Microsoft is now claiming there was never any intention to merge its four ERP products into a single code base.
First a little history. Back in 2003, Microsoft began working on an effort to migrate its four newly acquired ERP products (Great Plains, Navision, Axapta, and Solomon) to Microsoft technology. None of these products were purely Microsoft under-the-covers. For example, Axapta was (and still is) written in its own development environment (MorphX), in its own language (X++ ), using Oracle as its preferred database.
Internally known as Project Green, this effort was aimed at converting the four products to Microsoft technology and converting their program code to a single code base while retaining the best features of each product.
If anyone could afford such a massive undertaking, it would be Microsoft. But Microsoft was not familiar with the enterprise system market and soon found out that its existing ERP customers were not all that keen on Project Green. Most of them were not eager to face a major upgrade/migration to a new product. And competitors used Project Green as a reason not to choose Microsoft, since what Microsoft was selling was going to be replaced by a new product. As Microsoft senior VP Orlando Ayala testified in court, selling ERP was a "humbling experience" for Microsoft.
Early signs of trouble
In addition, it started to look like Project Green was too much to bite off even for Microsoft. In 2004, Doug Burgum admitted that Microsoft was slowing down its work on the project, cutting the developer headcount from 200 to about 70. Some of the delay was attributed to Microsoft's problems with development of Longhorn, its next-generation server OS. Project Green was to built on top of a common services layer known as Microsoft Business Foundation (MBF), which needed capabilities to be provided in Longhorn, so if the delivery date for Longhorn slips, MBF slips, and Project Green slips.
Problems continued in 2005, as Microsoft's ERP unit pushed out its release date for the new version of Axapta and indicated that some products would be going into "maintenance mode." Josh Greenbaum even speculated the Microsoft might sell off its ERP products.
Lowering expectations for Project Green
A few months later, Microsoft began to redefine its goals for Project Green. Instead of rewriting all of its ERP products into a single code base, Microsoft would incorporate new technology and functionality into its existing products in incremental "waves." Microsoft still held out the possibility, however, of merging the four products into one successor product, but it made no commitment.
Later that year, still holding four products in its portfolio, Microsoft took the easy way to convergence. It simply re-branded all its ERP products as "Dynamics." For example, Microsoft Axapta became Dynamics AX, and Great Plains became Dynamics GP. It also announced a reorganization that pushed its ERP unit down one level and demoted its head, Doug Burgum. At the same time, Microsoft appeared to abandon any hope for MBF. Read my post at the time for quite a bit of insider feedback on these developments.
Then, about a year ago, Microsoft indicated that its release date for a converged product would be pushed out yet again.
Attempting to rewrite history
Now, for the latest news. According to Computerworld, Tami Reller, a Microsoft VP of business solutions marketing, is claiming that "there were never formal plans for a big-bang development project to meld the different applications." Furthermore, Microsoft executives are now downplaying "the notion that the software vendor has backtracked from its road map for pulling its four ERP product lines more closely together."
I had long felt that Project Green was not smart from a customer perspective. But it appears now that even the technical migration--which Microsoft should have been good at--was too ambitious. For example, I noticed in a recent Axapta sales presentation that X++ is still around. Instead of converting Axapta to C++, Microsoft has simply embraced X++ in its Visual Studios development tool set. Voila! Axapta is now pure Microsoft technology.
The ironic part is that Microsoft's solutions today are really good products, backed by the deepest pockets in the software business. So, small and mid-size businesses should continue to look at these systems and buy them as they fit their requirements. Perhaps now that Project Green is dead, they can do so without uncertainty about the future of these products.
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