On the road to convergence: Project Green shifts gears


As Kermit the TV frog puppet was wont to lament, “It’s not easy being green,” something Microsoft Corp. continues to find out in relation to its Project Green program to bring its four acquired Dynamics ERP (enterprise resource planning) and its homegrown CRM (customer relationship management) application product families closer together.

When the vendor first started talking about Project Green in 2003, the initiative focused on bringing the disparate products then known as Axapta, Great Plains, Navision, Solomon and CRM together into a single code base. Then in May 2005, Microsoft began to talk more about having two distinct waves of the projects. Wave one committed Microsoft to bringing out major new releases of each of its business offerings, while wave two, due to start occurring in 2008, was when the company would begin releasing elements of the converged code base.

By September 2005, Microsoft brought its back-end applications together under a single brand name “Dynamics” resulting in the rechristening of its business applications as Dynamics AX, GP, NAV, SL and CRM. At that point, the vendor announced “Dynamics” would also refer to the ongoing Project Green research and development road map, but the old name has refused to die and still persists among the company’s executives, partners and customers.

Fast forward to this week’s Convergence show in San Diego and the natural question is what’s happening with Project Green? Is a converged product or platform still on Microsoft’s agenda?

“We don’t have the goal of just convergence for convergence’s sake,” said Satya Nadella, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Business Solutions group. “We’ve delivered on Wave 1 and, with each sharing of technology, we’re increasing the level of convergence, but it’s not a front and central goal. We now have a common portal, a common UI (user interface) and common Web services infrastructure. Perhaps the news here is that Green’s done,” he added.

As Microsoft has come out with new versions of its business applications, it’s been gradually replacing technologies proprietary to individual offerings with its own software so all the Dynamics families share more and more infrastructure. For instance, Microsoft’s SQL Server is their common database, SharePoint is becoming their common portal and the vendor’s working on having all the products tightly integrate with its PerformancePoint business intelligence software which is due out later this year.

At Convergence, Microsoft also showed off its new RoleTailored UI, which gives a Windows Vista and Office 2007 look-and-feel to Dynamics. The company intends RoleTailored to become the common user interface for Dynamics.

One way of thinking about what the Project Green concept will represent is a converged product which has four different flavors, according to Nadella.

Looking ahead, financial services-based Dynamics GP and project-based Dynamics SL will retain their focus and will remain predominantly North American products although Microsoft is making both of them available in Spanish for use in South America. For now, the global product focus is with Dynamics NAV, which can be rapidly configured, and Dynamics AX, which allows partners and customers to more deeply customize the software using Microsoft’s Visual Studio development tools suite, he said. Each product family will also continue to have its own ecosystem of Microsoft partners who have built specific functionality on top of a particular Dynamics flavor.

When will Microsoft have a converged Dynamics product? How about June 7, 2012? That’s when James Utzschneider, general manager of Dynamics marketing at Microsoft, will turn 50. “That’s as good a date as any,” he said, adding that Microsoft will do two series of product releases prior to that date. The next major Dynamics releases will come in 2008 and 2009 and will be designed to coincide with the planned debut of the next version of Microsoft’s desktop applications suite, codenamed Office 14.

“In 2012 or 2013, we’ll reach a point where there’s no difference between Dynamics,” in terms of the user experience, Utzschneider said. “Customers will wind up using more and more code that’s shared across different products.”

Back when Microsoft first dreamed up Project Green, the vendor imagined “a bottom-up object-oriented development” effort, Utzschneider said. But after talking to customers, the vendor realized what they wanted was a top-down approach to converging the Dynamics offerings in terms of a common look to all the applications and the same level of integration with other Microsoft software. The push towards a converged offering is coming from customers, he said. “They love the idea of having us take our existing products and creating a new, modern platform,” he added.

“Project Green is important to my boss, he wants to know what the future is,” said Tony Scallon, business systems analyst, IT department at Clearwater Seafoods Ltd. Partnership in Bedford, Canada, which uses Dynamics GP. “When we first heard about Green, we said, ‘You just aren’t going to get there from here,'” he quipped. Scallon welcomes the way Microsoft has gradually changed the focus of Green over time and looks forward to functionality from different Dynamics offerings appearing in new releases of Dynamics GP.

One question users and partners frequently ask Utzschneider is whether a converged Dynamics will mean they can pick and choose different components from Dynamics AX, GP, NAV and SL, marrying up say the fixed accounting in GP with the supply chain in AX. “We’re not really planning on that with our existing model,” he said. Such mixing and matching of components is technically hard to do since the Dynamics products remain different at the bottom or metal layer.