ERP Convergence Plans

The road map unveiled last week includes waves of increasingly converged code as the company tries to reach a unified ERP foundation. The newly vocalized plan is less "big bang" and more evolutionary, partners said.

Acquired by Microsoft three years ago, Axapta will continue its usual six-month service pack schedule. Axapta 4.0 is now due in first half of 2006.

Of the company's four lines--Axapta, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon--Axapta, which focuses on the higher end of the midmarket, is seen as Microsoft's best answer to SAP and Oracle applications.

The current Axapta 3.0 will get a service pack later this month that includes SQL Server reporting services and other perks. Axapta 4.0 will add service management capabilities for manufacturing companies, support for long and complex sales cycles, Outlook integration, RFID support and more SharePoint integration. SQL Server reporting services will be built in.

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Version 4.0 also will support two-way interaction with .Net applications. The 4.0 SDK will include the 300 most common Axapta language classes, covering "99 percent of scenarios" so developers can write add-ons, said Mark Jensen, Axapta general manager. The update also will allow .Net applications or any language running under Microsoft's Common Language Runtime (CLR) engine to make calls into those classes. Sometime later, Axapta's native X&#043&#043 language will be supported in the CLR, he said.

Axapta 4.0 will continue to offer its own CRM functions as well as tighter integration with Microsoft CRM.

The inclusion of common code will ripple throughout the ERP line starting this fall with Great Plains 8.5. That release will be the first product to show off Microsoft's planned role-based user interface that will expose functions pertinent to the particular user.

Still, the two waves discussed at Convergence 2005 in San Diego last week will not be the end of the process, said Doug Burgum, senior vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions. "Wave three will be more converged than wave two, but [we're] always moving toward increasing amounts of shared design and shared code and then giving people a chance to move toward that common point," Burgum told CRN.

Partners said this phased plan minimizes trauma to them and to customers. "Slow and easy is good," said Dan Duffy, CEO of ePartners, Dallas. "They are not decoupling the road map from existing products, and they are sustaining maintenance and support of the current lineup."