Ready to Serve Redmond

You think presidential pardons face close scrutiny? Try being Bill Gates.

You think presidential pardons face close scrutiny? Try being Bill Gates. Rumors swirled last week that the Department of Justice was investigating Microsofts planned acquisition of Great Plains Software. But as we went to press, statements from the Federal Trade Commission suggested otherwise. The FTC gave the deal its blessing late last week, according to Great Plains. Microsoft says the acquisition is expected to close this spring.

Now, for the questions: Will it mean big trouble for Navision, Sage, and other accounting software makers? Will it disrupt Great Plains highly regarded distribution channel? Will Microsoft order personnel cuts that would damage quality and support?

While the number crunchers might be staying up nights debating those topics, analysts and those who sell Great Plains are generally upbeat about the deal.

"I think it was wonderful," says Dave Santore, director of technology at CJA Compro Search in Laguna Nigel, Calif. "Microsoft is going to be bumping up against Oracle. Its something all the resellers welcome and are glad to see. I think it will mean more opportunity for them."

Some Great Plains partners agree the deal might breathe new life into their business. Lance Krumholz, who manages the Great Plains account at CHI Consulting in Chicago, says the market for Great Plains products was—like the Great Plains themselves—"flat to a little above flat" for most of last year. He figures the Microsoft deal will either "push the envelope of the low end of the market or just get rid of it, since Great Plains wants the upper-to-middle market."

Having employees able to accomplish that is not likely to break a solutions providers back, but the certified demand decent salaries. An informal [email protected] Partner survey found that Great Plains experts—most of which are former accountants—get paid between $40,000 and $120,000, and are billed out at rates between $125 per hour and $225 per hour.

In announcing the Great Plains absorption, Microsoft vowed to take a substantially hands-off approach to managing the new addition. Great Plains CEO Doug Burgum says the company will stay in Fargo, N.D., instead of packing up and moving to Redmond.

The deal certainly will provide a deep pool of resources for Great Plains, which had a roller-coaster year in 2000 that included the layoffs of 170 employees.

Jon Derome, a Yankee Group analyst, sees the Microsoft purchase as providing a "terrific opportunity to combine the [Microsoft] .Net initiatives and technologies—in particular BizTalk Server and Commerce Server—with Great Plains accounting." That will theoretically allow two or more companies using Great Plains to communicate over the Internet at the systems level.

For Great Plains partners, that could get the cash register bells ringing. "By combining some of those Microsoft Commerce focused applications with Great Plains, the channel partners could sort of climb the stack, get out of the back office, and provide implementation service for B2B e-commerce solutions," says Derome. "Thats a hot market. ... You step into the world of e-business service provider."

No wonder Microsoft opened its wallet.