Every once in a while, even hardened cynics like me have to wipe the sneer from our faces and admit that some hapless vendor might be getting something right. In this case, the vendor is Microsoft, and the thing they may be getting a little more right is the subject of last month’s column: Microsoft Business Solutions and its enterprise software product line.
Last month I wrote that things were really bad in MBS land, so bad that I wouldn’t be surprised if they just upped and sold the whole mess and went back to the things Microsoft has traditionally done well. That column generated a lot of interesting comment and, if nothing else, set the stage for understanding a host of announcements that Microsoft made at this month’s giant Convergence MBS user conference in San Diego.
Don’t worry, I haven’t gone soft on MBS. I promise I’ll still hide behind the columnist’s traditional safe harbor statement — they still have to execute against the new strategy — but at a minimum MBS deserves credit for addressing a host of issues that have plagued them for the last two years.
Lets start with Project Green: Green was originally intended to be a complete rewrite of the code base for the four main products that make up MBS: Axapta, Navision, Great Plains and Solomon. The vagueness of the effort’s goals and timetable left Microsoft’s partners in the untenable position of trying to sell today’s products against the prospect of a much more perfect and undeniably interesting future. A very bad idea.
Microsoft has wisely scaled back Green in a number of substantive ways. The most important change is that, instead of a complete rewrite, MBS is going to focus on Web service-enabling the four products so that their respective functions can be used — somewhat interchangeably — as the platform for a composite application solution that would be independent of any individual product. This makes much more sense and will be not only easier to do, but easier for customers to make use of.
Then there’s the channel. The channel has been a mess, with channel partners competing against each other while interesting add-on products remain unavailable to the wider MBS customer base or are unsupported by small, resource-strapped VARs. To remedy these problems, MBS later this year will launch two services: one to help find these solutions and bring them more into the mainstream of the sales process, and another to make sure that channel partners aren’t competing with each other for the same customers. And the biggest and best of the partner products will be folded into MBS’ new Industry Builder program, which will ensure that they are well-productized and well-supported throughout MBS’ burgeoning global empire.
Meanwhile, MBS executives outlined some important areas where the synergy between MBS and the rest of the Microsoft world would take place. The most important in my mind is in what MBS calls the “user experience.” The basic premise is that Office and Outlook constitute the core of the user experiences of many millions of customers and prospective customers. Leveraging that familiarity in the MBS product line is something that can add tremendous clout to MBS sales efforts in the training and IT-resource constrained mid-market.
So far the report card looks good. The one place where the strategic overview did fall short was on the revenue and profitability picture. Doug Burgum, MBS top gun and chief history buff, claims that profits aren’t in the plan, and that revenues are growing consistent with the industry. That’s one place where no columnists’ safe harbor is justified. This is Microsoft we’re talking about, not “the rest of the industry.” Doug needs at a minimum to articulate how the above changes in channel and product strategy might translate into more revenues, or show how something else he has up his sleeve will.
We’re no longer expecting MBS to be a $10 billion company in 2010, something that Doug’s sales pal Orlando Ayala spent 2003 claiming was a real possibility. But we still expect some degree of greatness to justify the Microsoft brand, the many billions in investments, and the fear and loathing that MBS still generates across the enterprise software industry. At least at Convergence, we could see that the beginnings of a comprehensive plan. And not a moment too soon.