Stop us if you've heard this one before: Microsoft to lure users with industry-specific solutions in the cloud

Redmond taking a leaf out of the enterprise app makers' book

Microsoft has followed enterprise application vendors' lead and put together a bunched of pre-packaged software to be hosted in the cloud for specific vertical industries.

Financial services, manufacturing, and nonprofits have all become targets of the SaaS-y bundle, designed to work as one "seamless solution" which would enable cross-industry workflows, said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

For example, retailers and manufacturers would be able to work across clouds to manage inventory and production in real-time "from shelf to warehouse to factory" in a "comprehensive modern tech stack," he said.

The business value would then come from faster, better decision-making, the CEO crooned.

Microsoft has been working with the US government on its industry-specific systems since 2014, and the company has, in the last year, launched industry clouds for retail and healthcare.

The ubiquitous software biz said it was bringing together common data models, cross-cloud connectors, workflows, APIs, and industry-specific components and standards with its cloud software and apps, including Microsoft 365 and Teams, Microsoft Power Platform, and Dynamics 365.

Keen market observers might think the industry cloud moniker has a familiar ring to it and they would be right. In June last year, SAP, a rival of sorts to Microsoft in business applications, has taken a similar approach to industry cloud solutions targeted at automotive, energy and utilities, consumer products, and engineering. At the time, Peter Maier, SAP president for industries and customer advisory, said business best practices SAP had developed for each industry would be available through open APIs, exposing the business process and domain models.

In January, SAP also announced plans for further integration with Microsoft collaboration platform Teams.

Rival enterprise app provider Infor has always made much of its industry-specific solutions, which can be as specialised as food or clothing manufacturing, for example.

Although Microsoft's play may seem like a repackaging of already-available products, it's more than a gimmick, according to one systems integrator. Quantiq is a specialist Microsoft Dynamics consultancy based in London. CEO Stuart Fenton said the company had been close to the development of Microsoft's Nonprofit cloud.

"It's a real thing with specific data structures and functionality for those industries that we can leverage into our clients," he told The Register.

"In most cases, partners would still have to build more specific functionality on top of these clouds, but they accelerate the projects enormously."

But they were not standalone clouds per se, Fenton said. "They are advanced configurations of an existing cloud application platform that any client can utilise with their partner... but clouds sounds cooler."

The underlying technology for all the industry clouds is Dataverse, with each configuration acting as an add-on. Dataverse is Microsoft's data-layer with which Dynamics365, PowerPlatform, and Microsoft 365 can share data and access common data models.

Microsoft has connected Teams to the Dataverse allowing PowerApps to be used to “leverage data structures and bring functionality into a familiar app,” said Fenton. ®

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