Great Plains targets region’s low-end users

Virtual organisation to leverage Microsoft resources as it educates regional market

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  December 31, 2001

|~||~||~|When Microsoft bought financial software system developer Great Plains Software for US$1.1 billion in stock at the end of 2000 the market sat up and took note. Analysts the world over believed that this was the Redmond giant's big pitch into the enterprise application space and the likes of Oracle, Siebel and SAP were warned to watch out.

"A shark has entered these waters," claimed Meta Group analyst, Dale Kutnick while Gartner Group added that Microsoft had given itself the opportunity to "step up and dominate the SMB market."

However, at the local level, little changed. Great Plains Middle East continued to be the sole distributor for the company throughout the region and there was little integration between Microsoft and the 'real' Great Plains.

As such, the other ERP players in the Middle East market were nonplussed by the deal. Speaking in October, Steve Bailey, managing director, Sage Software, enterprise solutions, explained that although the Microsoft deal would give Great Plains access to a broader customer base he felt that, locally, Sage would win out due to its greater presence, effectiveness and efficiency.

However, as of last December, things changed as the company opened the doors to its Dubai Internet City (DIC) residence and promised "direct regional investment." In reality, the office opening and investment equates to nothing more than two people moving into Microsoft’s existing office.

Chris Harris, managing director, Microsoft Great Plains Middle East & regional director, Microsoft Great Plains, is, however, keen to point out the experience and seniority of the two incumbents. Harris also espouses the 'virtual organisation' and the ability to leverage resources outside of the region. The company is also looking to recruit locally to fill technical, sales, and marketing positions.

"One of my personal management objectives is to get people to work better in virtual teams. The world is going this way — travel is getting a lot easier and we have the Internet, video conferencing and a host of digital products that we can use to communicate.… [In addition,] we have 18 people in South Africa that are constantly visiting the Middle East and we obviously have resources within the Microsoft office itself," he says.

While operating with a virtual team is nothing out of the ordinary — the majority of multinationals within the market operate in this way to a certain extent — the timing of the decision is. At a time when most vendors are cutting back and putting the freeze on expansion plans, Microsoft Great Plains is doing the opposite.

Harris explains that this is because he sees the Middle East as a growth market. Even though the events of September 11th have caused the company to reasses its growth target of 167% for the current financial year, it remains above 100%.

"The Middle East has always been a really good market for us so we decided to take up a direct presence… Although the market may be slowing down we see an opportunity for huge growth in the Middle East region," he says.

According to Harris, it is the low-end of the market that houses the tremendous growth potential and, armed with its $2,500 Dynamics Business Plus offering, he believes that the company has a "tightly integrated, easy to use, powerful product" to succeed.

While the price may be right, there are questions over whether the low end of the region's business community is actually ready for significant IT investment — despite the hype surrounding government initiatives and online activities.

A realistic view of the small company sector came late last year from Mohamed Neaimi, assistant director general for Information Technology & member relations, Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ADCCI). At the launch of the Chamber's portal he noted that with only 600 companies in the Emirate boasting a web site, IT use at the low end of business was limited.

Harris' solution is education. "The growth in this market sector is going to come through educating them and explaining what the benefit of a new age business solution is," he says.

To this end, Microsoft Great Plains will form training partnerships and conduct a series of seminars. "We have programmes that we need to follow through on now that we have a presence in the market in terms of working with the educational institutions. We [also] want to do a lot of seminars in conjunction with Microsoft and target the small businessman," he explains.

A more sure fire way of breaking into the low end of the market will be through its existing channel and by leveraging its Microsoft branding and support. With regard to the former, the company has already announced plans to 'stratify its sales channel,' something that it believes will lead to greater retention of profitable channel partners and make room for new partners. It has also poached the channel sales director of Great Plains Middle East — now renamed 4C.

Harris believes that the integration between Microsoft and Great Plains is more advanced in his territory than anywhere else. An example of this progress, he says, is the telesales team, which is well versed in both Microsoft and Great Plains products.

"The biggest thing right now is education — our businesses still do not know about each other and we need to get Microsoft in the Middle East to understand what our business is all about, where we can be synergistic and where we can drive solutions for Microsoft customers and vice versa," he says.

Whether the teams integrate tightly enough for Great Plains to benefit from Microsoft local knowledge remains to be seen.||**||

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