Event Report: Microsoft Convergence 2008 – Microsoft Ends Project Green, Renews Enterprise Focus

Published on March 11, 2008 by R "Ray" Wang

(Copyrighted 2008. Photo by R Wang. All rights reserved)

New Management Shows Long Term Commitment to Business Solutions Group
Recent Microsoft Business Solutions departures have brought into question whether the Redmond , WA giant is serious about the business applications market. Estimates of year over year growth from 2006 to 2007 have fallen from double digits to the high single digits, and this has raised doubts about Microsoft’s commitment to this $1B + business. (See Josh Greenbaum’s latest) Yet, after a string of high level departures including Jeff Raikes, Doug Bergum, Satya Nadella, Tammi Reller, and James Utzschneider, it appears the new management team may be here for the long haul.

The good news – meetings in Orlando with partners, customers, and Steve Ballmer’s key note have helped mitigate many doubts while highlighting a renewed corporate wide commitment that goes beyond the appointment of inside veterans such as Kirill Tatarinov and Chris Caren, and a new business solutions head, Stephen Elop. The message from Convergence was loud and clear – Microsoft is committed to the enterprise apps space, SMB and the large enterprise.

Revised ERP Product Roadmap and Strategy Arises From the Ashes of Project Green
Project Green, Microsoft’s attempt to build a new ERP replacing all code lines, failed because partners strongly expressed as desire to keep building in their code bases, the initiative would hinder development of application breadth and depth, and Microsoft did not want to incur channel disruption across all product lines. On a technical level, existing products lacked the architectural foundations for convergence. With the death of Project Green, the Dynamics ERP team enters a new era. Early evidence shows increased collaboration among the system, platform, and tools teams; streamlined ERP product teams headed by Microsoft veteran Hal Howard; and a continued focus on long term product road maps crafted by Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Mike Ehrenberg. What has become quite clear:

  • Lessons learned from Project Green demonstrated in current releases. Despite the death of a converged product, customers already benefit from a new role-based personas focus leading to industry leading user experience. Though each Microsoft Dynamics product will retain their existing programming languages, increased platform adoption of SQL Server and VS.NET technologies allow each product line to adopt SOA, process-centric, and model driven design in an evolutionary approach. Teams will increase sharing of design specs, though not code, within the product families.
  • Shared investment will drive evolutionary convergence. Today all product lines share one user experience design team which implements UI with shared controls from one set of code that fits to each product’s architecture. Over time users can expect more Dynamics Attached Services, SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) report design/execution, unified communication (UC) integration components, and common analyst designer for Windows Workflow Foundation (WF).
  • SQL Server will play a critical role in future product direction. Cooperative development between the NAV/AX and SQL teams leads to new features optimized for SQL Server 2008 such as proprietary reporting to SQL Sever Reporting Services (SSRS). With Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009, preliminary performance benchmarks show the best scale on SQL Server 2008, though the product will still support Oracle databases. In addition, BI will be delivered out of the box for Dynamics AX. Via SQL Attached Services (SQLAS)
  • Future roadmap will optimize on Microsoft VS.NET middleware. Existing ERP applications all now use SharePoint as the portal and will leverage the capabilities of unified communications (UC) over the next 2 releases. Microsoft Dynamics SL has already been rewritten in Visual Basic .NET. Microsoft Dynamics AX, Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV incorporate Windows Workflow Foundation (WF). Microsoft Dynamics GP has supported Visual Studio developers with their Visual Studio Toolkit which exposes, Dynamics GP objects, classes, events and forms to the VS.Net developer. Recent releases of Microsoft Dynamics NAV now incorporate more VS.NET features at run time. Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 as well as Dynamics GP already leverage web services from Windows Communication Foundation (WCF). Complex roadmap dependencies on underlying Microsoft platform and Office releases, however, impact the extent to which Microsoft can update its Dynamics products, potentially resulting in delays of future releases.
  • Software plus Services initiative signal potential “SaaS-like” solutions. Future road maps indicate a movement towards new deployment options that include hostability, attached services, and finished services. With the changes in the 2006 Service Provider Licensing Agreement (SPLA), partners can deploy hosted solutions that will reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) and improve deployment options. Attached services like payment services and fraud prevention technology for credit card payment processing from PayPal and Chase Paymentech Solutions will extend functionality with relevant business services and integrate with on-premise ERP applications. Finished services intend to deliver new functional or vertical solutions in the cloud hosted in Microsoft data centers.

  • Industry Builders Initiative replaced with two new programs with more rigorous certification. Microsoft confirmed that Industry Builder, an independent software vendor (ISV) and system integrator initiative designed to deliver core vertical expertise, would be replaced with two new solutions, Microsoft Dynamics Industry Solutions (MDIS) and Certified for Microsoft Dynamics (CfMD).[i] This decision reflects an internal decision to hold off vertical expansion until the horizontal platform has been significantly revamped to support a broader range of vertical requirements. MDIS requires deeper partner synchronization to product road map, code quality assurance, translation, localization, documentation, and testing processes. MDIS will offer industry solutions OEM’d by Microsoft, sold on the price list, and synchronized with the Dynamics product development organization. CfMD provides validation and marketing benefits to existing vertical ISV solutions. Solutions must be tested and provide 10 customer references to qualify.

    [i] Industries include apparel and textiles, automotive, construction, consumer driven planning, CPG distributors, CPG manufacturers, field services, food and beverage distributors, food and beverage manufacturers, industrial distributors, industrial equipment manufacturing, manufacturing, oil and gas , energy financial management, process manufacturing, process industries, professional services, retail chain manager, and supply chain execution.

The bottom line
It appears that Microsoft has made a renewed commitment to the Dynamics product line. Future innovations will come from both the Microsoft Business Solutions division and the system, platform, tools, teams. End users can expect to stay within their product family and not to be forced down a path of artificial convergence. Despite the death of Project Green, customers will benefit from an evolutionary approach, albeit this will take much longer than originally expected.

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