ORLANDO—A Canadian panel of Dynamics GP users and partners gathered at the Microsoft Convergence conference this week to discuss how the company’s ease of use and integrated application suite strategies have been playing out in their companies.

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Catherine Bennetto, the IT director of Canada’s biggest hearing aid distributor, the Victoria-based Island Hearing, said that she went with the Dynamics GP for its ease of use. “We wanted to enable and empower users to make their jobs enjoyable,” she said.

“It’s always mostly about user experience,” said Brad Bushell, president of Western Canada’s largest Microsoft business solutions partner, the Vancouver-based RSC Group. “Microsoft balances sophistication with ease of use consistently here.”

Ray Wang, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, agrees, saying, “Microsoft’s business applications are some of the best user experiences, including different personas (RoleTailored design). It’s really engaging for beginners, as it doesn’t matter. GP, NAV, AX—they all look the same (and similar to the other Microsoft products as well) with the ribbons, etc. It’s really easy to change a workflow or process or personalize a screen. They’re really getting down to the user level.”

Then there’s the integration with other Microsoft business applications, such as SharePoint, a tie-in that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stressed heavily during his Convergence keynote. “(Dynamics and SharePoint) complement each other, so it cuts down on the learning time. You can use the teamwork, sharing, and document collaboration capabilities and it’s so simple. Getting used to a different look-and-feel is difficult—these are health-care professionals who just want to get up to speed and get back to work,” said Bennetto.

This cross-application capability is a major selling point for his customers, said Bushell. He said that almost all new customers (and most of the existing ones) already have SharePoint installed, anyway. “They can start on GP and then stretch it out, which you couldn’t do with the (other business application companies),” he said. “Especially at the beginning of learning ERP technology, they respond to it as a unified thing. It’s not just ERP or SharePoint—they describe the business, not the system.”

Focusing on the task, business goal, or customer makes tackling a new ERP application less stressful for users, according to Bennetto who said, “We focus on the customer, not the volume of information we have. We were careful in implementing SharePoint and the project-discussing blogs, and had the full support of operations and were careful not to overload the users. An implementation needs the support of the company, so it doesn’t just seem pushed down from IT.”

Said Dave Root, CFO with the Guelph-based training company Eagle’s Flight: “They don’t want ‘systems’—they want to help their customers.” When it comes to a successful ERP implementation, introducing such a nitty-gritty application requires a well-rounded IT professional and an IT-professional-friendly user.

To make sure that the implementation goes smoothly, Bennetto had her users and staff almost switch places. IT staff were required to go on the floor and in the field to tinker with the hearing aids, sell batteries, and interact with the customers so as to understand the setting in which the users would be using the application. She said, “This way, they don’t just think it’s usable. My IT staff become like system integrators that work together with developers and customers.” They are also trained in how to speak so that users will understand.

(Language definitely comes into play during an ERP implementation, said Bushell: “You don’t talk collaboration and business intelligence. They want, ‘How do I find stuff? How do I get customer information?’”)

And, in order to understand their IT support during the implementation and develop a healthier relationship, viewing parties of the IT-based sitcom The IT Crowd were hosted (with beer and food) at Island Hearing. Said Bennetto: “This shows that we’re not scary—we’re not ogres!”

Even with these ERP implementations under their belt, they’re already looking to the future. Quentin Martin, a strategic account manager with the Burlington, Ontario-based Microsoft partner and Dynamics GP consultancy Tectura, for one, is excited about the integration of Microsoft Office Word capabilities built into the “software plus service” offering, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live.

He said, “We’ve been seeing separate systems for years, but the more they do (integrate their applications with one another), the better it gets.”

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