Microsoft Extends Business Solutions Suite

With the new, new "Project Green" under way, the software giant is tapping its Windows SharePoint Services platform for additional functionality for its Microsoft Business Solutions suite.

With the new, new "Project Green" under way, Microsoft Corp. is tapping its Windows SharePoint Services platform for additional functionality for its Microsoft Business Solutions suite.

The Redmond, Wash., company is building out functionality across its MBS product suite—which includes Great Plains, Axapta, Navision, Solomon and Microsoft CRM—that will enable users to leverage WSS prebuilt business process applications as a starting point for integrating components and, in a lightweight fashion, enable users to build composite applications.

The WSS applications—Microsoft announced 30 of them earlier this month—are preconfigured business process templates that encompass movable Web parts that users are able to manipulate using the WSS portal.

WSS, based on Microsofts .Net Framework, is complementary to Project Green in that it provides users with role-specific interfaces for tapping back-end application functionality.

For example, in Axapta 4.0, expected early next year, the Enterprise Portal platform will become WSS, enabling a SharePoint Web authoring environment, officials said. That environment provides integrated collaboration, common search, as well as enhanced content and document management and personalization capabilities. It also lets users integrate Axapta Web parts into SharePoint portals.

Users will be able to use a SharePoint site as their Axapta portal with Web page creation capabilities, which will support integrated Windows authentication.

The upshot for partners is that with the WSS platform, they can integrate other applications and SharePoint Web parts into custom portals for their customers using the SharePoint development environment rather than Axaptas more proprietary environment. At the same time, developers will be able to use the .Net Business Connector to develop .Net Framework applications that integrate with Axapta.

Stuart Whitaker, vice president of development at ePartners Inc., an MBS and Microsoft infrastructure reseller, is a WSS user and reseller. He is also working with his team to build a library of Web parts that integrates functionality from the MBS suites.

"Over time weve added functionality to tie WSS [with MBS applications], exposing information out of Solomon or out of CRM, so it allows you to do one-stop shopping to view data you consistently need without having to log into Great Plains or CRM," said Whitaker in Dallas. "Weve created a catalog of 30 Web parts that are based on common needs that users have."

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With the upcoming Microsoft CRM 3.0 release, expected later this year, users will be able to use WSS to create customized dashboards from content within Microsoft CRM and from external sources. At the same time, users will have the ability to collaborate around a sales opportunity or service request.

With Great Plains 9.0, expected next quarter, Microsoft is going "very hard down the roles-based implementation road, with more than 20 roles we are announcing," said Lynn Stockstad, general manager of Great Plains and Solomon. "Some happen to be more shipping manager [applications] for the supply chain management vertical, but overall we are looking at the vertical strategy of MBS."

The downside to using WSS as a process integration and composite application framework is that it is, in development terms, suitable as a starting point only, with less advanced vertical functionality than the MBS suites themselves, according to Stockstad.

Midmarket ERP (enterprise resource planning) provider Epicor Software Corp., which competes with MBS on business application deals, is standardizing its own portal offering on WSS.

Announced this week, Epicor Portal 8.2, due next quarter, will provide data exploration and collaboration capabilities using WSS and Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003.

The idea for Epicor is to bank on SharePoints Web parts integration capability—and on the platforms future direction.

"When you combine [SharePoint] with .Net, thats where it has power," said Scott Smith, senior manager of technology, strategy and architecture for Epicor, in Irvine, Calif.

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