Great Plains 8.0 set for July release

ORLANDO – Delivering on its commitment to release product updates every 12 to 18 months until 2009, Microsoft Corp. has announced the latest iteration of its Great Plains Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software application, slated for release this July.

According to Nancy Teixeira, ERP product manager for Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont., while the company has not divulged all the details of the newest release — version 8.0 — customers can expect more than 120 product enhancements focused primarily around manufacturing, distribution and project accounting capabilities.

Teixeira broke the news to media at a roundtable discussion at the Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) Convergence 2004 customer and partner show held in Orlando March 22 to 24.

Acquired in 2001, Great Plains is one of four ERP offerings MS has under its belt. The application focuses on the financial aspect of resource planning and management and features three key elements: financial management, allowing for accounting and finance operations; supply chain management, featuring manufacturing and procurement capabilities; and analytics for business reporting.

While ERP applications in the traditional sense are designed to handle the needs of large enterprise businesses, Microsoft’s apps target the small and midsize business (SMB) market.

“There are over 40 million underserved businesses in the SMB range,” Teixeira said. “Their needs are just as complex as in large enterprises, but they don’t have the (enterprise) budgets.”

For Clearwater Seafoods, a Canadian fishing company based in Nova Scotia, Great Plains has helped the company fulfill its motto “From the ocean to the plate,” for the last 10 years.

According to Clearwater’s Ken Green, before Microsoft purchased Great Plains, the company considered other solutions, but found that no other company could offer the same functionality at a price it was willing to pay. Today, Clearwater has 90 concurrent users running Great Plains.

“The main features of Great Plains (aside from) the financials and supply chain management elements are the analytics and reporting capabilities. Those are really big for us,” Green said. “‘From the ocean to the plate’ is really about knowing what is going on with your product as it goes from the ocean to the plate. If you don’t have control of your product, you can’t sell it.”

According to Garth Dean, director of Microsoft Business Solutions in Canada, Clearwater was “bleeding edge” in terms of its integration of Great Plains with other disparate business applications. For example, Clearwater chose to integrate Great Plains with WiseFish, an application designed specifically for the fishing industry. Built by TM Software out of Iceland, WiseFish offers integrated ERP solution or an implementation in modules. The two applications run in tandem at Clearwater.

Integrated ERP offerings are priorities for the Canadian midsized market, according to Deloitte Inc. Canada’s Sangeet Bhatia, a consultant with the firm. She explained that SMBs are not just looking for software solutions, but rather total solutions to avoid having to rip and replace existing systems.

“ERP is the foundation and plumbing (in an organization)” Bhatia said. “It is the basic table legs to hold the rest of the pieces like customer relationship management and electronic information delivery (EDI) applications.”

She noted that SMBs are seeing that they need the information and understanding and that economic factors are making it necessary for these businesses to roll out ERP solutions.

In addition, the mid-market is looking for more “out of the box” functionality and less customization, according to Steve Poelking, research director for IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. He explained that while the ERP market overall has heated up significantly over the past two to three years, the main activity is in the SMB space. “The large enterprise market is relatively saturated,” Poelking said. “Now, traditional ERP vendors are hard-pressed to translate value and come to grips with the needs of the SMB market.”

This spells good things for Microsoft, which the company’s Dean said is heavily engaged in ERP solutions for SMBs.

“We are bringing the benefits of technology to those customers that do not have the budgets or the infrastructure,” he said.

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