The Microsoft Business Solutions Group's retooled and refined message about the next generation of its applications platform is drawing mixed reviews from customers.
At Microsoft Corp.'s Convergence 2005 user conference in San Diego this week, executives began to detail plans around the much-anticipated Project Green development initiative that was first discussed in broad terms in 2003.
The public unveiling of the project reassured some customers but confused others. Some sought more details than Microsoft offered, including pricing strategies and how four product lines of varying sophistication with different underlying architectures -- Great Plains, Axapta, Navision and Solomon -- can be merged into a single code base.
Microsoft needs to explain more clearly the impact the effort will have on users, said Davis Sooknana, IT project manager at Roadtown Wholesale Trading Ltd., a wholesaler and retailer. "What is the impact it will have on us? It's unclear to me," he said.
"Microsoft explained it at a high level. They need to break it down for us. I want a clear road map," said Sooknana, who wants to see the specific steps required to move to the new system, along with a time frame for when it will roll out.
The British Virgin Islands-based importer runs 16 modules from Great Plains 7.5, along with Microsoft's Exchange Server and SQL reporting services software.
Microsoft officials did work to assuage fears that users will be forced to migrate all at once to a new product line. They emphasized that the process will be gradual and extended the company's commitment of support from three years to five years.
For Jeff Coates, financial applications specialist at Stahls' Inc., the promise of an incremental approach makes Project Green more appealing than it was previously. The St. Clair Shores, Mich.-based maker of graphics for sports apparel runs Great Plains 7.0.
When Microsoft executives first began talking about the project a couple of years ago, many users feared that they would be forced off their existing applications in a big-bang approach and pushed to adopt a new, incompatible technology -- an impression Microsoft avoided making this time around, Coates said.
"The endpoint has not changed in terms of the vision of low cost and high adaptability," said Doug Burgum, senior vice president at the Microsoft unit. "This is a better plan than what we had before. We're allowing customers to receive innovation at their own pace."
The first phase of Project Green, which will continue until 2007, involves the development of a common interface based around Microsoft desktop products such as Outlook, said Dave Coulombe, general manager of Microsoft's Fargo, N.D., development center.
In addition, the first phase calls for building features that allow the applications to exploit Microsoft analysis and reporting tools while adding support for portals and Web services collaboration technology.
For the second wave of Project Green development, Microsoft will evaluate the processes in each product line and create best-of-breed processes, said Coulombe. Those processes will likely be added to the applications after 2008, he said.
The general idea of Project Green "sounds good on paper," said Rick Shrum, director of IT for the Seattle SuperSonics and Seattle Storm basketball teams. It appears that Microsoft will use this initiative to raise the general quality of all its product lines, so the users who will benefit the most are the ones lagging in technological sophistication, he said. Shrum said his company, which runs Microsoft's Great Plains and CRM applications, is already on the "leading edge."
"We are interested in a comprehensive ERP strategy, but until I am more certain what their Project Green solution will look like, we are in a wait-and-see mode," said Michael Kruger, information systems manager at Designer Doors Inc. in River Falls, Wis. The company is a Microsoft CRM software customer.
"By the time they have a better definition of the overall solution, we may be ready to explore it in more depth," Kruger said. The company's current ERP application is a non-Microsoft product that he didn't identify.
In other news at the show, Microsoft announced the Industry Builder program for Axapta independent software vendor partners. It stipulates that those vendors will develop industry-specific applications that meet Microsoft's quality standards and will receive Microsoft support. The company plans to roll out the program to its other lines later this year.
Microsoft also announced a new reporting wizard for Version 6.7 of FRx financial reporting software, now available as part of Service Pack 3. It plans integration of FRx with Versions 3.0 and 4.0 of the Navision ERP line in the first quarter of 2006.
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