Microsoft tweaks Axapta for life sciences

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Microsoft Business Solutions continues to creep up the software stack. MBS plans to ship a new version of Axapta, its higher-end ERP offering tailored for life science applications, the company said early this week.

Microsoft Business Solutions continues to creep up the software stack. MBS plans to ship a new version of Axapta, its higher-end ERP offering tailored for life science applications, the company said early this week.

Axapta 3.0 for Life Sciences is due the first quarter of 2005. Adapted specifically to deal with governmental regulations surrounding pharmaceutical and medical device production and related industries, it will carry a higher sticker than the core Axapta, although Microsoft is not yet ready to talk price, said Melissa Paulik, MBS' industry product manager for life sciences. The company will add Life Sciences vertical functionality to future Axapta releases typically six months after the core product is updated, Paulik said.

Functions that are critical for life sciences disciplines, such as electronic signature support, will be part and parcel of the release, Paulik said. She said that even with these new industry-specific features, Axapta will continue to be a platform for third party developers.

"Things like electronic signatures, validation documentation should be built into the product. But beyond that, this opens up new opportunities for ISVs developing point solutions for Life Sciences. Things like manufacturing execution systems that specifically target Life Sciences, or lab information management systems," Paulik noted.

Skeptics and software rivals to Microsoft insist that the company is creeping so far up the stack with its own functions, that it is squeezing out third parties who have lived there.

"The reason we're pre-announcing [this] is there's a certification partners will have to go through, these are fairly complex implementations and it's the implementation that gets validated, not the product,' She noted. Microsoft has contracted with NNIT, a subsidiary of the Novo Nordisk Group, to qualify Axapta for Life Sciences for Federal Drug Administration requirements and to certify partners' software development processes.

Some MBS partners are bullish. "This opens up a new industry for us to go into with Axapta. We mainly targeted manufacturing until now. Life Sciences is part of manufacturing but it has specific regulations from the FDA and other authorities," said Egon Ostergaard, president of THY Data Center A/S, a long-time Axapta VAR based in Denmark.

Axapta is not the only MBS product with a Life Sciences twist. The company's Great Plains accounting software also has life sciences modules, built in large part by partner Merit Solutions, Wheaton, Ill.

Bill Burke, president and CEO of Merit said that life sciences applications are so deep and complex that there will be plenty of room for VARs and ISVs with strong domain knowledge to add value to Microsoft's base technology.

"The way to compete is with vertical solutions for industries. The value proposition there is five X the horizontal stuff. If you charge 30 percent more and the value is 500 percent of what the generic ERP is. That's a great equation for both the customer and the provider. We came to market last year in October and have had tremendous success as a small firm moving into this space," Burke said.

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