Microsoft is by all accounts looking to Dynamics, its evolving suite of ERP applications, to be a development platform rivaling SAP AGs NetWeaver and Oracles Fusion Middleware.
At its Convergence 2006 conference in Dallas that ended March 28, Doug Burgum, senior vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions, said a platform approach to ERP has been Microsofts vision for the past five years—one that started when the company began acquiring ERP companies around 2001.
“Our investments in Dynamics [are all about] taking Dynamics and turning it into a platform,” said Burgum, during a press and analyst session at Convergence.
“We have a lot of elements in the marketplace, but the thing we always come back to [is what we started] five years ago. There always was a sense of uploading the platform—that partners use Dynamics as a platform to build [applications].”
Microsofts dream, according to Burgum, is to reach 40 million businesses that dont have the money to spend on technology, by providing a relatively inexpensive development platform.
“Its another manifestation of the democratization of software,” said Burgum.
The initiative to build Dynamics into a platform appears to be a two-pronged approach at Microsoft.
The first is the work to combine the code bases of the four existing ERP suites—Great Plains, Navision, Axapta and Solomon—into a single services-based platform, recently named Dynamics. (That work, planned over two phases, is expected to be complete between 2008 and 2009.)
The second prong is to enable its partner channel through development initiatives.
With its Industry Builder program announced at last years Convergence conference, Microsoft is offering application support and code review for a select group of ISVs [independent software vendors] that develop modules in accordance with Microsofts quality standards.
“With the Industry Builders initiative Dynamics is becoming an ISV partner ecosystem platform,” said Ray Wang, an analyst at Forrester Research.
“Even on [their] own, ISVs build upon the verticals and leverage more of the Visual Studio .Net tools and middleware [but] Dynamics will eventually become more of a stack or application platform.”
The deal was first offered to those ISVs building vertical applications for Axapta (rumored to be the code base for Dynamics).
The plan now is to extend Industry Builder to other Microsoft Dynamics products this year, according to Craig McCollum, vice president of worldwide sales strategy for the Microsoft Business Solutions Group at Microsoft.
“Theres a lot of building going on,” said McCollum, during Convergence. “Our biggest challenge is helping customers keep up with demand.”
Five ISVs have gone live with Industry Builder solutions to date.
Forrester also points to the composite application development initiatives underway at Microsoft—Snap-Ins are an excellent example—that tie back to community development using Dynamics.
The Idea Behind Snap
The idea behind Snap-Ins is to enable Office 2003 applications to integrate with Microsoft Dynamics applications.
At the same time, the program “motivates” partners to integrate Dynamics applications to Office, according to Wang.
“Permissive licenses allow partners to build, modify, and resell composite applications under this Shared Source arrangement,” writes Wang, in a Forrester Convergence report that will be released next week.
“Forrester expects channels to create application mash-ups from data residing in Project, SharePoint, Outlook and other areas.”
Forrester sees five major technology platforms evolving for packaged applications: SAP NetWeaver, Oracle Fusion Middleware, Microsoft Visual Studio .Net, IBM WebSphere and Salesforce.coms AppExchange.
Where these platforms are similar is in their integration capabilities and development tool offerings.
Dynamics, in its evolution to a platform, would likely tap .Net as an infrastructure and Visual Studio for development tools.
Microsoft has another technology up its sleeve in the form of its Windows operating system.
Part of that technology stack includes the Windows Workflow Foundation—a programming model, engine and tools that enable developers to build workflow-enabled applications on Windows.
The goal of a Dynamics development platform is simple: economics.
“Look at SAP, Oracle and Microsoft. All three want to find a way to have packaged applications not just be functionality for general ledger, but a platform that becomes an ecosystem for other technology,” said Judith Hurwitz, president of IT research firm Hurwitz & Associates.
“This is an era of the ecosystem, where every vendor wants to have every ISV on the planet that has complementary functionality rely on their platform.”
Packaged application venders, for their part, are “a little frightened” of the strategy, worried that they may become disenfranchised, according to Hurwitz.
The big question now is, are there still components missing from Microsofts Dynamics platform strategy?
“Yes, theyre missing stuff, but everybody is,” said Hurwitz. “It sort of depends on how far up the stack in terms of the enterprise they want to go.”