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Microsoft boosts app offerings

Slowly, but surely, Microsoft continues its move into the world of business applications with a pair of new products set to be unveiled during next week's Convergence conference in Orlando, Fla. Insiders said officials from Microsoft's Business Solutions division plan to demonstrate Business Portal and Human Resources Management (HRM) Self-Service Suites to attendees.

The new products build on Microsoft's acquisitions of Great Plains Software and Navision, insiders said. The company bought Great Plains, a North Dakota-based accounting and resource planning toolmaker for $1.1 billion in 2000 and then last year acquired Navision, a Danish maker of similar products, for $1.3 billion. Both companies were folded in the Business Solutions Group, a nascent Microsoft division created to target small- and medium-sized customers.

A so-called ''self-service'' capability has been touted as a key feature among HR application providers for some time. Toolmakers say such features can streamline corporate operations by giving employees the ability to check schedules and meeting dates, research company sales figures and update human resources information on their own. The business portal can provide a Web-based user interface layer that is needed to deliver the self-service features.

Top application providers like SAP and PeopleSoft have been offering similar applications since the late 1990s, observers noted. But those firms have so far tended to target large, multinational companies with multimillion-dollar solutions. Observers expect Microsoft's new offerings to target so-called mid-market users (mid-sized companies with fewer than 2,000 employees). Microsoft insiders say the Business Portal will be available for free to companies already licensing Microsoft Great Plains and Solomon software, plus $65 for additional users. The HRM Self-Service Suite is priced at $5,000, plus $65 per user, officials said.

''Microsoft is definitely playing catch up with these products,'' Paul Hamerman, research director at Giga Information Group, told eADT. ''HR self-service has been a checklist capability among the high-end vendors for years, and we have been seeing it move down market. It's something [Microsoft] needed to do to gain traction in this market.''

Although Microsoft is late in offering enterprise application products, it is sure to become a major player, Hamerman said. He noted that the company is already making a dent in business applications market share, claiming 300 orders for its much-anticipated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application, which first shipped about eight weeks ago. Microsoft has said that some 1,000 resellers are already selling the product. The CRM app was the first from Microsoft's Business Solutions unit, and the first app said to be built entirely on its .NET platform. The software integrates tightly with the Outlook personal information manager and communications software.

''It has taken them some time to assimilate these acquisitions and to sort out some of the overlapping product lines,'' Hamerman said. ''But make no mistake, Microsoft is now a serious player in this market.''

According to Microsoft, the Business Portal and HRM Self-Service Suite will begin shipping by mid-year.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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