Microsoft has reached the halfway point in its long march to converge its four separate Enterprise Resource Planning suites into a common technology platform.
But its still an open question whether this now three-year-long campaign will deliver a fully converged suite that will hold its own in the midsize market that SAP and Oracle also covet.
Microsofts Business Solutions achieved a major milestone when it released the next iterations of two of the companys four business application suites, GP 10 and SL 7 June 18.
Both suites sport a new Office-like user interface, integration with Office 2007, Web services enablement and a common business portal architecture with a move over to SharePoint Server code.
The upgrades complete Wave 1 of the two-wave process of converging Microsofts four separate ERP (enterprise resource planning) suites.
The question is, Now that Microsoft is ready to move to Wave 2 in an increasingly convoluted ERP road map—first it planned to converge the four code bases; now it will converge the suites through a common platform—are customers looking forward to the evolution? Edward Lux, vice president of technology at ChemPoint.com, is.
“For me its great,” said Lux, in Belleview, Wash. “I dont have to look at a day where I am told I have to jump the gorge to get to the other side; what [Microsoft] is going to do is support the other side. [Project Green] would have been, On this date we turn the lights out—either join us or youre done. Microsoft realizes thats not going to work.”
Project Green, the early code name for the suites convergence, was a two-wave plan to rewrite Microsofts four ERP suites—GP, NAV, SL, and AX—into a single code base.
At its last Convergence user conference in March, Microsoft officials confirmed that the company will likely not move to a single code base—the initial plan for Wave 2—but rather would converge the suites through a common underlying technology stack including SQL Server, Visual Studio .Net, BizTalk Server, Workflow Foundation and other server technologies.
“What we went out and said two years ago is that we would go out and converge the product, and that was the priority No. 1 for Dynamics. We dont see that as a priority any more,” said Mogens Munkholm Elsberg, general manager for Microsoft NAV and AX, during a March 13 interview with eWEEK.
“We think that over time we will add technology to the products that will be similar—like the SharePoint integration, like Web services, like the UI. … It doesnt make them one code base, but it does make them closer to one another.”
Lux is happy to see that Microsoft has wavered on its plans with Wave 2. “What I am seeing happen is the brilliance of how one could achieve the convergence of four ERP solutions into a single solution without disorienting the customer, or causing strife within the customer base,” he said. “What were seeing is the concept of role-based dashboards. It doesnt matter what suite youre using; in the end they all start looking about the same.”
Lux, a beta tester of GP 10, said the feature that thrills him the most is the softwares role-based capabilities; he will use the new features to customize the suite for various roles, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, order entry, credit and purchase order inventory.
Eventually he will customize GP 10 for every role in the company, a plan thats music to Microsofts ears. A guiding tenant of Wave 1, Microsoft has been working for several years to enable users to customize their Dynamics applications by role.
Moeller Design & Development Controller Brooke Davis is likewise taken with the roles customization and Office user interface in SL 7. “A lot of our users havent used anything more robust than QuickBooks, so for them modular systems are overwhelming,” said Davis, in Seattle. “For them the Office UI and roles customization are huge. It really takes away the anxiety.”
Another big hit with SL 7 is the fact that its the first suite in the Dynamics pantheon to be rewritten in .Net.
“We cheated a little bit. It was in Visual Basic, so using Microsoft tools we moved from Visual Basic to Visual Basic .Net,” said Jon Pratt, senior director of Microsofts Dynamics GP, Dynamics SL and Dynamics Retail Management System. The .Net rationale is that it “extremely improves the enhancement of the developer environment,” said Pratt. It also paves the way for much easier on-demand development by providing a multitier architecture thats native, according to Pratt. (Microsoft will release an on-demand version of its customer relationship management suite, code-named Titan, later this year. The company has declined to comment on whether it will build on-demand versions of its ERP suites.)
Wave 2 will bring more of the same, providing .Net wrappers for NAV and potentially the other Dynamics suites, according to Pratt. “The big thing were doing is continuing to work on business intelligence, a contextual user experience, and integrate with the SharePoint and Office experience,” said Pratt. “That will continue over the next several releases … with .Net as well, allowing partners and customers to extend [applications where the] wrapper is .Net.”
ChemPoint.coms Lux is happy to see less reliance on GPs native Dexterity C programming language. When he suggested one of his programmers learn Dexterity, Lux said the response was, “If I am going to learn a dead language I might as well learn Latin. Ill get about the same value.”
Lux said there are “triggers” in GP 10 that Microsoft is moving to a .Net internal structure. “I cant help believe that they would do that across the board,” he said. “Im not sure how they would do that in AX, but I am not going to comment about that.”
Regardless of the end result—a unified code base around .Net, or several languages converged on a single Microsoft platform—the second wave of the Dynamics evolution is going to be a long time coming.
“It takes a long time to move these big apps, but you can see the blurring of applications as we move toward common components: CRM, search, BI, new client for Office, new UI of Office,” said Pratt. “Were delivering against Wave 2 with a closely aligned tool set. It will take a long, long time.”