Microsoft recently announced a “realignment” (for lack of a better euphemism) of its Project Green and its Microsoft Business Framework (MBF) technology plans. Project Green is an initiative to foster the gradual union of the disparate product lines of Microsoft’s Business Solutions (MBS) division. MBF is an initiative around making the technology that will theoretically be common among these products into a rich developer platform, and one that is, in effect, an extension of the .NET Framework.
It sounds good, but it’s also taking a long time. With the benefit of hindsight, it shouldn’t surprise us that four acquired product lines (Great Plains, Solomon, Navision, and Axapta) can’t just click together like Lego blocks. Furthermore, users of these products and ISVs that are devoted to them are not content to wait for such a “big bang” initiative to bear fruit before the products get upgraded.
So Microsoft has now announced that Project Green will consist of two phases. The first phase, starting now and running through 2007, will involve upgrades to the existing MBS products and some modicum of we might call confederation between them. The second phase, with deliverables due to start shipping in 2008 (yes, you read that right), will involve a more fundamental unification of the products and deployment of the MBF .NET building blocks (which by then might be called WinFX building blocks). While forcing Microsoft to eat some crow, this modified strategy and timetable seems much more pragmatic to me. But it’s also a long time to have to wait, especially in the world of technology, and it’s probably going to be a tough sell.
My guess is that Oracle, with its Project Fusion, will face many of the same challenges when it comes to rationalizing the code bases of JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and its own ERP applications.
The shakeout we’ve seen in the ERP/CRM space, and the idea of companies consolidating their market position through acquisitions, begs an important question. In the long term, is it better to build than to buy? Usually IT shops ask this, but now it’s the large software vendors that must ponder this question. Is it realistic to buy a product if you really want to just buy its customer base? Can you shunt these customers over to your own technology easily? Can you ever really phase out the old stuff without alienating these customers?
I do wonder. Seems like Microsoft’s purchase of Fox Software more than ten years ago provides some evidence to the contrary. Wasn’t FoxPro supposed to be put out to pasture after version 3? Aren’t we now at version 9? The FoxPro customer base is a strong lobby indeed. Has FoxPro been retrofit into the rest of the Microsoft stack? While it was part of what was Visual Studio, it’s certainly not part of .NET. Is this all a bad omen for Project Green?
I do hope that Project Green, in some capacity, succeeds. I do think that, in some measure, it’s feasible, sensible and meets a legitimate need. The concept of business applications as true development platforms, not based on proprietary languages, and not isolated from mainstream development capabilities and facilities, is a good one.
The question is whether this concept is best pursued by buying several products, trying to cherry-pick the best features of each, and combining them with each other and a pre-existing technology stack. Good products have loyal and enthusiastic customer bases, and acquiring these products means acquiring responsibility for the “care and feeding” of these customers, while trying to create something new for your old customers. That creates conflicts of interest, frankly. And it will be interesting to see how Microsoft and Oracle (and Bill and Larry) deal with these conflicts. I think it will be difficult for both companies. I also think the outcome will have an impact on how future industry acquisitions are conducted, managed, and have their success measured.