At its annual Convergence conference in San Diego March 11-14, Microsoft will make a plethora of announcements around its Dynamics brand of enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management suites, from the release of Titan, its multitenant version of Dynamics CRM, to something called Sure Step, a family of model-driven configuration, implementation and migration tools that make system migration and configuration easier for users to manage, across all four ERP suites.
But whats really being previewed at Convergence—a Dynamics platform strategy—may go officially unannounced. “The big news [at Convergence] is that Microsoft is standardizing the platform and converging down to a couple products that will become the primary platform [for Dynamics]. But you wont hear them say that,” said Yvonne Genovese, an analyst with Gartner Group. “A combination of core technology that you find already in AX, NAV and Office—thats the platform.”
Genovese said that the vision at Microsoft has always been to have its applications product line leverage all the Microsoft products, and that combined the products would move toward a single, converged applications product. “Where theyve come to now is more like two product lines,” she said. “NAV for 50 users and below, and AX beyond the traditional midmarket.” GP and SL will continue to be supported but play less of a role in the overall strategy.
Of the half dozen or more announcements at Convergence, the one that likely has the biggest impact on a Dynamics platform strategy is the Microsoft Dynamics Client for Office and SharePoint, a collection of up to a dozen self-service applications built in Office and SharePoint with access points that allow users to get into any Dynamics documentation or process using Office and SharePoint. More importantly, the Client also includes the platform license for ISVs to build out their own Dynamics-based applications.
“We expect our partners to build thousands of applications that extend Dynamics. Were telling our partners: Have at it, build whatever you want,” said James Utzschneider, general manager of product marketing for the Microsoft Business Solutions group at Microsoft.
Utzschneider said the company has already done a lot of the hard work to enable developers to develop applications on top of Dynamics by making SharePoint a native platform for Dynamics.
What Office and SharePoint (which is part of the Office suite) provide in terms of platform capabilities are SOA (service-oriented architecture)-based tool sets that enable users—or ISVs—to orchestrate new business processes. That means partners have a standardized, SOA-based platform to build from, and users know what theyre getting in terms of technology from both Microsoft and from its channel partners. (In the past, users had no idea what they were getting from whom, according to Genovese.)
A Dynamics platform strategy, yet to be named should that be the plan, is not a new concept for Microsoft.
“Microsoft has been building on this [platform concept] for a year or so, but what was really needed was Office 2007—that was a key part of this,” said Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting. “SharePoint really needed to hit its stride and there had to be more of an internal alignment—something Jeff Raikes has really been working toward—to bring the two sides of the company together to work toward a goal. The crescendo of that will play out in San Diego.”
For Microsoft, a platform based on SOA-based tools and Office is the short road to SOA enablement. To showcase its point Microsoft is announcing Real World SOA, a score card of sorts that highlights about 20 case studies showing how Dynamics users have utilized Microsofts XML and Web services infrastructure to both deploy applications and share data and processes across systems. “Its the starting point in the building block for having SOA,” said Utzschneider. “Were doing this to compare our approach to others that have complex, four-year road maps. Users are souring on that approach.”
Utzschneider is referring to Microsofts competitors in the midmarket, SAP and Oracle. Both have embarked on ambitious SOA strategies that componentize their ERP applications and underlie their respective suites with a development and integration platform, NetWeaver and Fusion Middleware, respectively. SAPs ESA (enterprise services architecture) started in 2003 will be complete later this year. Oracles road map, started around 2005, is scheduled for completion in 2008 with the Fusion Applications release, though the company keeps adding to that plan with acquisitions. Both companies have some SOA-based products available now.
Microsofts additional announcements at Convergence play, in one form or another, to the platform theme. Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step is both a methodology and set of implantation, configuration and process tools for easier application configuration and implementation. Another initiative, dubbed Dynamics Industry Solutions, will have Microsoft investing in five industries to “strike a balance” between a strong platform approach and an ecosystem of certified solutions across industries. What that means is Microsoft intends to invest in adding code—likely vertically oriented technology, analysts say—to its Dynamics products through OEM deals and acquisitions. It will also add work to strengthen its partner community around Dynamics, in part by offering a certification program. Another release, RoleTailored, provides a roles-based user interface that has the look and feel of Windows Vista and Office 2007.
Finally, Microsoft is also announcing major upgrades to three of its Dynamics suites—NAV 5.0, GP 10.0 and SL 7—in addition to the Titan release, Microsofts swat at Saleforce.com.
The NAV upgrade, scheduled for a June release, will have upgrades across finance, procurement and sales. GP, also expected in June, will include more than 100 new features, a new UI similar to Windows Vista and Office 2007, business intelligence enhancements, a new workflow engine and search capabilities based on the Dynamics Office Client. Dynamics SL, also a summer release, will have upgraded development and configuration tools to Visual Studio 2005, making it a native .Net application. It will also have a new UI (again based on Office 2007) and RoleTailored BI views.
The strategy with the suites is really a convergence through shared technology.
Microsoft initially said it would bring all of its business applications into a single code base—a project that would be completed in two waves, spanning through 2009. Utzschneider said that with the round of releases at Convergence, Microsoft is effectively closing out the first wave with a single UI across the products. The company envisions a converged suite “at some point way off in the future.”
Finally, Microsoft is charting new waters with the release of a financial community Web site modeled after both social networking and developer communities—an effort to align Dynamics with its users in a way thats never been done before, according to Greenbaum.
“This is not happening anywhere else in the industry,” he said. “This is a very social networking, MySpace kind of thing. If it works it could be unusual. The chances of success are up in the air.”
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