New Business Suite Software Aimed at Manufacturers

New software from Microsoft Corp. is extending some of the automation capabilities of high-end business software to midsize manufacturers.

New software from Microsoft Corp. is extending some of the automation capabilities of high-end business software to midsize manufacturers.

The companys Microsoft Business Solutions division will announce this week that it is adding PLM (product lifecycle management) and demand forecasting capabilities to its Great Plains, Navision and Axapta business software suites. MBS will also make available its Microsoft Business Network, which enables companies to streamline collaboration with trading partners.

The Redmond, Wash., company will announce the updates at two events, the American Production and Inventory Control Society International Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas and its own Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans.

The PLM features are being developed by Autodesk Inc., of San Rafael, Calif., and they will be integrated into the Microsoft business suites in the first half of next year. Autodesks Vault software abstracts engineering data and metadata and makes it available for users outside the engineering area. As a result, Vault will automatically transfer information in a bill of materials developed in Autodesks CAD system to the Microsoft applications, where manufacturing constituencies can view it.

Tom Massung, associate director of IT Business Solutions at Procter & Gamble Co., uses Electronic Data Systems Corp.s Teamcenter PLM software, but he also uses a lot of Microsoft .Net. He is looking for greater integration between PLM and portfolio and project management applications to help him determine upfront which projects he wants to undertake, and when, he said.

Massung said he would consider buying Microsofts PLM software if he could integrate it with Teamcenter, but he doesnt want to have to buy an entire Microsoft suite. "If [Microsoft] was to have a tool that could easily roll up projects, we could add it to our system easily [using .Net]," said Massung, in Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, MBS will also roll out a Demand Planner module that officials said helps manufacturers and retailers forecast demand. It provides multidimensional visibility of data, thus enabling different departments to forecast demand and usage data in a way they understand. Demand Planner is available with Navision and Axapta now, and it will be added to Great Plains next year.

Later this month, Microsoft will make available its Microsoft Business Network. Initially geared toward Great Plains customers, Business Network provides a library of process templates designed to streamline customer and supplier activities. Two major templates are the order-to-cash cycle and supplier visibility.

Business Network will be available in two editions: a Standard version that requires Microsofts Office productivity suite and a Professional version that works with Great Plains software. Editions for Axapta and Navision will be available over the next year, officials said.