MS CRM gets Green for go

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Amid all the announcements to emerge from Microsoft’s partner conference in New Orleans last week, perhaps the most interesting was the amount of additional detail layered on to the bare bones of Project Green. Project Green is of vital importance to Microsoft as a company and to the applications industry as whole.

For Microsoft, the move in to business applications is clearly of major strategic significance. To date it’s spent more than $2 billion buying its way into the sector with the purchase of companies such as Great Plains and Navision. But if all goes well it will be money well spent -senior Microsoft executives are looking to business applications to turn into a $10 billion commerical opportunity at a time when the Windows and Office markets are maturing.

But to date, the company has spent most of its money on buying in disparate product sets from multiple vendors. There’s nothing wrong with this as a policy - it’s made Computer Associates what it is today - but it does beg the question of how you pull together disparate code streams or maintain their individual development without putting an intolerable drain on your revenues.

That’s where Project Green comes in. It’s Microsoft’s big idea to integrate the entire Microsoft stack, from back end systems and operating systems right through to the traditional Office applications. Of course software vendors do love their overarching framework strategies, but in practice many of these so called enterprise architectures fail to escape the confines of the PowerPoint presentation.

So what’s the skinny on Project Green? Well, for starters, the company is being pragmatic and sensible enough to promise users of the individual product sets that have been acquired that they will continue to be supported. - as far ahead as 2012. This stance has been seen already this year with upgrades to the Great Plains, Navision and Solomon applications. By the middle of next year, one third of Microsoft’s product development staff will be working on new functionality for existing apps.

The other two thirds will be working on new products. The first Green products are scheduled to appear in 2005, although this will almost certainly slip as the new apps are being developed in parallel with next-generation Windows - aka Longhorn - and the chances of that getting out the door on time are akin to Tom Siebel giving Larry Ellison a big ‘let’s make-up’ hug!

With MBS gearing up to ship its CRM products in the UK a year after they first appeared in the US, a lot of attention is about to be focused on the company’s ambitions in the business applications sector. I’ve always said Microsoft will make this a success; the only question is whether it’s an Internet Explorer scenario where it takes a year to dominate or a SQL Server one where it takes ten years to win credibility. I suspect the answer inevitably lies somewhere in between, but the level of thought going into Project Green so early on bodes well....

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