Microsoft provided details of its plan to transform business applications at the 11th annual Microsoft Convergence conference earlier this month, which involves doing a better job of getting CRM and ERP in synch.“There’s a reason why companies limit deployment,” said James Utzschneider, general manager of Dynamics marketing with the Microsoft Business Solutions Group. ERP systems have traditionally been too complex and, from a usability perspective, there’s a “fundamental shift that has to occur in our segment.”

Microsoft announced the release of Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step, a tool set for implementation, migration and upgrades, as well as Microsoft Dynamics Client for Office and SharePoint Server, a low-cost licensing package that makes ERP solutions available to more employees through familiar tools. And RoleTailored is a new “user experience” design that builds on the look and feel of Vista and Office 2007.

“Our core goal is to fuse systems together,” said Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, corporate vice-president of the Microsoft Business Solutions Group during a keynote address to 8,500 attendees. According to AMR Research, only about 15 per cent of information workers inside an organization actually use business processes, and Microsoft is looking to expand that to 100 per cent.

Making Inroads

Microsoft is making inroads in the ERP market, though it still has a relatively small share. SAP is the leader, followed by Oracle, according to research from IDC Canada. Tied for third place are Sage and Infor, followed by Microsoft.

But nearly half the market is made up of other vendors. This is because many customers are still using legacy applications and aren’t sure how to move away from them, said Joel Martin, vice-president of enterprise software with IDC Canada, in an interview with Computing Canada. “I don’t expect any significant movement in ranking,” he said, “but I do in share.”

March Networks, currently in the middle of an ERP rollout, provides IP video security solutions for the banking, retail and transportation sectors.
The company had tried out three or four CRM systems in the past, but nothing worked, said Scott Bolton, corporate controller for March Networks in Ottawa, a Microsoft customer at Convergence. Salespeople were frustrated and refused to use it, he said. With operations in eight countries, however, the company needed a way to get information to its 25 mobile salespeople. And it had no visibility into front-end activities, such as who its prospects were, because each salesperson had their own system in place. “We were kind of flying blind,” he said.The company looked at SAP and Oracle, but found that neither was adaptable enough for its requirements. Cost was also a factor. “We’re a fairly small company, and to go with a behemoth SAP or Oracle wasn’t in the cards,” said Bolton. “SAP and Oracle were junk.”

The company has rolled out Microsoft’s CRM and core financials and is now moving onto business and customer portals. While still in the implementation phase, so far delivery time has been reduced from 15 days to four.

Another customer in the middle of an ERP rollout is Ensign Energy Services Inc., an international energy services company based in Calgary. While 60 per cent of its revenues come from Canada, it sees a growing opportunity in the U.S. and overseas markets. But, in order to take advantage of this, the company had to get its house in order. Its fast growth was fuelled by acquisitions, which left it with fragmented systems, according to Randy Mutch, the company’s director of information technology. The company had seven accounting systems, for example, four in Canada. This is when the company started looking at ERP.

“SAP tends to be more command and control,” he said. “It works in the right environment, but we didn’t think it would work with ours.”

In January 2006 the company rolled out AX Financials in its drilling division, part of a five-year program to roll out ERP. It had a six-month go-live for three drilling locations, which turned out to be a huge challenge, he said, and the company then spent the next six months licking its wounds. The company is now rolling out the solution to its services group. So far it has 65 users, with plans to roll it out to 1,200 employees (Microsoft’s top range at this point).

Available in May, Microsoft Dynamics Client for Office will help deliver insights and processes to all information workers with a familiar Office or SharePoint experience, said Microsoft’s Nadella, and will eventually be available across all product lines. Later this year Microsoft will launch BI applications with Excel on the front end.

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