Microsoft's laggardly application strategy

by admin on March 13, 2007

in Innovation

Few industry commentators would likely slap Microsoft on the back as a technology innovator but you have to give them credit for knowing when they’re beaten. Such is the case with Project Green, the much vaunted integration/redevelopment of the Dynamics applications triumvirate: Navision, Axapta and Great Plains.

I’m not convinced that Project Green was canned because customers had no appetite for a converged version. It was never going to make sense to customers who had committed to application and tool specific solutions. Why would customers want to re-implement to a common application when they’ve already got something that meets needs? So to say that Microsoft isn’t proceeding because customers didn’t want it is a great way to spin a failed project after the fact but doesn’t bear scrutiny – or for that matter the words of those close to development. Here’s what Microsoft acquired:

  • Navision – sold well in EU but has proprietary C/Side development tools
  • Axapta – low sales, higher end, closest to .NET architecture but liked to run on Oracle DB
  • Great Plains – furthest away from .NET but has great market presence in the US

and let’s not forget Solomon Software, an application that’s loved by those who use it but doesn’t get a lot of airplay.

As Jan Sillemann, director of product management Navision shrugged: “Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

What’s the upside? Putting Office at the centre of its client side access strategy and confirming continued development of the main product lines is good business. As Mary Jo Foley points out:

Microsoft’s Dynamics Client for Office includes 12 self-service applications, including Time and Attendance for Dynamics GP; Project Time and Expense for Dynamics SL and the like.

Microsoft is charging $195 per user for Dynamics Client for Office and $395 per user if users want both Office and SharePoint Server rights. Both SKUs are set to begin shipping in May 2007.

Customers I spoke with are genuinely interested in this approach and don’t see pricing as a bar to adoption. It is intuitive, convenient and will require very little training because most customers will likely access Dynamics through Outlook, the business standard for organising and representing communications for both desktop and mobile usage. All of which is a kick in the teeth for SAP. Phil Wainewright best sums up the feeling I got from many commentators attending Convergence:

Duet was just a learning experience and SAP is welcome to it.

Until recently, I would likely have been sceptical about Microsoft’s ability to significantly grow its share of the business applications market. That despite being told that in the UK, the company is more than happy with recent past sales. Today, I’m a lot less sceptical. The promise of Office as the main client interface is all upside but with two caveats.

During the conference, I saw an options management solution for the construction industry in use by a company that specialises in home theatre, networking and security products. Construction is a complex industry where process discipline is difficult to achieve without significant technology investment. The solution has been well received and can be sold globally. Enquiries are in place from Australia and the US. Navision has a similar solution in EU. That creates potential channel and product conflict. Microsoft can overcome this by smart cataloguing and encouraging the development of geographically independent partners.

Microsoft has to convince its business users that migration to Vista and Office 2007 plus the adoption of Sharepoint is the right decision for gaining access to the shiny new visualisations and web services based solutions. Expected product shipment dates give it breathing space to work on the Vista/Office/Sharepoint issue.

Microsoft may be a relative product development laggard but on this occasion, timing works in its favour.

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