Microsoft offers ERP-Office integration, and more

Looking to extend thereach of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customerrelationship management (CRM) platforms deeper within the enterprise,Microsoft Corp. used its annual Dynamics user conference in San Diegothis week to launch a tool that lets users access ERP data via theMicrosoft Office suite.

SatyaNadella, corporate vice-president with the Microsoft Business SolutionsGroup, told attendees that data from Boston-based analyst firm AMRResearch indicated just 15 per cent of users within an organizationhave access to ERP data, and that number needs to increase.

Microsoft’s answer is the Microsoft Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server.

Byintegrating the Dynamics back end into Office, Nadella said thebusiness value derived from making information-based decisions can bepushed out beyond an organization’s power users.

“Takinga familiar user interface and connecting it with rich process contentopens up Dynamics for everyone in your organization,” said Nadella.”We’re going to price this very aggressively, we want it to be broadlyadopted.”

Whilecomparisons have been made to Duet, the ERP/Office integration platformMicrosoft and SAP AG jointly announced last year, Nadella said theDynamics/Office announcement goes at least two steps further, withfeatures such as an allowance for third-party add ons a based on theSharePoint portal infrastructure.

“Duet has done two things and we’re doing four, so maybe we should call it Quartet or something,” joked Nadella.

March Networks is aDynamics client and Scott Bolton, corporate controller with theOttawa-based company, said his users do most of their work in Office.He sees big benefits from allowing them to access the ERP systemthrough that familiar interface.

“That’s going to go a long way [towards] getting some of our non-technical people using the system,” said Bolton.

TheOffice integration represents a win-win for Microsoft, according toJoel Martin, vice-president of enterprise software with IDC Canada. Hesaid this integration increases the relevance of Microsoft’s Dynamicsplatform as well as its Office suite to the enterprise user. “Peopleare comfortable with Office, they know how to use Office, and now theycan use Office to interact with business relevant information,” saidMartin. “It also has the flip-side effect of making sure people buyOffice productivity in their volume licensing and maintain that spendwith Microsoft.”

Redmond’s ‘Duet’ doesn’t inspire Oracle

RivalERP vendor Oracle Corp. claims it has had tight integration in placebetween its applications and Microsoft Office for some time. “Duet? Wedid all that five years ago,” said John Wookey, senior vice-presidentof applications at Oracle. “PeopleSoft, Oracle and Siebel did it and wedon’t charge extra for it,” he added, describing Duet as “the mostuninspiring thing I’ve seen in the software industry.” However, Martinsaid the integration offered by Duet, and taken further with theDynamics Client for Office, goes further than anything Oracle had doneby allowing users to interact with the ERP within the Officeenvironment, rather than interacting with Office from within the ERPenvironment.

“Oracle,which doesn’t have a product like Duet, still requires people topresent Office through the Oracle solution,” said Martin. “There’sefficiencies being gained by SAP and Microsoft by using tools likeinteroperability that other vendors haven’t been able to capitalize onquite as well.”

In the nextgeneration of Dynamics products, Nadella said emphasis is also beingplaced on role-based interfaces, with both industry andfunction-specific customizations being offered.

“Wewant to get rid of all the clutter and have the (interface) be tailoredfor a specific role, like a sales manager,” said Nadella. Microsoftalso used the conference to announce SureStep, a best practices-basedmethodology and business process modeling tool set developed based onfeedback from customers and partners, designed to ensure sounder andmore predictable Dynamics implementations. Microsoft will be pushinghard for partners to become certified on SureStep and begin using themethodologies.

“Thisenables you to go forward with a Dynamics deployment that’s much morepredictable,” said Nadella. “We think it is a major step forward for usto get feedback on what has worked and how we can spread that bestpractice.”

TheSureStep emphasis on business processes has led it to be compared withthe ARIS business process modeling suite from IDS Scheer, which haspartnered with Microsoft in its Business Process Alliance and has itsown Dynamics practice.

However,Kapi Attawar, vice-president of strategic technology alliances with IDSScheer, said he doesn’t see SureStep as a competitive offering to ARIS.

“SureStep iscomplementary to ARIS,” said Attawar. “SureStep has no capability fordefining business processes or enabling process execution related to anapplication. This is where it is expected ARIS could play a role in thefuture for Dynamics.”

IDC’s Martin saidSureStep will be a big boost for smaller Microsoft partners as the ERPbuying decision moves from IT managers to line-of-business managers.That means a change in how partners need to make their pitch.

“SureStepis a great tool for partners, epically at the lower end of the market,to be able to go in and talk about business structure, how a businessis organized, and developing solutions around it,” said Martin.

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