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Microsoft is placing increased significance on its Business Solutions division, investing $2 billion and merging the SMB (small to medium businesses) and Business Solutions sales teams. The division's history of seeming semi-independence is over, and the increased level of backing will give specialist mid-market business application vendors a fresh cause to be fearful of Microsoft.

Doug Burgum, head of Microsoft Business Solutions, has said the division is undergoing a massive step-up in terms of its significance within Microsoft. The company is investing $2 billion in the division, which will be split across product development, sales and marketing initiatives and investment in its partner channel.

Of equal significance is an internal realignment of the sales operation whereby the Business Solutions sales team and the core Microsoft SMB sales team will come together as one unit under the Business Solutions banner to massively ramp up market momentum.

The move means that for the first time, Microsoft will be able to offer SMB customers a single point of sales contact and support for its complete technology and application stack - a proposition that comes with the implicit promise of affordable, manageable integration.

Previously, the SMB sales team sold the Windows platform, SQL Server, Exchange Server and the Office desktop application suite, leaving the Business Solutions division to sell business applications including the Navision and Great Plains lines plus in-house developed ones like Microsoft CRM. This approach created unnecessary complications for customers, as in some instances it meant they had to split a single solution purchase across two different sales operations.

The end-to-end offering is likely to be a compelling argument among risk-averse, limited-resourced mid-market organizations. These can often be fazed by the prospect and the cost implications of putting together and managing the complex mix of middleware technologies and applications from multiple vendors that are needed to automate business operations.

Although Microsoft Business Solutions is one of the seven core business units within Microsoft as a whole, it has maintained a semi-independent air and has appeared to have a lesser role within the organization. What is clear from these initiatives is that this is all changing and Microsoft will support the division with the full force of its brand and its deep resources as it attempts to capture the fragmented mid-market.

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