Project Green is Dead—for the Foreseeable Future, at Least

Microsoft says it will converge ERP through a common tech platform.

Its not a rumor. Project Green is dead or at least on life support. Converging Microsofts Enterprise Resource Planning and Customer Relationship Management suites to a single code base is no longer the objective for the Dynamics development team.

Rather, like Oracle, with its myriad ERP and CRM suites underpinned with Fusion Middleware, Microsoft is converging its four separate ERP suites through a common technology platform that is comprised of Microsofts technology stack—SQL Server, Visual Studio, BizTalk Server, Workflow Foundation and others.

"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. "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."

Several years ago Microsoft began talking about the concept of combining its four ERP suites—GP, AX, NAV, SL—into a single code base. The project, code named Project Green, was initially slated for release in 2006, a date that was quickly extended to 2008. At the 2005 Convergence conference, Microsoft announced that Project Green would be available in waves—two, to be exact.

The first wave of Green—completed at this years conference with the upgrades of GP, AX and NAV—includes a shared user interface based on common and configurable roles. The four suites are also integrated with Office and share several common environments including SQL Server Reporting Services and SharePoint Portal.

The second wave of Green, initially slated to begin shipping in 2008, would have a model-driven approach to business processes that include capabilities from WinFX and Visual Studio .Net. The following year would be the converged code base.

While there are still plans in place to bring in capabilities from the tech stack, the focus has shifted with the development teams. "Weve talked about having a connected business and this is really what our new road map is," said Dave Coulombe, who leads the Microsoft Dynamics GP applications development team for the Microsoft Business Solutions division at Microsoft. "What then is happening if you look at the product lines, weve set goals around two things: the user experience and Web services."

In terms of the user experience, Microsoft is sharing controls across three product lines, "so theres convergence around what we do with user experience."

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about customer relationship management at Convergence 2007.

From a Web services perspective, what Microsoft is doing is building out services around the application components of each of its suites, so that the suites can integrate with Microsofts underlying technologies, and it would seem, integrate to form business processes on the fly.

"Will we get to a single code base? Maybe. It could be multiple, it could be one," said Coulombe. "But it could be multiple. What were trying to do is say, What are the strategic things that allow us to add value to our customers? And were trying to focus in certain industries, with certain products…so one, two, three code bases, it doesnt matter. Its about driving value to the customers." More importantly, according to analysts, its about keeping Microsofts customer and (huge) ISV base happy.

Munkhold Elsberg said that the decision to scale back on the single code base plans outlined in Project Green (later renamed Dynamics) was an evolutionary one. By one estimate there are 1,500 NAV products alone built by partners—99 percent of them are localized geographically, and verticalized—and some 5,000 partner applications all tolled. By moving to one product, Microsofts Dynamics partners who have built their offerings around a single product line lose out.

Customers, too, stand to lose out if theyre forced to upgrade to a common platform. Satya Nadella, corporate vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions, said during a Q&A session March 12 that the upgrade path for customers across the suites is split.

"In the case of Dynamics GP we find they upgrade; the majority are on the last release or the release before that. They have an aggressive upgrade front. SL as well," said Nadella. "NAV and AX have a different profile because of verticalization. They may be at three [release cycles back from the current]. CRM is like GP."

During the session someone asked Nadella if Project Green is dead. He said that much of the understanding about Green is false. "When our message came out, [people said] that none of our product lines were going to exist. We said, We have an agenda of convergence. A lot of the Green stuff you believe, you heard from someone else. That was created to create FUD in our message. Will our designs converge, or data models converge, our UI shared? Absolutely."

But at the same time Nadella didnt confirm that Project Green is indeed off the table—at least for the foreseeable future. Munkhold Elsberg explained the concept of converged suites a little differently.

"An end user whether theyre running AX or NAV—I think this is some years out from now—they wont be able to tell the difference [between the suites]. But the code bases will be different."