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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Microsoft Corp is starting to open up regarding the scope of its business software ambitions with the revelation at its partner conference in Minneapolis last week that it plans to launch five application sets over the next 12 months in a bid to provide end-to-end software support for SME business activities.

Three of the five application sets will be available by the end of this year. In addition to the long-trailed CRM application, the company also intends to launch two vertical market applications: Microsoft Business Solutions Professional Services Automation and Microsoft Retail Management System. A portal product is planned for the first half of 2003, while data exchange software is likely to appear after that, which will provide a means for organizations to exchange data over the internet with both partners and customers.

Ultimately, the company aims to provide integrated functionality covering business operations, retail management, manufacturing, supply chain and service automation, enabling tight integration between front- and back-office functions. If that sounds familiar, it should do, because it is the same message that has long been promoted by enterprise-level business applications vendors such as SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft.

The difference is that Microsoft is still stressing that its area of interest is restricted to the small to medium-sized market. However, by the Redmond, Washington-based company's definition, this embraces businesses with revenue in the $1m to $1bn band, which takes it firmly into the lower-end territory of the established application vendors.

The emphasis on vertical market applications is new to Microsoft, but aligns with its stated intention of focusing on the mid-market, as verticalization and the mid-market are rapidly becoming synonymous, and vertical market versions are deemed to generate better ROI due to reduced implementation effort and cost.

The PSA software is built on Microsoft Business Solutions Project Accounting - Solomon and the Microsoft Project 2002 platform, and is aimed at project-based organizations. Its purpose is to integrate resource management, project management, knowledge management, time and expense, project accounting, financials and reporting and analytics functionality. Available in the fourth quarter 2002 in North America, pricing has yet to be announced.

The Retail Management System is built on the QuickSell set of products and is expected to offer an end-to-end solution to automate retailer operations from the cash register to company headquarters. It integrates point-of-sale (POS) and retail management applications with Microsoft Business Solutions Great Plains, and Microsoft Business Solutions Small Business Manager financial applications to bring POS, inventory management, pricing and promotions, reports and analytics with integration to back-office financial applications. Two versions are available - Store Operations for single retailers, and Headquarters for multi-store operations. It will be released worldwide in the fourth quarter priced from $1,290.

Having spent approximately $2.4bn in less than two years on the acquisitions of Great Plains Software and Navision a/s, it was clear that Microsoft was positioning itself as a serious player in the business applications market, and these announcements are clearly early affirmations of that intent.

However, the product roadmap remains unclear because although all the products will spring from the Microsoft Business Solutions division, and Microsoft talks of tightly integrated functionality, it is unclear how that integration will occur. In addition, PSA and the Retail Management System each piggy-back on separate back-end applications from the divisions' portfolio. So far there is no news on how or whether Microsoft will integrate the disparate collection of applications that congregate under the Microsoft Business Solutions banner that includes its own, Great Plains and Navision software. The roadmap is being laid out but the implementation still remains undefined.

© ComputerWire

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