Great Plains upgrade offers seamless user interface

Microsoft will announce an upgrade of its Great Plains ERP suite that is designed to be easier to use and more tightly integrated...

Microsoft will announce an upgrade of its Great Plains ERP suite that is designed to be easier to use and more tightly integrated with the company's Office and end-user portal software.

Great Plains 8.0 also includes enhancements aimed at streamlining business processes and providing better data visibility and increased flexibility to end-users at manufacturing and distribution companies.

The company, which outlined the upgrade plan at its Convergence 2004 user conference in March, has since moved up the release date from July to this month.

Karen Engel, group product manager for Great Plains at Microsoft's Business Solutions unit, said a new user interface with an Office look-and-feel will require less switching between application screens and will let users access products outside the Great Plains suite "in a more seamless manner".

The ability to drill down into manufacturing data and view information about the allocation of raw materials is probably the most important addition to Great Plains for beta-tester Stulz Air Technology Systems, a maker of air conditioners for datacentres and other facilities.

Michele Holsinger, information systems manager at the Stulz ATS, said end-users can see where parts are stored throughout the company's plant and identify whether materials are due to be used in manufacturing or sold as spare parts. Great Plains 7.0 provided much less access to the parts information, she added.

Stulz ATS switched to the 8.0 release in April for its 65 users, who run the ERP suite's full mix of financial, human resources and manufacturing software.

The latest version also includes the ability to update a bill of materials and automatically populate the added information throughout the Great Plains applications, Holsinger said.

It appears that Microsoft is responding to gripes users voiced a year ago and paying more attention to some of the smaller details it ignored in earlier versions of Great Plains, said Katherine Jones, an analyst at Aberdeen Group. For instance, Great Plains 8.0 includes improved capabilities for tracking parts by serial or lot numbers, she said.

Jones added that the user interface should help cut down on the time it takes to train business workers to use the software.

Marc L Songini writes for Computerworld

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