Q&A: Microsoft Announces Upcoming Major Releases in its Microsoft Dynamics ERP Product Line
At its annual event for customers who use Microsoft Dynamics products, Microsoft is announcing major upcoming releases of two of its flagship Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions this week: Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0 and Microsoft Dynamics SL 7, both expected to be available in June 2007. Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0 is an out-of-the-box business management solution that includes more than 100 new features that span the range of ERP functions, as well as a new user interface that brings forward the look and feel of the recently launched 2007 Microsoft Office system and Windows Vista. Other improvements include significant enhancements to business intelligence (BI) functionality and advanced search and workflow capabilities. Microsoft Dynamics SL 7 is an adaptable business management solution that automates the transactions of project, service and distribution driven organizations and provides managers with insights to help monitor and grow their company through confident decision making.
To learn more about these upcoming releases, the development process and the competitive landscape, PressPass spoke with Lynne Stockstad who, as general manager of the Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft Dynamics SL and Microsoft Point of Sale product lines, oversees all three product teams.
PressPass: What are some of the most noteworthy features in Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0?
Stockstad: This release is a huge step for us as we deliver customer innovation in our Microsoft Dynamics ERP product line. We’ve heard a resounding “WOW” from our beta customers in terms of the innovation and capabilities we are shipping with Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0, which tells us we’re moving in the right direction.
Some key areas are the core application functionality – with more than 100 new features that deliver on the promise of making business software easier to use and making it more relevant to people’s roles within their unique business. We’ve done a lot of work on the user interface to bring forward the look and feel of Windows Vista and the 2007 Office system. For instance, we’ve introduced Action Panes across all Navigation Lists, which contain commands specific to the data in the list, eliminating the need to move across multiple windows to perform a task. With this release, we’re introducing a new workflow engine that can be tailored to the customers’ needs based on Microsoft SharePoint Server technology. We continue to move more of our reporting functionality to Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services, which gives customers more flexibility in how reports are deployed
Another key area that really shines is increased functionality in business intelligence (BI). With our customers’ interest in BI capabilities continuing to increase, this release offers integration with Microsoft Excel Services (a component of SharePoint Server) that provides customers with the ability to conduct analysis in an environment that’s familiar and easily accessible.
The last big thing is the introduction of both structured and unstructured search capabilities. We’re bringing search to the desktop for a deep view into the entire application. For example, an accounts receivable person looking for a customer can simply type in the customer’s name and see both transaction data from the ERP system as well as unstructured documents such as email, Word, Excel and PowerPoint that contain the customer’s name. And all of this happening from within the ERP system and presented in a form that’s very similar to the user experience the person would have using MSN Search. Customers have lots of data outside of the ERP application, such as in e-mail, and with our new search capabilities we’ve married the ability to quickly find what they are looking for regardless of the form factor.
PressPass: Please tell us a little about the development process for Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0.
Stockstad: It’s a large and talented team, most of which works on our campus in Fargo, N.D., that developed this release. It’s taken us about 24 months. The planning process started three and a half years ago and consisted of a tremendous amount of customer and partner interviews, extensive product testing, and delving deeper into understanding how customers are really using our products by learning as much as we can about the infrastructures of our customers’ businesses. We have more than one thousand machines we use for stability and regression testing at the development center in Fargo. We have a highly automated testing process that allows us to test new product builds nearly every night so we receive constant feedback on the quality of solution before we give it to customers for testing in a real-world environment. Our customers gave us strong feedback on payroll, for example. There were small things that have bothered people such as retro-active pay and the way the technology handles garnishments so we went back and included more options. This is what we call customer driven innovation. With Microsoft Dynamics GP, the product is on it’s10th major release in 14 years and it is extremely reliable and easy to implement and maintain. Our development and test processes have been finely honed over the years to allow us to deliver a very high quality solution with every release.
PressPass: What are some of the benefits that Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0 will bring to Microsoft’s partners?
Stockstad: Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0 provides strong functionality but it can also be extended by our industry partners or customers, based on customer need. One of the biggest values of Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0 is the high level of integration with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server and Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services, so there’s a big opportunity for our partners to introduce these technologies and their value to customers. The integration significantly extends the reach of the application to more and more users. With this release we’re introducing a new “light user” for people who don’t need to hammer in transactions all day but can still benefit from having access to information inside the application.
PressPass: Are there specific industries and segments to which Microsoft Dynamics GP is particularly well suited?
