Microsoft upgrades Great Plains ERP apps

Microsoft Corp. this week announced an upgrade of its Great Plains ERP suite that’s designed to be easier to use and more tightly integrated with the company’s Office and end-user portal software.

Great Plains 8.0 also includes enhancements aimed at streamlining business processes and providing better data visibility and increased flexibility to end users at manufacturing and distribution companies, Microsoft said. The company, which outlined the upgrade plan at its Convergence 2004 user conference in March, has since moved up the release date from July to this month.

Karen Engel, group product manager for Great Plains at Microsoft’s Business Solutions unit, said a new user interface with an Office look and feel will require less switching between application screens and will let users access products outside the Great Plains suite “in a more seamless manner.”

The ability to drill down into manufacturing data and view information about the allocation of raw materials is probably the most important addition to Great Plains for beta-tester Stulz Air Technology Systems Inc.

Michele Holsinger, information systems manager at the Frederick, Md.-based maker of air conditioners for data centers and other facilities, said end users can see where parts are stored throughout the company’s plant and identify whether materials are due to be used in manufacturing or sold as spare parts. Great Plains 7.0 provided much less access to the parts information, she added.

Stulz ATS switched to the 8.0 release in April for its 65 users, who run the ERP suite’s full mix of financial, human resources and manufacturing software. The new version also includes the ability to update a bill of materials and automatically populate the added information throughout the Great Plains applications, Holsinger said.

She noted that other than having to tweak some sales order processing features that Stulz ATS had customized in its ERP system, the upgrade to 8.0 was one of the smoothest she has ever been a part of.

It appears that Microsoft is responding to gripes users voiced a year ago and paying more attention to some of the smaller details it ignored in earlier versions of Great Plains, said Katherine Jones, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston. For instance, Great Plains 8.0 includes improved capabilities for tracking parts by serial or lot numbers, she said.

Jones added that the new user interface should help cut down on the time it takes to train business workers to use the software.

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