Microsoft Partners Deliver Axapta Apps

The five applications--from Foliodev, FullScope, Manhattan Associates, To-Increase, Iteration2 and Columbus IT Partners--are the first fruits of Microsoft's Industry Builder program, which was announced last March.

As of Wednesday, the five third-party applications will appear on Microsoft's price list, complete with branding and certifications, but they will be offered to customers through VARs and integrators.

"This is the first wave of applications. Partners will be selling them. This is a full partner initiative. The only difference [between this and past efforts] is the concept of Microsoft being more involved in supporting these partners and associated customers closely," Craig McCollum, vice president of Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) told CRN.

The ISVs all had to submit to testing by Microsoft to make sure the products and support systems are up to snuff.

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The reason? Customers require value-add vertical functionality atop a solid ERP code base as an alternative to other applications, most notably from SAP, which is both a Microsoft platform partner and application rival.

"Customers can check off our SKU on Microsoft's price list and be assured it's covered under Microsoft maintenance and support although the sales of our [supply chain execution] product and Axapta goes through VARs," said Todd Sterrenberg, vice president of channels for Atlanta-based Manhattan Associates.

Under this scenario, Microsoft and partners say their combined solutions can compete successfully with vertical solutions from SAP and Oracle.

The benefit to the ISVs is that these solutions now get "prominent exposure to the 1,300 Axapta partners around the globe," he added.

To get that high profile, the partners have to prove that their applications integrate seamlessly with the Axapta platform.

"We had to go through rigorous certification and testing, not just on the product but on our organization and support staff," said Simon Chan, director of business development at Iteration2, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and ISV specializing in field service applications.

Iteration2's product, having passed muster, is now branded as Field Services for Dynamics AX.

Foliodev built professional services capabilities atop Axapta, along with specialized project accounting, and added Web-based expense entry systems to the base system, according to Helene Cole, co-managing partner of the Basking Ridge, N.J.-based ISV.

Cole acknowledged that the process "was not fun," but the upside in terms of exposure to global partners and prospects was more than worth it. "We sent code to India, we sent code to Ireland, and the process will continue," she said.

Foliodev offers Axapta professional services applications customized for five sub-verticals: architecture and engineering practices; advertising, public relations and marketing firms; IT and management consulting companies; the legal industry; and government contractors.

McCollum said one criterion ISVs must agree to is to update their offerings quickly for future Axapta releases.

The other early products are To-Increase's industrial equipment manufacturing application, Fullscope's process industries software and Manhattan Associates' supply chain execution wares.

Nima Bakhtiary, MBS practice director at Unisys, said Microsoft needs this program to offer larger customers a comfort level with its technology that they typically associate with products ERP vendors like SAP.

"This initiative started at the beginning of the year as Microsoft and Unisys push Axapta and MBS upstream into larger companies," Bakhtiary said. Larger companies want a complete solution, and they want it to be backed by Microsoft through its support and certification process, he said.

The balancing act here is to maintain Microsoft's partner-centric focus in such accounts while reassuring customers that the application has the company's full backing and blessing.

McCollum acknowledged that SAP is making a big push into verticals with its BusinessOne and All-in-One lineups. "It's obvious that companies are aligning around industry verticals initiatives, and we're expanding our vertical initiative across Microsoft," he said. "Industry Builder is one component of that."

Microsoft is watching the program carefully, McCollum said. While it "handpicked" Axapta as the test bed because it wanted to focus on high-end partners and customers, elements of the program may end up filtering over to other MBS lines, such as Great Plains or Navision, or perhaps into the overall ISV partner program, he said.

This story was updated Wednesday afternoon with additional ISV comment.