Microsoft Sets Timetable For Cloud ERP Applications

Microsoft's efforts to develop cloud versions of its ERP applications remain on track with cloud-based editions of the channel-popular Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV application suites set for release before the end of this year.

The specific timetable for Microsoft's entry into the cloud ERP software market, announced Monday at the company's Convergence 2012 conference in Houston, follows Microsoft's stated plans one year ago to develop cloud versions of the company's four ERP suites: Dynamics AX, GP NAV and SL.

"In reviewing our progress, getting ready for this event, I was really proud to see that everything that we promised a year ago at Convergence 2011, we have delivered," said Kirill Tatarinov, president of Microsoft Business Solutions, in a keynote speech Monday to about 10,000 attendees. "I'm truly excited about our roadmap, I'm truly excited about where we're heading."

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Microsoft COO Kevin Turner, joining Tatarinov during the keynote, said cloud computing was seen more as an early trend last year, but "now it's in full mainstream." He also repeated Microsoft's vision that most IT departments will take a hybrid approach and implement a combination of on-premise and cloud systems.

Both the on-premise and cloud versions of Dynamics GP 2013 and Dynamics NAV 2013 will be available in the fourth quarter of calendar 2012, Microsoft said. The cloud releases will be developed to run on Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform. A beta release of NAV 2012 will be available in May with the final "release to manufacturing" version expected in September or October.

In addition to the Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV native clients, the 2013 releases for the first time will offer browser access and access from Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software, said Fred Studer, general manager of Dynamics product management, in an interview. The Dynamics GP and NAV developers also have been working closely with the Windows 8 development team so the ERP applications can take advantage of Windows 8's "touch" Metro user interface, he said.

Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV are targeted toward SMB customers -- NAV alone currently has 90,000 customers -- and are especially popular with Microsoft solution providers that target SMBs. Dynamics AX is geared toward larger customers.

Microsoft has not disclosed a timetable for providing cloud versions of Dynamics AX or SL. The company released Dynamics AX 2012 last fall as an on-premise product and will ship Dynamics AX 2012 R2 later this year, also in an on-premise-only form. A channel partner that resells Dynamics AX said he thinks the cloud version of that application probably won't be available until early 2014. An on-premise update of Dynamics SL is due by the end of this year.

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Hundreds of Microsoft channel partners resell the on-premise versions of the Dynamics ERP applications, and more than 200 provide hosted versions of those products on a "private cloud" basis, Tatarinov said in a press conference following his keynote. "And they are doing incredibly well."

Because they are SMB products, the Dynamics GP and NAV cloud services will be sold only through channel partners, although they will be running in Microsoft data centers.

"The engagement does not change," Tatarinov said, noting that channel partners will still own the customer relationship.

Microsoft already offers both on-premise and cloud versions of its Dynamics CRM applications. While the cloud edition debuted in December 2007, it was available only in the U.S. and a few other markets: Microsoft began offering Dynamics CRM Online on a worldwide basis just last year.

Tatarinov said Microsoft is making progress on its vow to speed up the pace of new releases of its ERP applications. Microsoft has been putting out new releases of Dynamics CRM and Dynamics CRM Online about every six months to better compete with cloud software rivals such as Salesforce that regularly update their offerings. The goal is to get closer to that release schedule with some of Microsoft's ERP applications: In the past Microsoft has released major updates to its ERP applications about every three years.

In a press briefing Daniel Brown, general manager of Dynamics NAV, said the company is now on an annual release timetable for that product.

In his portion of the morning session, Turner ran through what he sees as the major trends in IT including cloud computing, exploding volumes of "big data," social computing, the consumerization of IT, ubiquitous connectivity, and a new generation of user interfaces.

He also made a pitch for the upcoming Windows 8, calling it "enterprise-ready and consumer friendly" and -- because of its ability to run on both x86 and ARM architectures -- "an operating system without compromise."