Can Microsoft Make Over MBS?

Opinion: Microsoft Business Solutions is unlike Microsoft's six other business units. Can-or should-Redmond try to force MBS into the Microsoft mold?

Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) has undergone a lot of changes during the past year. But its most extreme make-over is yet to come.

MBS—the beleaguered Microsoft business unit that encompasses Microsofts four ERP lines, its CRM product and whats left of its bCentral small-business online unit—is under the microscope right now.

Outsiders are paying close attention to MBS because it has emerged as the elephant in the courtroom in the Department of Justice vs. Oracle trial. On June 23, in fact, MBS head honcho Doug Burgum is set to take the stand as a witness for the government in the monthlong antitrust trial thats focused on Oracles attempt to buy PeopleSoft.

Meanwhile, Microsoft insiders are scrutinizing the MBS unit more closely than ever. Burgum told financial analysts earlier this year that MBS was on target to be profitable by the end of calendar year 2004. Given MBS performance during Microsofts third fiscal quarter, however, it looks like it would take some serious miracles for this to happen.

But there are signs that Redmonds trying to tighten the MBS reins a bit, as evidenced by its recent decisions to close the Findlay, Ohio, headquarters for Solomon, move Burgum from reporting to Office chief Jeff Raikes to CEO Steve Ballmer, and try to get its SMB (small and midsize business) reseller act together.

But there are other, deeper MBS changes under way, too. Some of these are related to products, others to culture.

A year ago, MBS was all about futures. Rather than dwelling on what was next for its four ERP families (Great Plains, Navision, Solomon and Axapta), Microsoft execs—led by Burgum—focused more on the units plans to create a "common code base" upon which an uber-ERP suite (code-named "Green") would be built.

At the annual MBS customer conference in 2003, Burgum and his team talked of their transformational ideas, transformational assurance plans, transformational applications and business transformations. (Burgums keynote that year touched on everything from the clay thats the secret ingredient in Wedgewood china to the patent for the steam engine.)

At this years MBS customer conference, the only thing that was "transformational" was the messaging that came from the MBS execs. This year, Green was barely a footnote. Instead, Burgum and his minions focused on the fact that Microsofts four ERP lines all have a long future ahead of them.

Roadmaps detailing service packs for the next 10 years were the order of the day. (Burgums 2004 keynote speech was still rather quirky by Microsoft keynote standards, but way more grounded than the previous years.)

To remind folks that the MBS unit is not deviating from its course, Microsoft on Wednesday reissued its MBS roadmap. The only "new" component of the roadmap were the five "technology themes" around which MBS is developing its products.


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