Microsoft has upgraded its Great Plains ERP suite to be easier to use and more tightly integrated with Office and end-user portal software.

Version 8.0 of the financial management software has, according to Microsoft, 120 enhancements that will make data easier to view and introduce greater flexibility in what it can do with the data. Unusually for the software giant, the upgrade comes a month earlier than originally outlined.

It will provide tighter control over distribution and manufacturing processes, reduce the time and effort spent on accounting tasks as existing transactions will be able to be used as the basis for new ones, and the ability to void, delete, correct or change journal entries will be speeded up.

Karen Engel, group product manager for Great Plains at Microsoft's Business Solutions unit, said a new user interface with an Office look and feel will require less switching between application screens and will let users access products outside the Great Plains suite "in a more seamless manner".

The ability to drill down into manufacturing data and view information about the allocation of raw materials is probably the most important addition to Great Plains for beta-tester Stulz Air Technology Systems.

Michele Holsinger, information systems manager at the air conditioner manufacturer, said end users can see where parts are stored throughout the company's plant and identify whether materials are due to be used in manufacturing or sold as spare parts. Great Plains 7.0 provided much less access to the parts information, she added. The new version includes the ability to update a bill of materials and automatically populate the added information throughout the Great Plains applications.

It appears that Microsoft is responding to gripes users voiced a year ago and paying more attention to some of the smaller details it ignored in earlier versions of Great Plains, said Katherine Jones, an analyst at Aberdeen Group. For instance, Great Plains 8.0 includes improved capabilities for tracking parts by serial or lot numbers, she said.

Jones added that the new user interface should help cut down on the time it takes to train business workers to use the software.