Usability key feature for Great Plains release

The next version of Microsoft's Great Plains enterprise resource planning software will include more than 120 product...

The next version of Microsoft's Great Plains enterprise resource planning software will include more than 120 product enhancements focused primarily around manufacturing, distribution and project accounting capabilities.

The 8.0 release comes just after a 7.5 extension release last year and it is Microsoft’s biggest ERP development effort yet.

The company unveiled some of the features of Great Plains 8.0 last week to a group of partners. The first thing customers are  likely to notice is the user interface (UI) change, said Karen Engel, corporate group product manager for Great Plains. "That’s the thing that most people talk about."

Engel said version 8.0 has made strides in streamlining business processes, which ties in with the reasons Microsoft made changes with the UI. Not only will there be improved visibility and new business portal applications, but there will also be better integration with Microsoft Office.

Jeff Trosen, corporate product unit manager Great Plains, said the 8.0 release will also focus on distribution features. "We are trying to raise the bar in distribution and manufacturing."

In previous versions there were gaps in functionality and there were also areas where the manufacturing had to get fully integrated, Trosen added.

Acquired in 2001, Great Plains is one of four ERP offerings Microsoft has under its belt. The application focuses on the financial aspect of resource planning and management and features three key elements: financial management, allowing for accounting and finance operations; supply chain management, featuring manufacturing and procurement capabilities; and analytics for business reporting.

Warren Shiau, senior analyst at IDC, said the 8.0 product introduction is moving Microsoft toward the desktop/enterprise application integration that it's road mapping for the future.

"Imagine working in an enterprise app, under exactly the same user interface conditions that you're used to in Office. That's good because it's more natural. Now imagine being able to use Office itself as the interface to your enterprise apps for customer data, order entry and inventory tracking. It's just the thing that is needed for wider-spread computerisation/IT adoption by small and midsized businesses," Shiau said.

Jennifer Shelton, research manager at IDC’s software markets and directions program said the midmarket segment is contested right now, with competition from other firms such as JD Edwards - now PeopleSoft - and SAP.

Customers already using the last major Great Plains upgrade, version 6.0, can migrate towards 8.0 in a two-step process whereby the data is converted but customers don’t have to undergo additional training, Engel said.

Training for the latest version can take place online through Microsoft’s e-learning courses, she added.

Allison Taylor writes for ITWorldCanada.com

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