Canadian firms ready for Microsoft’s SMB move

Having gathered over 4,000 customers and partners in Florida, Microsoft has decided to unveil two solutions that aim to get the SMBs connected.

Hot on the heals of the MS CRM product launched by Microsoft’s Business

Solutions division in January comes the Microsoft Business Network, announced at the Convergence 2003 event in Orlando, Fla. The gathering of customers and partners, which wrapped up last Friday, was an opportunity for the software giant to introduce its newest solutions for small and mid-market businesses.

The Business Network will allow those in the SMB space to achieve significant productivity improvements thanks to levels of information integration not typically seen in this space, says Microsoft Business Solutions lead project manager Marcus Schmidt.

The network lets users cut down on the amount of time they spend processing order and sales information, Schmidt says. It achieves this by integrating incoming customer requests into the company sales order records. The product’s main target are companies selling finished consumer goods, but he says any company which buys or sells products can use it.

“”You would send me a purchase order for example,”” Schmidt says. “”The order would arrive in my Outlook as an e-mail but it would be filtered into a folder we’d specially designed for that information. From there the information would be incorporated into my shipping orders seamlessly.””

A beta version of the Business Network will be released next month. Microsoft customers who got to hear about the product are already excited about the opportunity to make some of their business processes more efficient, Schmidt says.

That’s certainly the case with Dartmouth, N.S.-based Autoport, which is owned by Canadian National Railway Co. (CN). The company handles the distribution of all European import cars as well as the rail transport of domestically produced vehicles throughout Canada. It moves about a million cars a year all over the country. Getting in touch with its clients can be somewhat of a hassle, says assistant comptroller Jim Cook.

Autoport doesn’t have a large number of customers, but all of them are large automotive manufacturers and require specific information on a very consistent basis, he says. Those companies have put a lot of time, effort and money into their sales and ordering systems and don’t have much flexibility when it comes to how they receive information, or what information they receive.

“”Right now we’re in a situation where we have to record a lot of the information twice. . . . They actually have their systems on our premises. And each of their systems is different and access to each of their systems is different,”” Schmidt says. “”We’d like to . . . capture the information on our syst

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