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Microsoft — Microsoft Dynamics GP

the Dec. 2006 Review of High-End Accounting Systems

Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly known as Microsoft Great Plains) continues
to be one of the flagship products in Microsoft’s mid-market accounting
lineup. And version 9.0 of Dynamics GP further strengthens its already rich
feature set and builds on its strong position in the marketplace. Microsoft
has improved Dynamics GP by continuing to drive additional functionality into
and around the product. At the same time, Microsoft is working to position all
users of its various mid-market products for the successor product, simply referred
to as “Dynamics,” due to roll out over the course of the next few
years. In the meantime, new and existing users have not been left in the cold
as Microsoft continues to actively address functionality and usability across
the product.

Modules/Scalability — 5 Stars
Until recently, Dynamics GP was packaged and sold by module, with an extensive
lineup ranging from Financials (GL, AP and AR), Distribution (SOP, IM and POP)
along with a host of additional modules that covers Project Management, Manufacturing,
Field Service, Payroll, Human Resources and E-Commerce, to name just a few.
Microsoft changed all that recently, however, when it converted to a flat pricing
model known as “Business Ready Licensing” where the product is now
sold in one of two pricing bundles or tiers consisting of an entire suite of
modules. Specifically, the first, or Business Essentials tier consists of the
following modules: General Ledger, Payables, Receivables, Bank Reconciliation,
Fixed Assets, Analytics, Intercompany, Multi-currency, Safe Pay, FRx financial
reporter, Inventory Control, Purchase Orders, Sales Orders, Invoicing and Landed

The second, or Advanced Management, tier adds the following additional modules:
Cash Flow, Collections, Electronic Banking, Enhanced (field and account level)
Security, Bills of Material, Available to Promise, Returns, Requisitions, Manufacturing
and Project Accounting. The price of the product scales as additional users
are added, but all the modules listed are included with each license. Additional
modules and functionality, such as Payroll, CRM, HR, integration utilities and
enterprise reporting can be added for additional costs. With proven code and
a wealth of modules running on a solid MS-SQL platform, Dynamics GP continues
to be a highly stable and scaleable solution capable of easily supporting hundreds
of end users.

ITA Survey Feedback for Microsoft Dynamics GP
Competitive Advantages:
• Product maturity
• Extensive vertical versions
• Quality add-ons and third-party integrations
• Carries the Microsoft brand and interfaces with all other Microsoft
• Growing install base
• User-friendly and easy to train clients on
• Portal applications

Competitive Disadvantages:
• Confusion surrounding Microsoft’s product line commitment long-term
• Some end users buy because it is Microsoft and not based on feature
• Integration manager isn’t including all tables and fields

Usability/User Experience/Security — 3.5 Stars
With the release of version 8.0, Microsoft introduced a new look and feel to
the GP front end — giving it an Outlook-like appearance and enhancing
usability across the product. Version 9.0 continues to build on that functionality
by adding roles and custom home pages where users can access critical information
across the system. Home pages can be modified to include quick links to commonly
performed tasks, list outstanding “To Do” items, access to Outlook
e-mail and calendar items, display of quick business metrics and launch of preferred
reports. The ability to tailor custom home pages by user significantly improves
accessibility. Other nice features include the use of toolbars across the top
and a navigation pane down the left side that enables users to quickly jump
to screens, reports and functions they use most often.

Actual underlying data-entry screens remain largely unchanged from prior versions.
On the up side, users can set individual preferences to highlight required fields
on data-entry screens and underline fields supported by lookup lists. In addition,
navigation, print and Help functions are clear and easy to access. Unfortunately,
once a user moves beyond the initial front end into the actual detailed data-entry
screens, the product begins to feel dated and limited since many screens don’t
behave like most newer Windows-based applications. For example, many Dynamics
GP screens have fixed sizes (i.e., they can’t be scaled to fill the screen),
which can notably limit usability. When screens do scale, once a transaction
is posted or the screen is closed, it usually reverts back to its smaller, more
limited view when re-opened or moving on to enter the next record. In addition,
it’s curious that a good number of screens still do not list corresponding
descriptions next to key lookup fields. For example, item descriptions do not
appear on the Sales Order Processing screen unless a user utilizes the lookup
list to select a part number during the data-entry process or changes the screen
view to a detailed view. Other screens seem similarly challenged.

