Microsofts emerging enterprise resource planning (ERP) lineup already contains some supply chain management (SCM) functionality, but ISV partner Prescient this week unveiled a deal to sell its own SCM software to resellers and end users through Vis.align.
Microsoft Corp.s ERP customers now deploying Prescient Applied Intelligence Inc.s SCM solution range from food giant Tropicana Inc. to a nationwide video-game distributor called SVG Distribution.
As some enterprise and SMB customers see it, Prescients software provides a range of SCM capabilities not yet present in Axapta or any of Microsofts three other ERP products, said Bob Bell, vice president at Vis.align Inc., during an interview with eWEEK.com.
Beyond Tropicana and SVG, other Microsoft ERP users that have purchased Prescients SCM software include Procter & Gamble spinoff Sunny Delight; Rhodes International, a maker of frozen bread products; and private-label juice manufacturer Cliffstar Corp.
The agreement announced this week gives Vis.align, a major distributor and reseller for Microsoft, exclusive rights to sell Prescients software to other resellers in the Microsoft Business Solutions Channel, said Prescient CFO Stan Szczygiel, also during the interview.
Yet Microsoft officials have been very supportive of the deal between Prescient and Vis.align, according to Bell and Szczygiel.
Microsofts current ERP products include Axapta, Navision, Great Plains and Solomon. All four were obtained through acquisitions.
Axapta and Navision, for instance, already contain some SCM features, but Microsoft does not produce any software specifically geared toward SCM.
Sunny Delight, an Axapta customer, turned to Prescients software out of a need for supply chain planning capabilities that arent yet available in Axapta, Bell said.
For Tropicana, Prescients VMI (vendor-managed inventory) functionality was a big drawing card, he said.
Rhodes International uses Microsofts Navision ERP software, while SVG is a Great Plains customer.
Last summer, Microsoft announced a 4.0 update for Axapta, but in January, the originally announced 2005 ship date for Axapta 4.0 got pushed back to early 2006.
The final release of Axapta 4.0 is now expected to include additional features in the areas of SCM, as well as RFID integration; CRM (customer relationship management); financial and HR (human resources) management, and integration with BizTalk Server and some other Microsoft .NET servers.
Meanwhile, also this week, Microsoft announced that it has purchased ERP Complete—an implementation tool designed to make Axapta deployment quicker and less expensive—from Entegrate Software LLC.
Navision is another Microsoft ERP product slated for a new update. But Navision 4.0, the first release of the product since its purchase by Microsoft in 2002, contains a number of new SCM-oriented features, ranging from order-by-order planning workflow for manufacturers to Business Notification, a capability aimed at improving communications with suppliers, customers and employers.
RFID integration possibilities
The current editions of Navision and Axapta also contain some hooks for radio-frequency identification (RFID) integration. On the other hand, Prescients SCM software is not RFID-enabled, and Prescient currently has no plans in the RFID direction, Szczygiel said.
Dan English, general manager at Microsoft Business Solutions, U.S., was quoted in a press release issued by Prescient as saying that the deal between Prescient and Vis.align “illustrates the strength of an ISV and reseller relationship, which Microsoft values.”
Szczygiel said during the interview with eWEEK.com that Vis.align is “very focused on a vertical perspective” in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry.
“Theyre a reseller of the Axapta product, but they also distribute to other resellers. So we can win more deals that way,” the Prescient CFO said.
Bell credited Vis.aligns relationship with fellow Microsoft reseller OneNeck for being a major catalyst behind the new agreement with Prescient. OneNeck “got [Prescient and Vis.align] in the door at Tropicana,” for example, he said.
Vis.align also has a long-standing relationship with Microsoft that is useful in helping other companies to “navigate Microsoft,” Bell said.
Szczygiel told eWEEK.com that Prescient has also been “talking” directly with Microsoft, although he wasnt specific. “Were whats known as a Microsoft ISV. So were always in discussions with Microsoft,” he said.
Delayed shipments in Microsofts ERP lineup may have actually opened up some big doors for SCM partners such as Prescient and Vis.align.
But meanwhile, some industry observers have questioned whether the opportunities for integrators in the related area of RFID will be all that substantial.
Right now, many of Microsofts midrange ERP customers are trying to hold off on deploying RFID, anyway, said Erik Michielsen, an analyst at ABI Research.
But Michielsen said he expects to see more RFID deployments among this category of users later this year. RFID Generation 2 products are scheduled to be out on the market by then.
More importantly, customers will have been able to spend more time thinking and planning about RFID ROI (return on investment) issues, the analyst told eWEEK.com.
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