Looking to extend the reach of its enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms deeper within the enterprise, Microsoft Corp. used its annual Dynamics user conference in San Diego this month to launch a tool that lets users access backend data via the Microsoft Office suite.
Satya Nadella, corporate vice-president with the Microsoft Business Solutions Group, told attendees that, according to data from analyst firm AMR Research, just 15 per cent of users within an organization have access to ERP data, and that’s a number Microsoft would like to increase. The software giant’s answer is the Microsoft Dynamics Client for Microsoft Office and SharePoint Server.
By integrating the Dynamics back end into Office, the business value that can be derived from making information-based decisions can be pushed out beyond an organization’s power users, Nadella said.
“Taking a familiar user interface and connecting it with rich process content opens up Dynamics for everyone in your organization,” said Nadella.
While comparisons have been made to Duet, the ERP/Office integration platform Microsoft and SAP AG jointly announced last year, Nadella said the Dynamics/Office announcement goes at least two steps further, with features such as an allowance for third-party add-ons based on the SharePoint 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 a Dynamics client and Scott Bolton, corporate controller with the Ottawa-based company, said his users do most of their work in Office. He sees big benefits from allowing them to access ERP through that familiar interface. “That’s going to go a long way to getting some of our non-technical people using the system,” said Bolton.
The integration of CRM and ERP with Office is also a compelling proposition for Dave Root, CFO of Guelph, Ont.-based Eagle’s Flight. He said the thing that excites him is that down the road he sees everything coming together.
“It’s just expected that everything talks,” said Root. “In our company, everyone does something at some point that touches the customer, so it should be tied into the CRM.”
Joel Martin, vice-president of enterprise software with IDC Canada, said the Office integration represents a win-win for Microsoft, increasing the relevance of both its Dynamics platform and the Office suite to the enterprise user.
“People are comfortable with Office, they know how to use Office, and now they can use Office to interact with business-relevant information,” said Martin. “It also has the effect of making sure people buy Office productivity in their volume licensing.”
Rival ERP vendor Oracle Corp. claims it has had tight integration in place between its applications and Microsoft’s Office for some time. “Duet? We did all that five years ago,” said John Wookey, senior vice-president of applications at Oracle. “PeopleSoft, Oracle and Siebel did it and we don’t charge extra for it,” he added, describing Duet as “the most uninspiring thing I’ve seen in the software industry.”
Martin, though, said the integration offered by Duet, and taken further with the Dynamics Client for Office, goes further than anything Oracle had done by allowing users to interact with the ERP capability within the Office environment, rather than interacting with Office from within the ERP environment.
“Oracle, which doesn’t have a product like Duet, is still requiring people to present Office through the Oracle solution,” said Martin. “There are efficiencies being gained by SAP and Microsoft by using tools like interoperability that other vendors haven’t been able to capitalize on quite as well.”
In the next generation of Dynamics products, Nadella said emphasis is also being placed on role-based interfaces, with both industry and function-specific customizations being offered.
“We want to get rid of all the clutter and have the [interface] be tailored for a specific role, like a sales manager,” said Nadella.
SIDE BAR: Tool to help partners make Dynamics pitch
Microsoft also used the conference to announce SureStep, a best practices-based methodology and business process modeling toolset developed based on feedback from customers and partners. It is designed to aid Dynamics implementations.
“This enables you to go forward with a Dynamics deployment that is that much more predictable,” said Nadella. “We think it is a major step forward for us to get feedback on what has worked and how we can spread that best practice.”
The SureStep emphasis on business processes has raised comparisons to the ARIS business process modeling suite from IDS Scheer, which has partnered with Microsoft in its Business Process Alliance and has its own Dynamics practice. However, Kapi Attawar, vice-president of strategic technology alliances with IDS Scheer, said he doesn’t see SureStep as a competitive offering to ARIS.
“SureStep is complementary to ARIS,” said Attawar. “SureStep has no capability for defining business processes or enabling process execution related to an application. This is where it is expected ARIS could play a role in the future for Dynamics.”
IDC’s Martin said SureStep will be a big boost for smaller Microsoft partners as the ERP buying decision moves from IT managers to line-of-business managers. That means a change in how partners need to make their pitch. “SureStep is a great tool for partners, especially at the lower end of the market, to be able to go in and talk about business structure, how a business is organized and developing solutions around it,” said Martin.
Not so much though, for larger integration partners like an Avanade Canada, said Martin. Wendell Ying, director, Dynamics enterprise business solutions with the company, said they’ll take a look at SureStep, but Avanade has already developed its own best practices and methodologies representing its competitive advantage in the market, something it’s not likely to share.