Microsoft has pushed the corporate side of its business to the forefront by moving its Business Solutions group up the hierachy. From now on, its head, Doug Burgum will report directly to CEO Steve Ballmer.

Microsoft also expanded the responsibilities of the exec in charge of small and medium business sales and partnering, Orlando Ayala. He will continue as senior VP of the Small and Midmarket Solutions group, but will also serve as chief operating officer of Microsoft Business Solutions and report direct to Ballmer. Both Burgum and Ayala previously reported to Microsoft VP Jeff Raikes of its productivity and business services.

The change is unlikely to affect customers and partners but it is a clear sign that the software giant is placing greater importance on its growing enterprise applications business.

Microsoft's desktop applications are ubiquitous in the business world, but the company has not traditionally competed in the market for the expensive, complex ERP and CRM systems.

Attracted by the growth opportunities of the market, particularly among smaller businesses, Microsoft cannonballed into the space several years ago, spending $1.1 billion to buy ERP maker Great Plains Software and another $1.3 billion on Danish software company Navision. Microsoft combined the two companies to form the foundation of its Microsoft Business Solutions group.

Microsoft inherited a large customer base from Navision and Great Plains, but the Business Solutions group's sales haven't been up to expectations in recent quarters. Executives blame execution problems on the group's work with its channel partners, and say a turnaround is expected soon. The company still has high hopes for the business applications market: Ballmer forecast that the Microsoft Business Solutions group will be doing $10 billion in annual sales within a decade.