With much of the small-and-midsize-business market still unpenetrated, Microsoft Corp. is intensifying development efforts to provide that hard-to-reach space with more-viable products.
At its Business Solutions Convergence conference in San Diego this week, the Redmond, Wash., company is expected to reveal more details about Project Green, its plan to unite the business application suites acquired from Great Plains, Navision, Axapta and Solomon into a single code base, which isnt expected until 2008.
Microsofts success at transitioning to such a code base could revive what has been a sluggish push into the SMB market over the past four years, provided more details emerge.
While more than half of large corporations have ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) software in place, those penetration rates range from just 3 to 12 percent in the SMB space, according to recent research from New York-based Access Markets International Partners Inc.
"Project Green is one of these great big mysteries," said Raffael Zimberoff, president of Seattle-based Z-Firm LLC, a Microsoft Business Solutions partner that develops a number of add-on products for Microsoft applications. "Greens got everybody guessing. They dont want to talk about it because they dont want to put a chill on sales of existing products. But it [is] out there."
The issue, according to Zimberoff and others, is that customers will have a difficult decision on whether to move from existing products that still serve them well to whatever emerges from Project Green.
At the same time, Microsoft has not been clear in its intent for Project Green with partners.
Darryl Nitke, CIO of Cosa Instrument Corp., a Microsoft CRM and Great Plains 8.0 customer, said hes still waiting to hear more about Project Green but likes the vision.
"If they come up with a common code base that facilitates integration and migration, absolutely Id take it," said Nitke in Yaphank, N.Y. "Ultimately, that means ease of operation. IT folks exist to support the business. Anything that makes the business run smoother and cheaper, Im in favor of."
Nitke said Great Plains runs on a separate code base from other Microsoft products and requires costly, time-consuming integration through Microsofts BizTalk integration server adapters.
"If theyre coming up with a product that unifies the code base and the developer knows .Net, that developer can use one programming language, one database architecture, one security model, one platform for development," Nitke said. "It works much better."