Q&A: Six Months Later, It’s Business As Usual for Microsoft Great Plains

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 4, 2001 — It was on April 5 that Great Plains Software, a leading supplier of business applications for small and mid-size companies, became part of Microsoft Corp. It was Microsoft’s largest acquisition ever, in terms of the number of people involved, with more than 2,000 team members of the Fargo, N.D.-based Great Plains, led by then-CEO Doug Burgum, joining Microsoft.

Burgum, now a senior vice president at Microsoft and president of Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions, continues to head the Great Plains organization, which has aligned with the Microsoft bCentral team under the Business Solutions umbrella. With business management solutions including eEnterprise, Dynamics, Solomon and Small Business Manager, Microsoft Great Plains helps small- and mid- size companies become more agile in today’s interconnected economy.

PressPass spoke with Burgum on the eve of Stampede, the 16th annual gathering of Great Plains partners, value added resellers (VARs), consultants and solution developers who sell, support and develop integrated products for Microsoft Great Plains.

PressPass: How has the Great Plains organization and its mission, changed as a result of the acquisition that occurred six months ago this week?

Burgum: By just about any measure, the merger with Microsoft has been a success. The acquisition of Great Plains was the single largest hiring day in Microsoft history, and we’ve had exceptionally low turnover. Furthermore, we’ve continued to meet our financial and operational goals — no small feat, given the challenging market environment right now. A key to making any acquisition work is the ability of the group to keep performing at high levels post-acquisition. We have.

Part of the success is due to the fact that Microsoft set up a dedicated integration team. I think that because Great Plains had successfully participated in a number of acquisitions of its own, we had a good framework for the transition. From the day of the announcement in December through the close date, April 5, an exceptional amount of good work was done on integration and communication. Additionally, Microsoft has lived up to every promise it made. We’re committed to the state of North Dakota, to the people, to our brand and to our partner channel. One hundred percent of our business goes through the channel, and consequently channel partners also had to buy into and understand that Microsoft was fully committed to that model of distribution in order for us to keep hitting our numbers.

Our partners are very happy. Outside the United States, we have been working to strengthen the Great Plains brand, and certainly the Microsoft brand enhances our global partners’ ability to compete in those markets. So they’re particularly pleased. And, the North American partners are pleased that it’s business as usual — which means a lot of positive things to them.

Our longstanding mission is to improve the lives and business success of our partners and customers. That has not changed, and will not change. In terms of the organization, the major change is that on July 1 we combined forces with Microsoft bCentral — a very positive move designed to accelerate our combined business solutions vision.

PressPass: What have been the organization’s greatest accomplishments since the April switchover?

Burgum: When Great Plains initiated discussions with Microsoft last fall, there was a vision to provide solutions that bridge the gap between on-premise and Internet-based software, providing flexibility of choice and enhancing how small- and mid- size companies work with employees, customers, suppliers and partners. While there is still much to do, we have made great strides in the first six months, laying the groundwork that will help us bring that vision to reality.

PressPass: How have Microsoft Great Plains products been enhanced by Microsoft .NET technologies to give customers more choices around device connectivity, solution integration, hosting, and so on?

Burgum: .NET represents a new generation of partnering opportunities for ISVs. We were a big, big supporter of .NET before the acquisition. As a standalone, public company, Great Plains had already bet on .NET, so it is a natural progression for us to be a leading example of how to build .NET capabilities into our products and to use .NET to deliver software that connects information, devices and people in a personalized way.

Microsoft Great Plains will extend the Microsoft .NET platform by adding functionality specific to each of its business solutions. As part of that effort, we will optimize the Microsoft .NET Framework, consisting of the developer tools and core components for building innovative, XML-based Web services and applications. This new .NET Business Framework is being used internally by Microsoft Great Plains developers and will be available in summer 2002 to external solution developers.

PressPass: What has Microsoft Great Plains been doing to extend its reach and increase its partner and customer base around the world?

Burgum: Our goal is to leverage the Microsoft infrastructure, including its terrific network of international subsidiaries, to access more markets more quickly than we would have been able to do as a standalone company. So, no doubt, we see a huge opportunity in the globalization of our business.

Additionally, we are developing a new financial and business management solution designed specifically for small businesses, Microsoft Great Plains Small Business Manager. This new solution will increase opportunities for partners and expand our global community of customers.

PressPass: The annual Stampede event brings together the entire family of partners — companies that sell, implement and support Microsoft Great Plains solutions. What impressions do you want them to come away with this year?

Burgum: Stampede has been going for 16 years, and people who have had a chance to attend Stampede describe it as different from every other industry event. They always say it feels more like a family reunion than a conference. There’s a great sense of community within the broader Microsoft Great Plains ecosystem, partly because we are 100-percent dependent upon our partners for local sales, marketing and service. And they have great dependencies on us. Many of these partner organizations have built substantial businesses in their own right, so at Stampede you have 1,500 or more entrepreneurs who have a shared experience of growing up together, growing their businesses and dealing with all the challenges of being entrepreneurs. There’s a lot of esprit de corps and tightness in that community.

One of the things I’d expect to come out of this is a reassertion of our four values — caring, commitment, courage and community — which over the years have helped guide all we do. From a product standpoint, there’s lots of news. This is the first Stampede we’ve had under the Microsoft umbrella, and there will be some Windows XP pre-launch activity and some activity around Office XP in front of these partners, whose customers, of course, use those products in concert with ours. We want all of our partners to understand exactly how being part of Microsoft allows us to expand and accelerate the vision.

PressPass: What does the coming year look like for Microsoft Great Plains?

Burgum: As always, our focus is to deliver the best solutions to address customer needs today, and to deliver innovative solutions tomorrow. Our efforts through 2002 will fall into several key areas. In November, we will launch Small Business Manager, an on-premise accounting and business management solution that integrates with Microsoft Office and bCentral online services. As I mentioned earlier, we will be developing the .NET Business Framework, which will be the foundation for Internet-enabled functionality in Great Plains solutions and will enable partner ISVs to create new experiences that integrate with our products. And we will enhance our solutions with .NET technologies, adding greater depth to the eEnterprise, Solomon and Dynamics suites, and developing whole new .NET experiences.

We will also ensure that Microsoft Great Plains remains an unmatched business partner, creating opportunities that increase our own and our partners’ business success, and we will strengthen our commitment to Great Plains customers by increasing investments in professional services, conferences, CustomerSource and loyalty analysis to promote lasting customer relationships.

PressPass: How are Microsoft Great Plains and bCentral working together to support the vision of the Microsoft Business Solutions division?

Burgum: Microsoft’s vision of the business application market is a combination of on-premise and “in-the-clouds” solutions. That’s central to the way we believe small- and mid- size businesses want to buy products today. It’s not just for technical reasons such as not having access to broadband, that companies are reluctant to move their systems completely online, but also sociological reasons, such as simply being unwilling to have their mission-critical systems hosted offsite.

Even before Great Plains became part of Microsoft, the strategic synergies between the online business services of bCentral and the on-premise Great Plains solutions were clear to us. Microsoft bCentral has essentially been a pure-play online service provider targeting small businesses. As it becomes more aligned with Microsoft Great Plains offerings, those online services will be positioned to scale all the way up through the midmarket. Working together, the two teams will leverage their existing products and unique competencies to offer a more robust combination of interconnected business solutions. Our goal is to make that combination a transparent and positive experience for customers.

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