Thinking Small (Business)

Oracle, Microsoft updates ease data import, export; target vertical markets.

Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are enhancing their respective business automation software suites for small companies to bring them closer to the capabilities already available to large enterprises.

Both companies are readying upgrades that make it easier to import and export data from third-party applications and add features for vertical industries.

Version 8 of Oracle SBS (Small Business Suite)—a collection of hosted accounting, payroll, customer management and employee collaboration applications developed for Oracle, of Redwood Shores, Calif., by NetLedger Inc.—will provide functionality for getting data in and out of the applications more efficiently.

Version 8, due this summer, will include enhanced calendaring as well as a knowledge base and intranet/extranet features to streamline communication and information sharing, said NetLedger officials in Redwood Shores.

In future versions, Oracle SBS will get an e-mail broadcasting feature to automate marketing functions.

Zach Nelson, who last week was named NetLedgers new president and chief operating officer, said his company would sell Oracle SBS through VARs that could target particular vertical markets with additional features. Nelson said he hopes this will attract more complex organizations of more than 100 employees to Oracle SBS.

"[We are looking at resellers] that want to monetize their relationships with customers—bandwidth providers, telcos, bricks-and-mortar retail outlets—as well as Web [retailers] like the Staples and Office Maxes of the world," Nelson said.

Chad van Derrick, principal at Swimfish Consulting, a collaboration and CRM (customer relationship management) software consulting and implementation company, said small-business software needs to be geared toward vertical industries.

"As a small company, you get the vanilla version, you have very few options and you have to bring in the consultants to customize it," said van Derrick, in Boston. "To have a vertical offering would definitely be a winning thing, and thats not available now."

Van Derrick, who uses Oracle SBS, said he would welcome any new features in the suite that enhance data import and export. Currently, he has to pay someone to key information from one third-party application into the Oracle application.

"It is very important for us to keep overhead as low as possible," van Derrick said.

For its part, Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., this week will release Version 7 of its Microsoft Great Plains eEnterprise and Dynamic application suites for small and midsize businesses. Both releases provide enhanced integration with Microsofts Office XP and will be able to integrate with Microsofts upcoming CRM software. Enhancements in business analytics ease administration and distribution of Web-based reports and provide tighter integration between reporting and budgeting tools, officials said. In addition, new financial control enhancements to eEnterprise and Dynamic will let companies defer revenues and expenses over time or schedule payments for customers or to vendors.

Microsoft will also announce this week it is combining its Great Plains operations with those of recently acquired business applications developer Navision A/S into a single unit called Business Solutions.

Extended distribution capabilities in eEnterprise 7 and Dynamic 7 enable small companies to track landed costs and inventory across multiple locations. The new versions include tools to do online training.

Next spring, Business Solutions will roll out an Employee Portal that will unite its three separate product arms, eEnterprise, Dynamic and Navision, into an employee- and partner-facing portal, according to officials.

eEnterprise 7.0 beta tester Jim Moore said the upgrade addresses many issues.

"In our manufacturing process, if we wanted to outsource something to a supplier, this new software allows us to do that and post those costs against the order. Prior to that, we had to do it manually, and the costs had to be manually entered," said Moore, vice president of finance and IT/IS at Cambridge Valley Machining Inc., in Cambridge, N.Y. "With this last round [of upgrades], its clear Microsoft put a lot of money into development, especially on the manufacturing side."

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