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New Dynamics Duo

SharePoint Server and an updated, Office-like interface are the main elements that the two latest releases in the Microsoft's Dynamics line have in common.

But the differences between Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains) 10 and Dynamics SL (formerly Solomon) 7 show that Redmond remains committed to a strategy of offering four disparate enterprise resource planning (ERP) suites rather than merging them all into one.

In June, Microsoft released GP 10 and SL 7, major upgrades of two of the four suites -- along with AX (formerly Axapta) and NAV (formerly Navision) -- that make up the Microsoft Dynamics ERP family. Each suite takes advantage of Microsoft's SharePoint Server to let users more easily search for and manipulate data within the ERP systems.

For instance, users can upload real-time data from Excel into either GP 10 or SL 7 using SharePoint Server-based reports, says Eric de Jager, director of Dynamics SL. The SharePoint link will also allow users to search structured ERP data -- or information stored in a database -- as well as unstructured data, such as information contained in e-mails, de Jager says.

The SharePoint link is critical for partners, says Aaron Sorenson, U.S. sales and channel manager for Diamond Software Inc., a GP specialist with U.S. headquarters in Fargo, N.D., which provides public-sector ERP applications and services through its Diamond Municipal Solutions business. Sorenson says that he's already seeing heavy SharePoint adoption among his clients.

"There are a lot of retirements going on in local government -- a lot of intellectual property is going away," says Sorenson, whose company is a Gold Certified Partner. "It's nearly impossible to extract data and get that into the hands of a new employee. Having SharePoint technology keeping all the docs in a single place is going to help with that transition."

GP 10 and SL 7 now have essentially the same interface, which is based on the "ribbon"-heavy Office 2007 interface. Common interfaces across the Dynamics suites are part of a Microsoft initiative to bring the familiar Office look and feel to ERP users, company officials say. Both suites are now also based on the .NET development platform, de Jager says. But in terms of functionality, there are still key differences between the two suites. GP, for instance, has enhanced search and workflow tools that SL doesn't have, while SL sports new project-management functionality not found in GP.

That's because Microsoft is going after different categories of customers with the two suites, de Jager explains. SL is aimed at companies with strong project-management needs, such as those in the professional services and construction industries, he says. GP is more geared toward horizontal financial and distribution management.

Reiterating what company officials said at the Dynamics-focused Convergence show in March -- in a message that reversed Redmond's previous course and caused some confusion among partners (see "Breaking Waves," May 2007) -- de Jager says that the four Dynamics suites will continue to exist as four separate products for a long time to come.

"We're not pursuing convergence as our first priority," de Jager says. "Our first priority is winning market share and continuing to grow a very profitable business. Each of our applications has a long, healthy life in front of it. The goal of converging these solutions remains as a goal, but it's secondary to that overall market growth objective. We'll continue to converge our solutions, but we'll do so in more of an evolutionary way."

For his part, Sorenson says that, while trying to adapt to selling a single, converged Dynamics suite would be difficult, he's not worried about having to deal with such a development any time soon. "I've heard from Microsoft employees that they anticipate that the Dynamics GP product line will be around when they retire."

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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