REDMOND, Wash., April 25, 2005 — Imagine an office that has little need for the likes of paper folders, forms, faxes and printouts. An organization where physical filing is a thing of the past, and companies can conduct most, if not all, business electronically with customers, partners and suppliers in a way that’s efficient, personal and cost-effective.
The corporate world isn’t quite there yet. Despite the growth and ubiquity of the Internet, few business applications today have been truly designed to run over a public network, especially ones that span multiple companies. While the technology to connect systems has existed for some time, industry stalwarts agree the interfaces have been very difficult to develop and maintain. The Microsoft Business Solutions group is turning this connected scenario into more than a workplace fantasy. The group’s blueprint aims to improve its current connections and to build better corporate connections into its applications right out of the box, innovating with the technology, the desktop and the applications.
Satya Nadella, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Business Solutions
Existing Microsoft Business Solutions products, such as Microsoft CRM, Microsoft Business Solutions-Navision 4.0, Microsoft Business Solutions-Great Plains 8.0 and Microsoft Business Solutions-Axapta 3.0, are designed to help businesses operate more effectively, serve their customers more completely and get the most out of their personnel and software investments because they work like and with familiar Microsoft software.
To get a better sense of Microsoft’s goals for its Business Solutions group and how they mesh with customer and partner desires, PressPass spoke with Satya Nadella, corporate vice president for Microsoft Business Solutions; Jerry Zech, CEO for WineBid.com, an Internet auction site for fine and rare wines; Ronald van Heiningen, product manager and presales consultant for Qurius, a Netherlands-based Microsoft Gold partner and customer that specializes in business improvements, business solutions, integration and IT services; and Søren Seerup, senior vice president of Gumlink A/S( Fertin A/S), a manufacturer of food and pharmaceutical chewing gum.
PressPass: Describe for us what you mean when you say a company is “connected”?
Nadella: When we talk about a company being connected, we mean that the people and systems of that company are connected in a rich way with the people and systems at their company, their customers, and their suppliers. By introducing role-specific home pages, users like sales executives and CEOs can get directly to data that helps them manage and make decisions, and communicate with their employees, suppliers, and customers in a contextual manner. Role-specific UI improves the current situation by allowing specific business roles to interact with Microsoft Office System applications, specific business management tasks and reports, all from within an individualized screen tailored to their specific roles — helping make the system easier to use and the information more accessible. More broadly, these users are principally knowledge workers and spend their time in Microsoft Office System applications. By making Office a natural client for accessing the business application data, we connect that data to a new population of users within the company.As for customers and Microsoft industry partners, rich integration of the application with Microsoft Windows SharePoint Portal Server services enables the customer and partner users to connect the business applications – letting them see when a payment has been issued for example, rather than having to call by phone. Both parties are more efficient.
Beyond connecting users, Web-service interfaces improve our ability to connect systems. Web-service interfaces don’t eliminate the complexity, but they certainly take a huge step in the right direction. A connected company needs the technology and applications that offer Web-service interfaces. Our roadmap is very focused on delivering broad capability in this area across our product line.PressPass: Why, despite technological advances, has this connected scenario been slow to catch on with companies?
Nadella: Sure, there have been numerous advances, but these are hard problems. A critical mass of the right enabling technology is coming to the market. This will help the connected ideas catch on in real implementations. Even with the right plumbing, so to speak, applications today have generally not been written for a connected world. At a minimum, this leaves the work of building out the connected solution to partners and customers. In the worst case, the applications are not well suited to be connected at all. Take for example a sales order processing application that was built with the assumption that inventory was maintained in the same database. Even with great plumbing, it would be hard to connect this sales order system with an inventory now managed by an outsourced partner.
As applications come on line that really assume the connected world, we will see a further increase in the speed and depth to which the connected scenarios come to life. Of course, there are concerns about security and how much information to really share with trading partners in a competitive world, so people will walk before they run. But there is so much that can be done to improve efficiency and build competitive advantage by connecting and automatically sharing the exact same information people are willing to pass through less efficient means of phone, fax and mail today.
PressPass: As customers, describe for us the most compelling features and benefits of the Microsoft Business Solutions and services you utilize?
Van Heiningen: Qurius was one of the first Dutch companies to start using Microsoft Navision 4.0. In doing so, we have extended our customer relationship management functionality and already are getting better results from the business analytics solution. We also know first-hand how much better it is than other applications out there. About one and a half years ago, we merged with another company, Magnus, which used an SAP financial solution. It was difficult, yet essential to compare financial data at that time. Needless to say, they are now using Microsoft Navision, and we all benefit by being able to access our financial information in a timely manner.
