RealTime IT News

Great Plains � A Year After The Sale

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, at the peak of hype about the ASP model, Great Plains had 63 ASP companies in its channel. Now, with the industry plunged into a trough of disillusion, there are just 10 listed on company's Web site. But Jim Traynor, director of ASP business development, prefers it the way it is now.

"When our voicemail was piling up with ASP wannabees 15 months ago, we were talking them out of it," said Traynor. "We'd like our VARs focused on providing their trusted business process consulting."

The reduction in numbers reflects a tailing off of channel enthusiasm — and the introduction by Great Plains earlier this year of more stringent requirements for ASP certification — rather than a lack of customer demand for ASP solutions. Instead of becoming ASPs themselves, most Great Plains resellers now bring in one of the ASP wholesalers in the channel to host solutions on their behalf. Demand continues to grow steadily, and the ASP model now represents about five percent of Great Plains' revenues.

"About one in 20 deals are going through an ASP deployment," said Traynor. "We added more customers last quarter than we did the quarter before." In 18 months to two years' time, the ASP model could be bringing in anything between a tenth and a fifth of the overall business, he added.

All the same, Great Plains won't be giving favorable treatment to its ASPs, preferring to see the ASP model as an alternative choice rather than a replacement for traditional licensed solutions. "People that want it hosted can acquire it hosted," said Traynor. "Our ASPs would like to see us make it cheaper. But there's not a compelling reason for us to do it."

A Small Businesses Option<
Partners that do want to reach a lower price point now have the option of offering Small Business Manager instead of the flagship Great Plains Dynamics application suite. Formally launched last month, Small Business Manager is designed to fill the space between Intuit's entry level small business package QuickBooks and the midmarket Dynamics solution. Designed by Great Plains using the same code base as Dynamics, it will cost $1,500 for a single user version.

With a simplified set of configuration options compared to Dynamics, the application has been designed with templates and wizards that streamline the setup process. It also has links into Microsoft online services such as MSN Messenger, and into e-commerce and customer management services from bCentral. The first iteration was delivered in April, and work since then has "focussed on making that product more scalable and more accessible," said Traynor, culminating in last month's production launch.

The Honeymoon Continues
Great Plains surprised the industry last December when it announced its acquisition by Microsoft, which closed in April this year. Now known as Microsoft Great Plains, the business retains a large degree of autonomy, while the two parties to the marriage have been getting to know each other better.

"One of the things we're learning about from Microsoft is scale," said Traynor. Great Plains is far more dominant in the domestic American market than elsewhere. It hopes to use Microsoft's reach to extend its market presence globally, particularly in Europe.

"One of the assets of Great Plains that Microsoft acquired is our ability to interact with the channel," said Traynor. Management from Microsoft's Redmond, Washington headquarters were astonished to see the strength of bonding with channel partners, displayed in characteristic form at Great Plains' annual Stampede conference, held in its home town of Fargo, North Dakota. "We're hugging each other, we're showing each other our children's pictures, and the Redmond people had never seen anything like it," said Traynor.

Getting to Know .Net
The other gain from becoming part of Microsoft is getting close to the development team for its .Net architecture. "We're going to enhance our suite of products to the .Net architecture over the next three years," said Darren Laybourn, executive vice president of products.

The benefits include being able to easily build online access to extra functionality into the desktop client, using Microsoft development tools such as Visual Studio .Net and the C# language. Great Plains will introduce a .Net toolset to help developers add custom functionality, and will be evangelising to the 300 developers who already build plug-in applications for the Great Plains platform.

"People investing in the application today are in a great position to migrate smoothly to .Net," said Laybourn.