Microsoft Releases Great Plains 8.0

Microsoft released a new version of its enterprise software product, promising more than 120 enhancements.

Great Plains 8.0 is billed as a cross-industry financial management product for small businesses, or divisions of larger companies engaged in distribution, manufacturing and project accounting.

Engel said the new version is easier to use, with a look and feel similar to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Outlook e-mail and calendar software. It’s also better integrated with Office software, so that, for example, a user could produce a customer letter in Microsoft Word, then import customer data to send out a mass mailing.

Integration with the next release of Microsoft Business Portal 2.5 will provide Web-based access to information for non-core users.

Great Plains is sold by Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS), a division that handles products to manage back-office functions including customer relations, enterprise resource planning and the supply chain.

Karen Engel, MBS group product manager, said that the MBS team focused on improving four things: streamlining business processes, improving visibility into the business operations, the user interface and integrating with other Microsoft products.

“We spent a lot of time on the user interface,” Engel said. “It now looks and feels and responds like an Office product, and that helps ease the learning curve for people.”

Great Plains 8.0 requires SQLServer. It can be used with Windows 2000 and Windows XP, with Microsoft Office needed to get full functionality. Microsoft provides eConnect and Integration Manager as tools to import information from other sources such as e-commerce applications.

The standard edition for smaller companies starts at $4,500 for one user at a time; the professional edition starts at $6,500 for one sequential user.

“We’ve put special emphasis in this release on helping existing
customers,” Engel said. Those on the Enhancement Plan receive 8.0 free, along with access to the Customer Source self-help Web site. Engels said the upgrade can usually be completed over a weekend.

Microsoft acquired Axapta, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon, the four products that make up the MBS division, along with their sales channels, partners and, to some extent, their staffs. The quartet provides enterprise resource planning (ERP) functions, including financial management, supply chain management, customer relationship management, project management and business analytics, often with considerable overlap.

Engel said Axapta is designed for larger organizations, while Solomon appeals to project-driven companies. Great Plains and Navision have similar feature sets, although Navision typically is customized more. Whether a customer ends up with one or the other depends more on geography and the sales channel than on product specifics, she said. The majority of
Navision’s installed base is in Europe, where the product originated, while
most Great Plains users are in North America.

Last week, Microsoft promised
to upgrade all four MBS products. Solomon 6.0 is expected in July. Navision
4.0 will ship later this year, and Axapta 4.0 scheduled for some time next

In May, Redmond announced a year-long initiative to straighten out its channel sales, bringing MBS resellers into the
Microsoft Partner Program global framework. The division didn’t perform as
well as other parts of the company, a problem CFO John Connors told analysts
was due to a lack of effective oversight of the sales channels. In June,
Microsoft reorganized MBS, putting division chief David Burgum directly under CEO Steve

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