Microsoft

Von Stephen Bell

Version 8 of the Great Plains suite of financial products has been released locally and definitely shows the Microsoft Corp. influence.

Microsoft Business Systems, which also owns the Navision and Solomon accounting products, originally announced plans to integrate the software into a single line, a move codenamed Project Green.

However, that plan is receding into the future, says Russell Weaver, director of NZ agent Turtle Bay. Project Green has been remade as an effort to orient all the products to .Net, but Microsoft has said it will retain the separate brands until at least 2013, Weaver says.

The Great Plains Version 8 GUI is very Outlook-like, incorporating pull-down menus in place of the panels more familiar to users of previous versions of Great Plains.

The new version is the first major release since Microsoft took over the Great Plains suite. It is more closely integrated with other Microsoft products, Weaver says.

There is even a theoretical integration capability with Microsoft?s new CRM product line. "The manuals say it can be done, but it?s a big, big job," Weaver says. One of the more straightforward elements is a "master names index" which can be exported from the CRM product to update customer files in Great Plains.

Microsoft"s ownership of Great Plains has not created any resistance among customers or prospects, Weaver says.

"No opportunity we?ve worked on has been anti-Microsoft. Of course some are on other major platforms like Oracle and won?t move, so we can?t sell to them."

Weaver has been selling Great Plains in New Zealand since 1989, first as Zero-One Ltd. That company was bought out by Deloitte Touche in 1999. When Microsoft took on Great Plains worldwide in April 2000, it created a conflict of interest for Deloitte as Microsoft?s auditor.

A temporary arrangement was reached for Deloitte to continue with the consultancy side of the suite, but for direct sales to be handled by Computerland. In August 2003, Weaver got together with Tim Thodey of Computerland and a third partner, Tom Donaldson, in a management buy-out of the rights, which gave birth to Turtle Bay.

The overlap among financial packages under Microsoft Business Systems has "created some confusion", Weaver says, but he (naturally) thinks Great Plains is on the right side of the range. "A lot of people are moving away from environments that need a lot of customization, like Navision," he says, adding that Great Plains tries to provide as much "out of the box" as possible.

As far as future enhancements go, Turtle Bay is looking to take Great Plains onto other hardware platforms.

"We?re starting to get inquiries about putting the purchase order module, for example, on PDAs," enabling orders to be taken easily on a visit to the buyer?s premises, Weaver says. "We?ve been working with mobile specialists in this area." The mobile facet is essentially a separate product, so will not require approval and design oversight from Microsoft, he says.

Commodore Hotels in Christchurch is the first local user of Great Plains Version 8, with several more customers in the process of converting.