Microsoft is hoping to differentiate its Dynamics CRM (customer relationship management) software from the likes of Salesforce.com with a new set of 18 industry templates that fit the application to verticals including sports management, health care and more specialized areas such as prison inmate data.
The announcement was made Tuesday during Microsoft's Convergence 2013 EMEA event in Barcelona.
Microsoft also announced a pricing offer aimed at bundling Dynamics CRM with Office 365. Under the deal, both new and existing Office 365 customers can get up to 40 percent discounts off the list price of Dynamics CRM licenses. The offer is available though March 2014 in 42 markets, according to Microsoft.
Also Tuesday, Microsoft confirmed that Dynamics AX 2012 R3, the next version of the ERP (enterprise resource planning) suite, will arrive in April. Customers and partners will also have the ability to run AX 2012 R3 on Windows Azure, Microsoft confirmed.
However, this will amount to using Azure as a straight hosting service for AX 2012 R3.
It won't be until the next major release of AX that Microsoft will have added features associated with pure SaaS (software as a service), such as multitenancy, which saves on system resources and allows many customers to be patched and updated at once. Early adopter programs for the latter are expected to begin sometime next year, and AX will remain available in on-premises form.
Microsoft's timeline for cloud ERP "has slipped," said analyst Frank Scavo, managing partner of IT consulting firm Strativa. "It is significant because other providers like NetSuite and Plex do provide a fully functional ERP system in the cloud. Microsoft is still incrementally moving in that direction."
But it's best to keep things in the proper perspective, Scavo added.
"On the one hand Microsoft's Dynamics' rollout to the cloud has been much slower than what I'd like to see," he said. "On the other hand, [once finished] they will have by anyone's definition a full cloud service with full functionality for small and large enterprises. That will put them in a very select group [of vendors]."
Microsoft may have gotten a bit of competitive breathing room for AX on Azure from SAP, which recently announced it would "refactor " its Business ByDesign cloud ERP suite for its HANA in-memory database.
While SAP is keeping a team in place to maintain the current version of ByDesign, the move to HANA will take some time and could push ByDesign off customers' short list until the work is complete.
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com