Microsoft Canada is winding up a two-and-a-half month $400,000 blitz to increase the number of companies using its project management software and pull in more VARs. It’s an effort some partners already say has been worthwhile.

“”It’s been good for us,”” said Neil Kenyon, executive vice-president

of 5 By 5 Software Ventures of Calgary, a software development company that has built an application linking Microsoft Office Project 2003 to BizTalk server.

Microsoft has been helping the company target customers, he said, and assisting it holding a June 29 customer seminar.

Joe Galati, a Microsoft Canada product manager for Project, said spending on the campaign includes mailings to 50,000 companies, sending out evaluation software, hiring a marketing company to help VARs stage events and a booth at this year’s ProjectWorld conference in Toronto.

“”Demand has been incredible,”” he said in an interview. “”In some cities 160 people registered for seminars. We never expected such high numbers – we expected 40 people.””

The focus of the effort is on Project Professional, rather than the desktop version of the application, for enterprise project management (EMP), or project portfolio management. It’s an approach that tries to unify control over many company projects.

“”With EMP the idea is not to look at projects as silos but holistically, as a collection of projects,”” he said.

Competitors in this market include Welcom’s Open Plan, Primavera’s P3, PlanView’s PlanView, Niku’s Workbench, Artemis International’s Views and Advanced Management Solution’s AMS Real Time Projects.

Project Professional is an application system integrators may like: Unlike the standard version, it needs Project Server to work, so Microsoft urges potential customers retain integration partners and business process experts to help with implementations.

“”To service this market properly you have to have installation on the business process side,”” Galati said. EMP “”is more than just a tool. It’s a methodology that people undertake on how they’re going to manage their work.

“”Our tool facilitates that work, but to get it installed properly you have a business company come in and help change management get an organization prepared to do effective project management.””

Office Project integration partners range from large consulting firms such as Cap Gemini and Fujitsu to boutiques like 5 By 5.

In an attempt to get more resellers to get into this market Microsoft held a technical briefing for the product earlier this month at its Redmond, Wash. headquarters. Galati estimated about 1,000 partners were there, 100 from Canada.

One initiative is a test program called “”Ready, Set, Share,”” in which the vendor has hired a marketing company to help VARs bring potential customers to Microsoft-led seminars on Project Server.

“”Microsoft provides us with (marketing) templates and some labour to help do call-outs,”” said Kenyon. “”We provide the names and they help ensure there’s follow-up.””

HMS Software of Toronto, a premier Project partner, took advantage of the program this week to stage a breakfast seminar for 39 customers, said Julie Benard, the company’s marketing associate.

“”It was funded by Microsoft, who hired a PR company to organize it,”” she said.

“”We had an amazing turnout. We were really happy.””

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