Microsoft Crafts Single Code Base for ERP Apps

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Microsoft Corp. is developing a common code base for all of its Dynamics ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications, a company executive said Wednesday.

That will allow Microsoft to release new versions of the software more quickly, and make it easier for customers to switch from one application to another, according to Kirill Tatarinov, vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions.

The division handles the Dynamics line of products, which includes ERP applications such as GP (formerly Great Plains), SL (formerly Solomon), AX (formerly Axapta) and NAV (formerly Navision), as well as the company's CRM applications.

Microsoft's ERP products came from a spate of acquisitions earlier in the decade when it decided to enter the business applications market. The original plan was to merge the ERP lines into a single product, but Microsoft later decided against it.

However, "we never stopped working on convergence," Tatarinov said. "That's been our strategy. That remains our strategy."

Having one code base will allow applications to share the same user interface and controls, such as now are shared between AX and NAV, Tatarinov said. The code base will also encompass database functions, APIs (application programming interfaces), business intelligence capabilities and communications technologies that enable VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) and instant messaging, he said.

Microsoft learned a "tremendous" amount about ERP after buying Great Plains Software Inc. in 2001 and Navision in 2002, Tatarinov said. Users won't ever see a single Microsoft ERP product for all markets, since Microsoft realizes that business have different needs, he said.

However, users at Microsoft's Convergence 2007 expressed some confusion over the different product lines.

"I don't understand why they have so many different products," said Lars Jalve, financial manager for Transas Ltd., a company that makes navigation equipment for ships and managing harbors.

Transas uses the NAV product, but Jalve suggested it might be easier for customers if Microsoft had just one ERP product and then offered modules with different functions that customers could purchase separately according to their needs. A product such as AX, which is aimed at large enterprises, might have functions that would appeal to people who are on ERP packages aimed at mid-size businesses, he said.

Hans Grappi, leader of project management for a waste disposal company in Switzerland, was shopping for an ERP system to install in five disposal plants that have recently become part of the company. So far they've installed SharePoint, Microsoft content management system, and have a very dated version of the AX ERP application.

Grappi said is company is interested in what Microsoft has to offer, but the product set is too broad. "You can get lost in all of the different elements," he said.

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