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By Jason Gumpert, Editor
SmartList Designer | source: http://bit.ly/15UwXyh
Microsoft has been
releasing Dynamics GP ISV solutions from their OEM agreements for well over a
year now. But the recent announcement
that it is returning
SmartList Builder, one of its biggest licensed add-on solutions, back to
eOne Solutions, at the same time that it is introducing a curiously similar
tool in SmartList Designer, seems to be getting more people in the GP community
talking about whether it means something more than what Microsoft and eOne are
Let's follow the
conversation that's been moving throughout the online community for the last
few days and see whether it can shed light on what's going on...
announcement last week, eOne got its own messaging revved up with an explanation
that SmartList Builder (SLB) is "coming home" and that the company
was excited about the opportunity to take full ownership of the product once
again. eOne founder Martin Olsen laid
reasons why ending the OEM relationship with Microsoft, after 7 years, was
a good thing. And it's a good list, with
some hard-nosed points that capture some of the difficulties one might imagine
in doing a licensing deal with a company the size of Microsoft.
Among the reasons Olsen
notes for wanting to take back control of SLB:
All good reasons for them
to be happy about gaining back control. And Olsen also notes that their control
over Extender, which ended its license agreement last year has been smooth, so
presumably they know what to expect in this transition.
For Microsoft to give up one
of the more popular features of GP may seem odd to some, but to do it nearly in
tandem with the introduction of the very similar SmartList
Designer in GP 2013 SP2 has caused people to ask some serious questions
about what is going on. Is Designer a
competitor to SLB? Is it a replacement? Did eOne and Microsoft have a falling
But to Olsen's credit, he
expanded even further on the decision to actively take back control of SLB,
writing in a thread on the GPUG community forum where users were speculating on
the meaning of the decision. He wrote:
"...Across the Dynamics range of products there
were many OEM agreements (Across GP, Nav, AX, CRM and others). Some OEM
agreements were ragingly successful for Microsoft, like Extender and SmartList
Builder. Other agreements were not successful and were costing Microsoft
a great deal of money for little reward. It seemed there were more that fell
into the unsuccessful camp. So when looking at OEM's as a whole, Microsoft
corporate made a decision, rightly or wrongly, to steer away from them.
(this resulted in many changes across Dynamics but in the GP world impacted
Collections, Audit Trails and eXtender).
"For eOne the changes with eXtender at the beginning of 2013 have panned our [sic] extremely well. Sales are up,
development is making some awesome improvements, the eOne stack is improving,
AEP renewals are strong and partners are building some great solutions. So when
our annual revision of the OEM agreements came around this year, eOne decided
that the time had come to take back control of SmartList Builder. As described
in our recent blog this move makes total development sense,
financial sense and will be good for our customers and partners. The eOne stack
of products will continue to get better and better."
Olsen described the move
as "eOne's decision", and that may be true, but it probably isn't the
whole story. As Mark Polino wrote
a few days ago, there seems to be a desire by Microsoft to get rid of older
types of OEM deals especially those that were created before the current
license model had been created:
"... the popular consensus seems to be that the culprit
was Microsoft's licensing model change with Dynamics GP 2013. Essentially
everything is being rolled into the new GP 2013 license model. This is a nice
change for customers and may help drive the adoption of products like payroll
and HR, which used to have separate user count restrictions. The products
affected are all believed to have had development and support agreements
between Microsoft and the ISV who developed the product. The licensing change
meant that there wasn't a way for Microsoft to continue charging extra to
support the agreements they had with those ISVs. That's the story that I keep
hearing from partners and ISVs that I talk to."
So do ISVs like eOne
decide on their own to end OEM agreements? Or does Microsoft blindly start
ending OEM agreements, whether they were working or not? Or maybe ISVs like
eONe sit down with Microsoft when it's time to renew the agreement and get an
offer that is so far below where it used to be that they know it's time to move
In a new blog post,
Dynamics GP MVP Victoria Yudin said the news made her "wonder what this
means for the future of selling and supporting Microsoft Dynamics GP." She
explained that she likes that ISVs might gain credibility because a major component
of GP is once again sold by a fellow ISV (Yudin's company, Flexible Solutions, makes
the GP Reports Viewer), but on the
other hand, it raises questions for customers and prospects:
"...are [customers] willing to purchase an ERP system
that needs so many additional products from ISVs? Will they start questioning
why Microsoft does not make a product robust enough to stand on its own? The
devious part of my brain is also wondering if Microsoft is paving the way to
create their own products/modules to replace these OEM modules in the future."
