Guest post by Laura Pfohl, CEO and Founder, Sopris Systems

Kati Hvidtfeldt has moved on to lead application program management for Microsoft Dynamics NAV. With the discontinuation of Kati Unplugged, we will continue to give partners perspectives on the benefits and challenges of offering cloud-based solutions to their customers.

This week, Laura Pfohl, CEO and Founder of Sopris Systems, shares her insights into how and why Sopris entered the cloud arena in vertical markets.

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Laura Pfohl HeadshotMy experience with Microsoft Dynamics AX goes back 18 years—all the way back to Axapta 1.0, through the 2002 Microsoft acquisition, to today. Sopris was one of the first companies to work with Microsoft Dynamics AX in the US—in fact we started as a company that specialized in Microsoft Dynamics AX.

We started out with a very horizontal focus. But with the larger partners out there we struggled in the competitive arena. We knew we had to differentiate, and we saw a need in the architectural engineering/construction space for a mobile field service product.

We found that firms in that industry tend to be mid-sized or upper tier small businesses with seasonal fluctuations, so the idea of focusing on a hosted solution made sense. They’re all about materials testing, building, and constructing, so the industry slows down in winter. With big ebbs and flows in the staffing pool, architectural engineering and construction companies need the flexibility of ERP in a hosted environment to get what they need on demand.

As a result, Sopris was one of the few partners early on to offer Microsoft Dynamics AX in a hosted environment, which we’ve been delivering for five or six years. We really focused our efforts around the core Microsoft SharePoint capabilities. Because of the device independent framework, we’re able to use SharePoint and enterprise portals for the application platform, avoiding the need to build custom apps for different devices. For customers in the materials testing arena, it’s about how quickly they can get the data. A job is put on hold until the information is delivered, so delivering real-time results in field helped us offer a service to the customer that set us apart from competitors.

We’re finding that the vertical we’ve become very specialized in—with the mobile field service feature—has applications in other areas. So now we are working on strategic planning to identify other industries that benefit from the mobile capabilities.

From a partner perspective, hosted vertical solutions can be beneficial for a number of reasons:

· Cloud annuitized model benefits long-term cash flow.

· You can reach markets that can’t handle the initial cash outlay required for an on premises ERP solution.

· The obvious benefit is customer adds: in the sixteen months after rollout we added fourteen new customers—a significant number in the Microsoft Dynamics AX world.

· Building expertise and a volume of customers in a particular industry leads to referrals and expansion in that industry.

· Customers want instant access to real-time data, from anywhere. Partners that can offer that service stand apart from competitors.

We like having hosting available to us through three trusted hosting companies. Our hosting partners are unique in their offerings, so we use them for different implementations. For example, one is stronger in its global offerings, and one is more focused on North America.

We’ve built our business on offering unique vertical solutions on premises and in the cloud. We’re excited to see what new opportunities Windows Azure will bring, as well as the next version of Microsoft Dynamics AX, which will be full html—a true cloud application.

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Sopris Systems is a Microsoft gold-certified solutions provider dedicated to helping our customers align their technology goals with critical business applications to deliver measurable business performance.

To learn more about how to incorporate cloud-based solutions into your business plans visit the Microsoft Dynamics ERP Cloud page on PartnerSource. Go to www.microsoft.com/dynamics/growyourbusiness for resources that demonstrate to customers how Microsoft Dynamics ERP cloud, hybrid and on-premise solutions can benefit their businesses.