Seerup: We evaluated SAP R3, BPCS 6.0 Pharmaceutical and Microsoft Axapta at Gumlink. The most important factor was the manufacturing and supply chain process functionality, and there was no doubt that we found features in Microsoft Axapta that were not available in the competitor’s product that allow us to more easily get detailed information on each of our item numbers. Microsoft Axapta was half the price of the SAP solution. But the biggest benefit was having achieved a 20 percent productivity increase. Three months after installation, we experienced a record-high manufacturing output of 41 kilos [90 pounds] per man-hour. In the 87-year history of the company, our output had never been above 39 kilos [86 pounds] per man-hour. At Gumlink A/S we have recalculated the ROI of the Axapta investment, and the whole project had a payback time of 13 months.
Zech: The greatest benefit of deploying Microsoft Great Plains for Winebid.com — and I look at situations from a macro level — is that my accounting people are happy. If I need any information, at any point, I know it’s going to be true. I don’t have to worry about if this is a good number, or if that is a good number. Microsoft Great Plains really gives me that confidence. Our previous product did not do that for us.
PressPass: How important is the integration with other Microsoft products and services to you?
Van Heiningen: Microsoft Navision 4.0 integrates brilliantly with Microsoft Office. It means our sales executives can directly use information from Microsoft Navision 4.0 in familiar Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook. Looking ahead, we see many opportunities for integration and are especially interested in adding more information-based services by deploying SharePoint Portal Server 2004 and Office InfoPath 2003.
Zech: One of the things that drove us to our decision to deploy Microsoft Great Plains was its ability to integrate with other Microsoft products. Our auction engine is based on Microsoft.NET and a lot of our database is too. We wanted — and got — a strong core accounting package that we could easily extend using Microsoft technologies to work with the auction side of the business. We knew there was support and development down the road from Microsoft, which will enable us to further enhance user experiences by providing customized views based on past preferences. We also will be able to create target marketing plans and send personalized emails.
Seerup: When we introduced Microsoft Axapta in the Gumlink factory, we experienced very positive feedback from employees because it is very user friendly. Additionally, we integrate Microsoft Axapta with EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) using Microsoft BizTalk Server, which works very well as it enables us to live up to any kind of customer order or request that comes in electronically through the system regardless of what technology the customer is using on their end. This kind of integration is very important to us.
PressPass: What is Microsoft doing to advance an organization’s ability to do business electronically with industry partners and customers?
Nadella: We are doing work to advance the connected vision on multiple levels. First, at the basic platform level we’ll incorporate capabilities like “Indigo,” the code name for a new set of .NET technologies built around the Web-services architecture, that are designed to make connected systems design available to a very broad set of partners and ISVs. SharePoint Portal Server continues to evolve as a great portal solution for connecting broadly within the company and across the partner, supplier, customer ecosystem.
Next, specific tools for connecting systems like Microsoft BizTalk Server continue to evolve. A very exciting new area revolves around system knowledge of presence, which is the ability to locate or contact your critical contacts, and bringing live communication to the desktop. Imagine knowing that your supplier is online when you are looking at a problem with an incoming material order, and initiating a live chat with them while you are both looking at the data. Microsoft is uniquely innovating in the technology, the support in the Microsoft Office System and in the applications to make this possible.
PressPass: Can you discuss what this means for Microsoft Business Solutions industry partners?
Nadella: Our partners are an integral part of bringing these connected solutions to our customers. Around Web services, the headline message is that partners can now build connections to each of our applications, taking advantage of the mainstream Microsoft Visual Studio toolset and .NET–based languages. Making it easier for partners to build connected solutions is the first step toward getting more connected capabilities in customer hands.
PressPass: What future innovations are expected to excite the business applications industry?
Nadella: There is a tremendous amount of innovation on the way that will drive excitement around business solutions. But the most important point is that the future begins now. These are not things that are 10 or even five years away. Our solutions deliver integrations that increase employee productivity, make the systems easier to use and improve efficiency. Our product roadmaps will deliver Web-service interfaces out of the box, rich integration with SharePoint Portal Server and role-specific UI across our products in the next year. This will drive a new wave of innovations, which our industry partners and customers tell us should include features such as integration with other Microsoft products, ease of use and even better customization capabilities.
With the next release of the Microsoft Office System, the applications will take advantage of great new tools for collaboration, including integration of presence and live communications. On an ongoing basis, the applications will also evolve to consider the connected world and the business processes that link connected players in a richer and richer way.