New Products Be Damned, ePartners Forges Full-Steam Ahead With MBS Play

At least ePartners is not.

The Dallas-based MBS and Gold Certified partner has launched a full-fledged media campaign to lure customers to its MBS implementations rather than what it calls higher-cost "tier-one" SAP or Oracle deployments.

EPartners CEO Dan Duffy, not known for shyness, is aggressively pursuing deals that he said would normally go to the ERP giants.

"We're up 100 percent in Axapta business year over year," he notes. Axapta, the ERP line that Microsoft acquired in its Navision buyout three years ago, is the MBS product that competes most directly with SAP and other traditional ERP players.

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"Because of its three-tier object-oriented architecture, its multicurrency, multilanguage [support] and maturity, Axapta plays very well against these other products," Duffy told CRN. It hits the "sweet spot" in the upper end of the small- and midsize-business space, he said.

EPartners is launching a national print ad campaign positioning its MBS implementations for companies that want ERP but don't want open-ended and expensive engagements. Duffy maintains an ePartners/MBS tandem can in some cases do the job for 90 percent less money than a tier-one solution.

Going into its Worldwide Partner Conference next month, Microsoft has got to hope that more of its partners will be this aggressive. On the company's fourth-quarter earnings call in late April, one analyst said that the MBS group appears to be "moving sideways."

For the quarter ended in March, MBS revenue was up 3 percent but losses also rose slightly to $54 million from $52 million in the year-ago period. Doug Burgum, the Microsoft senior vice president leading the MBS charge, has maintained the group is still in investment mode and that as such it has no profitability problem.

Orlando Ayala, who is COO of MBS and also heads Microsoft's Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners ( SMS&P) group, has said the group has to hit huge volumes with its products, a goal that is apparently as-yet unattained.

It probably didn't help that Microsoft distracted partners and customers with promises of a next-generation "Project Green" that was to converge the code bases of all the business products. It has since pulled back into a more incremental game plan.

Now the next releases are slated to be the new Microsoft CRM, sometimes called MS-CRM 2.0, sometimes Microsoft CRM 2005, and perhaps now Microsoft CRM 2006. The company has recently reaffirmed a fourth-quarter ship date. Axapta 4.0 is due in the first half of 2006.

Duffy and other solution providers say customers need updates now and neither customers nor partners can wait around for vendor releases.

"There's plenty of stuff that can be done with the current [releases]. People should not wait for pie in the sky," Duffy said.