B2B Connections for Small Business

Microsoft rolls out a hosted service that connects small suppliers to large retailers with XML-EDI translations.

Microsoft Business Solutions, Microsoft Corp.s small business software division, on Wednesday introduced its Business Network, a hosted software offering that officials said will enable small businesses to share supply chain information with large partners.

Microsoft Business Network, which the Redmond, Wash., developer announced at its Convergence 2003 user show in Orlando, Fla., allows small businesses to enter inventory, order and other data in Microsoft Office applications, which transforms the data into XML. It then passes the XML through Microsofts BizTalk integration software and maps it to the specific EDI formats used by 50 top retailers.

The small business users can use either the Office XP or the Office 2003 version of Microsofts suite of productivity applications. Microsoft will create EDI maps for other large companies upon request, said Jeff Edwards, director of industry solutions at Microsoft Business Solutions.

"Small and midsized businesses traditionally have had difficulty participating in real-time e-business," Edwards said. "We host the XML translation server and take the responsibility for security."

Edwards was not ready to announce specific pricing for Business Network, which will be generally available in June. But he said that a full enterprise deployment will cost "in the low thousands" of dollars plus a monthly transaction fee that will be "in the low hundreds of dollars."

Like all Microsoft Business Solutions offerings, the Business Network is targeted at companies with annual revenues between $1 million and $1 billion.

Also at the show, Microsoft announced that next month it will ship its Microsoft Business Solutions Portal, which provides browser-based access to Great Plains and Solomon business applications. Updates to both suites were also introduced.

Microsofts Navision and Axapta business applications already provide browser access, Edwards said.

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