Stockstad: Microsoft Dynamics GP is very well rounded and crosses pretty much all segments and industries. We’ve targeted it to customers focused on lowering their total cost of ownership and reducing the time it takes to realize benefits. Our customers range in size from the smallest companies to divisions of the very largest. More than 1,000 Microsoft Dynamics GP customers have more than 1,000 employees. What the customers are looking for is a flexible and deep business management system. They often want to connect the business management system with other operational systems but not employ a significant IT staff to manage it. We support that scenario with Web services, ODBC (open database connectivity) tools, and a wide variety of customization tools today. On the other hand, we have five-person companies that are growing with 2 users who needed a more complete and scaleable solution than they might find in an entry level accounting system.
Microsoft Dynamics GP has close to 40,000 customers worldwide, with more than 300,000 extended users licensed to use our business portal to access the system. We expect that number to grow substantially with this release.
PressPass: Security and Web services are two key trends for enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems for 2007. How does Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0 contribute in those areas?
Stockstad: At the database level we’re fully tested on SQL Server 2005. Just the fact that we’re on it adds lots of security to the product. Additionally, we overhauled the administrative setup and maintenance of the security infrastructure to make for an incredibly rich yet easy to manage environment. As a result of the SharePoint functionality we have additional security, and we’ve connected the Active Directory security with the core Dynamics GP application security.
In terms of Web services, their popularity is growing worldwide and we’re well ahead of the curve. We delivered more than 200 of them since the release of Microsoft Dynamics GP 9.0. Our customers have found them incredibly valuable because of their ability to connect ERP business transactions with other disparate systems, both internal and external, via highly secure, industry-standard Internet connections protocols.
PressPass: How is Microsoft Dynamics GP faring against competitors such as SAP, which are slowly making their way into the mid-market space?
Stockstad: For the last five years, Microsoft has been researching and developing components that make business software easier to use to help address complexity issues. Our competitors are just now starting to talk about meaningful ease of use in ERP software and trying to catch up with our RoleTailored user design, which we’ve been focused on for our last two releases. With Dynamics GP 10.0, we have 22 role pages individually designed for specific functions people do in their jobs. This is based on our deep customer model research we did five years ago. We are designing software for the individual people in those organizations by what they do on a regular basis. This is the true meaning of people-ready software, a design philosophy and a core tenant of what we believe. It significantly reduces training and support costs and increases the productivity of our customers. We have set a new bar in business applications personal productivity and our competitors have a long way to go to catch up.
PressPass: Moving on to another significant Microsoft Dynamics ERP milestone, please tell us more about Microsoft Dynamics SL 7.0? What are the most noteworthy feature advancements in this release?
Stockstad: Microsoft Dynamics SL 7.0’s objective is to continue to be at the forefront of delivering stellar project-based ERP systems for small and medium-sized businesses. Some specific enhancements include: Microsoft Outlook-like navigation; RoleTailored menus – making it easier for people to easily perform tasks and access information relevant to specific business processes; additional functions extended to Windows SharePoint Services; new SQL Reporting Services reports that can be launched within Microsoft Dynamics SL, and Quick Send capabilities for electronically sending customers and clients invoices and purchase orders.
Additionally, the foundation technology in Microsoft Dynamics SL 7.0 was upgraded to Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, making it a native .NET application throughout and providing new options for data integration, product menus and home pages, and interfaces to products like SQL Server Reporting Services. With access to a larger developer ecosystem as well as a broad range of .NET framework-based solutions, including mobile solutions, Windows applications, Web sites and Web services, people who configure Microsoft Dynamics SL 7.0 can decrease their development time.
PressPass: BI is hot right now in the ERP space, with a number of companies listing BI as one of their top technology deployments for 2007. Does this launch bring any enhancements to Microsoft Dynamics SL in this area?
Stockstad: In August 2006, we released a Business Analytics solution called Business Information Optimization (BIO) for Microsoft Dynamics SL. What is unique about this solution is its focus on enabling managers to gain a better understanding of their specific business models with enhanced analysis and reporting capabilities that can be displayed via a custom home page. With 60 pre-built analysis reports that are configured for 14 specific roles within a company, each of these can be tailored to people’s specific needs without requiring significant technical knowledge. We’re proud to say that our partners have been telling us that BIO is one of the best examples of BI dashboard solutions in the industry.
PressPass: Are there particular industries and segments to which Microsoft Dynamics SL is particularly well suited?
Stockstad: Yes. Microsoft Dynamics SL has done very well providing solutions for customers who have both project-based needs and materials management requirements. This covers numerous industries, but some that particularly stand out are: professional services, construction, advertising and PR, media and entertainment, research, and even non-profit firms and retail distribution organizations.
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