RealTime IT News

Ballmer Talks Up Microsoft ERP, Future 'Services'

Continuing moves to gain new traction among business customers, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today gave attendees at the software giant's Convergence 2008 conference a glimpse into its upcoming enterprise resource planning (ERP) release -- and clues about developments to come.

At the conference, taking place this week in Orlando, Fla., Ballmer also tipped his hand a little on the company's plans for offering its Dynamics software as Microsoft-hosted services.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) announced last summer that it would offer a hosted version of Dynamics CRM 4, which it calls CRM Live.

During his speech at the conference, Ballmer suggested that Microsoft may offer some or all of its other Dynamics-branded products in similarly Microsoft-hosted versions.

CRM Live "is not the only service that we plan from Dynamics in the software-plus-services space," Ballmer said. "You should expect to see more from us in ERP and other areas as we move into the future."

Efforts by Microsoft to gain traction in business process automation have become a major thrust in recent years.

The company is investing heavily in its Dynamics products with frequent updates, for instance. The products, which emerged in 2005, include ERP, CRM and financial applications targeted primarily at mid-sized companies.

Scheduled to ship in the first half of 2008, the next version of Microsoft's Dynamics AX 2009 that Ballmer previewed includes a bevy of enhancements.

The release will add 30 new role-based user models, called Role Centers, to simplify installation and use. For instance, two Role Centers will enable executives to view progress of compliance issues against key performance indicators and to drill down for more information when needed, according to a company statement.

"All businesses around the world are dealing with an increasing scale and scope of compliance obligations, from financial reporting to environmental to many, many others," Ballmer said during his presentation.

Additionally, the coming update to Dynamics AX will provide a Compliance Center feature that enables users to view all compliance information in a single location. Dynamics AX 2009 will also feature support for multiple languages, sites, and time zones.

Dynamics AX 2009 -- which is codenamed 'AX 5.0' -- also will see a speed boost, Ballmer added.

The software "shows about a 70 percent performance improvement when it runs on top of the new Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008," he said.

Windows Server 2008 shipped last month, and SQL Server 2008 is scheduled to ship in the third quarter.

Ballmer also described further plans for the overall design of Microsoft's Dynamics products, particularly in the area of common usability features.

"You see us moving all of the Dynamics applications to support the Office 2007 user model, with the so-called 'Ribbon' user interface at the top," he said. "We think we can let more people get access to more capabilities, including important capabilities like business intelligence that make them more productive."

Microsoft today also introduced the first in a series of online services meant to extend the capabilities of the company's ERP and CRM products to the Web. The initial offerings will include a credit card payment processing service built on PayPal and Chase Paymentech Solutions.

A marketplace feature will let customers market their products on eBay as well as on their own online stores, while a service will provide search engine marketing tracking and management.

The company today also announced the expansion of its alliance with EDS (NYSE:EDS), which is incorporating Dynamics CRM into the EDS global CRM practice, with the intention of extending Dynamics "further into the call centers of mid-market and enterprise companies," according to a Microsoft statement.