Microsoft Plans More Snap Links From Office To ERP

Duet links from Microsoft Office to SAP ERP

Microsoft has eight new Snap modules in the works. These software nuggets will link the upcoming Microsoft Office 2007 front end to MBS' ERP and CRM back end, said James Utzschneider, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics marketing.

Snap modules slated for release in the fourth quarter are vendor management; proposal life-cycle management; customer, case and financial analysis; customer 360-degree view; expense report management; campaign management; report subscription; and smart search.

Microsoft plans to show off some of these downloadable goodies at its Tech Ed event next month and at its Worldwide Partner Conference in July.

Current Snap modules are for Office 2003. They include a time-sheet snap-in, a vacation management snap-in, and business data lookup snap-ins for Dynamics AX 3.0 (Axapta) and Dynamics CRM 3.0.

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The Snap code is accessible from the Web site. Users can adapt the code, customize it and redistribute it at will, Microsoft said.

Utzschneider said the goal is to increase Microsoft software's "people-friendliness," in keeping with the company's latest ad catchphrase.

"For so long, the discussion around ERP was business process management, scalability," he said. "Now we and other vendors are talking about software people can actually use. We had a realization when we did Project Green research. We talked to people about the object relational model for ERP and users who are trying to ship orders and close their books. They said, 'Don't put so many buttons on the screen.' "

Project Green was envisioned as a revolutionary move to a unified code base for all of Microsoft's ERP product lines. The effort has since been scaled down to a more incremental product migration path.

Microsoft's first take on CRM was lambasted for user interface problems. Even CRM-savvy VARs said the simplest tasks opened so many on-screen, cascading windows that it was impossible to navigate back to where they started. A major focus of the current Dynamics CRM 3.0 release was to drastically reduce on clicks and windows, and Microsoft succeeded in that, channel partners said.

For the past several months, as Microsoft has talked up the Mendocino effort with SAP, some MBS partners grumbled that the Redmond, Wash., software giant was doing less to integrate its ERP software with Office than it was with SAP's ERP system.

SAP sells mySAP ERP to enterprise accounts but, with its BusinessOne offering, also targets midsize companies that MBS prizes.

MBS last week posted a loss of $13 million for its fiscal 2006 third quarter ended March 31, compared with a loss of $39 million a year earlier. Revenue rose to $216 milliion from $179 million, a 21 percent year-over-year gain.

In the previous quarter, MBS had a profit of $11 million but subsequently started its advertising spend and marketing push, Utzschneider told CRN. Overall, he said, "I think the group is finally living up to its potential."

MBS is based on Microsoft's purchase of Great Plains Software five years ago and its later acquisition of Navision. It now fields four ERP product lines from those deals, as well as its homegrown Dynamics CRM.