Microsoft sharpens mid-market apps focus

Paul Krill ist Redakteur unserer US-Schwesterpublikation InfoWorld.

Eyeing the mid-market IT-user segment, with its estimated 1.4 million companies, Microsoft on Wednesday will introduce role-based ERP applications as well as a package of system-management tools to be bundled with an upcoming version of Windows Server.

Microsoft defines the mid-market as comprising companies with 50 to 1,000 employees. Elements in Microsoft"s plan include its newly named Microsoft Dynamics application platform, which had been known as Project Green, and Centro, which combines the planned Longhorn version of Windows Server with IT management. These offerings will be unveiled at the Microsoft Business Summit 2005 event in Seattle on Wednesday.

"The goal for what we"re doing with this event is to talk to our customers about Microsoft"s vision for delivering solutions in the mid-market," said James Utzschneider, general manager for the Small Mid-market Solutions and Partners (SMS&P ) group at Microsoft.

"First of all, this is a very large market that is largely underserved," Utzschneider said.

Microsoft believes these users have suffered because the industry has forced the incompatible paradigms of ERP and personal productivity software on them. "These worlds really don"t work well together," Utzschneider said.

ERP and CRM have largely failed to deliver on productivity promises, and in some instances required customers to send employees to training classes for one to two weeks, Utzschneider said.

With Dynamics, Microsoft seeks to meld business process automation and personal productivity. Key to Microsoft"s plan is role-based desktops for different employees, such as accounting manager, warehouse worker, and others. "We"ve identified about 50 of these and we"re going to start shipping them in our ERP products starting this fall," Utzschneider said.

Microsoft Dynamics will comprise the ERP packages now bearing the Great Plains, Axapta, Navision, and Solomon labels. They will evolve into a single product line with one code base starting in 2008.

Basing the four ERP products on a common framework makes sense, said analyst Chris Alliegro, of Directions on Microsoft, an analyst firm independent of Microsoft. "If you look at the existing ERP product lines, there"s quite a bit of functional overlap," Alliegro said.

The initial offering will be the renamed Great Plains product, to be called Dynamics GP, due this fall. It will support 25 roles on the desktop. Integration between Microsoft Dynamics and Microsoft Office also is planned for this fall, enabling, for example, links between business processes and e-mail.

As part of other Dynamics releases, Axapta will be rechristened Dynamics AX and will ship next spring. Dynamics SL, which is now the Solomon product, and Dynamics NAV, the Navision offering, are due in the last quarter of 2006. The Microsoft CRM package also will integrate with Dynamics products. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of this year.

The first wave of Dynamics products all will share the role-based client technology. Future products will include a common process model combining the best business processes from each of the releases, according to Microsoft.

The Dynamics brand will replace Microsoft Business Solutions.

Microsoft, with its role-based effort, seeks to boost what has thus far been a disappointing revenue stream in its Business Solutions Group, according to Alliegro. "The revenue growth is not, I think, where Microsoft wants it to be," Alliegro said. He estimated growth for the group was at 6percent last year.

Centro, meanwhile, is planned as a specialized IT-management product for the mid-market, featuring a version of the Longhorn variant of Windows Server that is expected in the 2007 timeframe. Geared toward companies with 25 to 500 PCs, the technology is intended for shops that have the same needs as large enterprises but are constrained by resources, said Steven VanRoekel, director of mid-market solutions at Microsoft.

"A large percentage of the mid-market is still running on old technology," such as Windows NT 4 or older versions of NetWare, VanRoekel said. "A lot of these network operating systems were developed well before the Internet was pervasive."

Centro is an infrastructure solution combining Longhorn, the planned Exchange 12 messaging product, security technology such as Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA), and system-management capabilities. Unified setup is provided, with administrators walked through the process for each component.

"Today, when you"re managing your system, you have a different management experience for each of the different components. This will be one management experience within Centro," VanRoekel said.

Centro will provide capabilities for deploying software and patches and enable monitoring of the health of desktops and servers. Factors such as CPU and disk utilization will be gauged. Pricing of Centro is still to be decided.