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Dispatch from Dallas

Catching the Wave at Convergence 2006

Microsoft Business Solutions Group's annual Convergence conference, which focuses on the company's business applications, drew thousands of customers and partners to Dallas in late March. Here are a few highlights from the show:

People Power:Microsoft unveiled its "people-ready" marketing strategy for its Dynamics line of enterprise resource planning applications. The idea behind the tag line: Software should empower employees to solve their own problems, create efficiencies and move their businesses forward.

Waves of Change: The Dynamics application set will undergo two waves of change in the next few years. In the first wave, Microsoft is already integrating the four products in its suite (AX, GP, NAV and SL -- adapted from the products' original names, Axapta, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon) into Windows and Office and will continue to do so as it introduces Vista, Office 2007 and new versions of Dynamics applications over the next two to three years.

Microsoft says the integration gives users a unified view of all four ERP applications within a familiar interface. Betting that back-end capabilities will even themselves out across the competitive landscape as the company catches up to its rivals, Microsoft hopes to differentiate itself with better-looking, easier-to-use tools.

Gates tells Burgum and audience to expect a two-year window for sweaters to swing back into fashion
Microsoft Business Solutions Chairman Doug Burgum (right) described how his late father, a grain silo operator in rural North Dakota, taught him to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Wave 2 involves moving all four applications onto the same platform and offering customers a single, broad-based solution with "best-of-the-best" functionality from each application. The first Wave 2 releases are scheduled to hit in 2008 and 2009 with iterative releases for each product.

Microsoft is urging partners to start preparing now for that second wave of change. Partners focused on just one solution will need to develop expertise in the entire Dynamics suite and switch from a product-focused to a vertically focused strategy.

The immediate Dynamics roadmap calls for shipping AX 4.0 in June, with SL 7.0, NAV 5.0 and the next version of Dynamics CRM scheduled to ship in the first half of 2007. GP 10.0 is scheduled for a 2007 release.

Solution Finder: Get your customer references in order. Microsoft's new Solution Finder service www.microsoft.com/dynamics/solutionfinder.mspx, which provides links to partners offering specific expertise, will best benefit those who can prove that that their companies deliver value. Partners must produce two solid customer references to be listed in the Solution Finder system; as they produce more references, they'll move higher up their specialty-area lists.

Open Gates: Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates spoke candidly about his family in his keynote address, saying that his 6-year-old son is so into shopping for cars online that the youngster has dealers contacting him about potential sales. He also assured the audience that his kids use MSN's search engine rather than that of rival Google.

Against the Grain: Microsoft Business Solutions Chairman Doug Burgum's keynote address included a touching story about how his late father, a grain silo operator in rural North Dakota, taught him to separate the wheat from the chaff to provide customers with the cleanest, most valuable possible final product. Burgum choked up during his talk, holding back tears several times.

About the Author

Lee Pender is the executive features editor of Redmond magazine. You can reach him at lpender@redmondmag.com or follow him on Twitter.

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