As well, while each release of the product incorporates additional functionality,
use of some of these additional features and functions can be difficult and
awkward. Given that this product, along with other products in Microsoft’s
mid-market accounting software lineup (Solomon, Axapta and Navision) will be
replaced by an entirely new product in the coming years, we don’t expect
to see many of these oddities re-solved in the remaining releases. Product security
is comprehensive and well thought out, enabling administrators to control the
use of the product by company, user, user class, function and field. It appears
that the product can support virtually any security scenario.

Extensibility — 5 Stars
Given the maturity of the core product and large independent developer community,
a great number of highly specialized applications currently exist to help make
Dynamics GP an exacting fit across a variety of industries. These specialized
solutions can be easily located on the Microsoft Solution Finder website. Although
not necessarily specific to Dynamics GP, Microsoft has invested considerably
over the past few years to help focus attention on several key vertical markets
where it believes its mid-market products are a particularly strong fit, including
automotive, construction, distribution, education, government, healthcare, manufacturing,
not for profit, professional services and retail.

Over time, Microsoft has purchased a good number of applications and incorporated
them into the core product, either as feature releases or bundled with a product
upgrade. This has helped further extend the capabilities of the Dynamics GP
product without necessarily dictating that Microsoft perform all the coding.

Some of the more exciting extensibility capabilities in Dynamics GP are made
available through the Business Portal product, which enables outside users,
such as employees, customers and vendors, to use a web interface to enter and
collaborate on information directly tied back to the underlying Dynamics GP
product. Examples include employee timesheet and expense report entry, HRM self
service, purchase requisitions, executive KPI dashboards, and customizable customer
pages where visitors can review open activity and balances.

Integration/Customization — 4 Stars
Dynamics GP offers a variety of tools and methods for customizing the product
and integrating it with the outside world. Screens can be modified using the
built-in Modifier tool, enabling users to hide and add fields, modify screen
prompts, change tab sequence, globally modify field terminology and incorporate
custom VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) code for virtually any purpose. The
Great Plains Extender tool set enables users to easily link additional windows
into existing forms, expand note fields, add additional fields, create data-entry
templates and customize lookups.

The Integration Manager application can be used to design re-usable import
templates that integrate data from outside programs. Integration Manager can
also replace field values and perform all necessary data validation during the
import process. Unfortunately, Integration Manager does not support the importing
of data into all modules, so there are instances where this tool can’t
be used as the user might expect. Import from ADP is a pre-configured function
capable of retrieving ADP payroll transactions into the GL module. The eConnect
Enterprise Application Integration solution is a high-end tool set that enables
developers to integrate Dynamics GP with a variety of outside sources, including
web stores, legacy applications, etc., using some of the latest and most common
languages and methodologies. Dexterity is the actual Dynamics GP development
language and can be used by developers to create highly customized add-ons and
modifications to the core product.

Reporting — 5 Stars
Similar to the variety of integration and customization options, Dynamics GP
offers a wealth of tools that enables users to extract and report on data within
the database. Standard, built-in reports can be modified using the visual report
writing tool (modified versions automatically take the place of default formats).
All reports can then be printed to screen, printer or file, and default settings
and selection criteria can be saved with many of the most popular reports. Crystal
Reports can be used for custom forms and additional reporting. The FRx suite
of modules provides comprehensive GL financial reporting. SmartList is a built-in,
highly customizable query tool that enables users to create sophisticated queries
across a variety of modules. Query results can then be listed onscreen; sent
to the printer; clicked on to drilldown to underlying transactions; or pushed
to Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. SmartList is a true standout among accounting
product query tools.

Support, Training & Help — 5 Stars
Help and documentation available within Dynamics GP continues to be some of
the best and strongest of any of the products reviewed. All product manuals
are available in a *.PDF format and can be easily accessed and printed from
the Help pull-down menu. Manuals are well formatted and up to date. One particularly
helpful feature is the “what’s new” document provided with
each new release. In addition, field level (F1) Help is insightful and consistent.
In the same way, product technical support provided by Microsoft is some of
the best available. The online knowledgebase seems to address all of the most
common issues, and technical support provided by Microsoft representatives
is responsive and meaningful.

Overall Assessment
Despite some usability challenges and plans to supersede this product in the
not-too-distant future, Microsoft Dynamics GP continues to remain a truly diverse
and solid product capable of supporting large numbers of users across a variety
of industries with strong reporting, customization and extensibility capabilities.

2006 Overall Rating: 4.5 Stars