And it is most likely
that timing with GP 2013 SP2 and the introduction of SmartList Designer, that
got more people to sit up and take notice of the SLB announcement. Why would Microsoft release a product that
does many of the things SLB already did?
Nicole Albertson of eOne addressed this question from her company's
point of view earlier this week with a length blog post laying out fourteen
things that SLB does that Designer does not. She acknowledged that Designer "does a
few things that SLB doesn't, but noted that SLB plans to add much of the same
functionality and more.
A couple of other GP
implementers have given SmartList Designer a first look recently. Mahmoud
AlSaidi described it as having achieved "considerable progress",
but also wondered why Microsoft had to create a new product:
questions still roll up in my mind, aren't there quite duplicated features
among the SmartList Builder and SmartList Designer, Why not combine and extend
the capabilities of the two in one greatest SmartList Tool !
Further versions might hold the answer."
Gomez described SmartList Designer as "the biggest
improvement/addition to SmartList" in GP 2013 SP2. And he asks the same
question as everyone else: How is this tool different from or similar to
SmartList Builder? He does note a few strengths and weaknesses in each product,
with perhaps more conveniences and streamlined access to Designer and more
power tools in SLB.
On Tuesday, GP product
manager Pam Misialek got Microsoft back into the conversation with her post
it a conspiracy? Not, not really". In it, she echoes largely what
Errol Schoenfish told us about a year ago:
that customers are getting more comfortable with ISV add-ons to GP as
"apps" and as time goes on they will question even less the idea of adding
ISV solutions to their ERP solution. She
goes on to share more about her view of the role of the ISV in the Dynamics GP
a community we need to start thinking more forward to provide solutions in new
and powerful ways. Our trust in our community has allowed us to make
the hard decision to make a bold change. In the long term it's the right
decision to make that will improve the lives and business success of our
partners and customers. Why? The power of five is much stronger
than Microsoft alone. The five being the partner, the ISV, the customer,
Microsoft, and the community.
Microsoft Dynamics GP strategy around ISV's remains constant and simple. If an
ISV has functionality that is already in market, Microsoft tries not
to build it. We will focus on gaps and new technologies that enable
our entire community."
And why did Microsoft
rebuild SLB functionality into the core product? Misialek explains:
are adding a simple SmartList creator in the base of the product because
whether you think it's old technology or not, people use it and people love
SmartLists. In order to sell basic GP we needed to have something simple
to create new SmartLists. SmartList Builder has much more functionality
and we have no plans to add more to the core solution."
Misialek's rosy view of
the impact of ISV solutions on selling GP is certainly not universal. Partners
often lament the fact that they need to coordinate the sales process, licensing,
implementation, and maintenance of ISV solutions into so many Dynamics deals.
They wish Microsoft would simply acquire more of this functionality once and
Since Microsoft wanted a "SmartList
creator", presumably they tried to find a way to keep letting eOne provide
it. But it's also easy to imagine Microsoft doing some investigation, figuring
out the cost and effort required to create Designer as a minimum viable product,
and reaching the conclusion that for the value, they couldn't negotiate a deal
that would make eOne happy with any longer. And the ever-present Martin (Olsen,
presumably) added his views on this question as well in responding
to Victoria Yudin's post in a comment.
agrees that when you buy GP out of the box you should be able to add a basic
Smartlist for free - and back Microsoft for adding this functionality. SLB was
too good to give away for free.
Builder goes well beyond the designer tool, and Microsoft know that and are
comfortable with that. Microsoft remain massive fans of SmartList Builder and
will actively assist in marketing and taking this to the GP community."
And as other commenters
on Yudin's blog pointed out, it is also likely that Microsoft is looking to start
making some basic Dynamics GP-based data lists available through SQL Server Reporting
Service (SSRS), though there will be much more work required before it is as
easy as building SmartLists.
It's too early to know for
sure if SLB will be able to outshine Designer as partners and customers assess
their needs. But judging from their response in the last few days, it is clear that
eOne intends to prove the worth of their product and continue fighting for
Business Applications communities