THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM FOR YEARS WAS that Microsoft Corp. owned the desktop and not much else. But builders evaluating new Microsoft products should keep in mind that the company has a way of staking its claim, sticking it out, and dominating niche markets over the long haul.
Microsoft was late in adjusting to the Web explosion in the 1990s, and few people ever thought it could beat Netscape, but Internet Explorer is now the dominant browser by far. Microsoft has also had great success in taking on Oracle with its SQL Server database software. Outlook Express is the most popular e-mail software. Numerous builders use Microsoft Project. And the Redmond, Wash.–based company is fighting it out with Sony and other giants in the consumer electronics world with Xbox and Windows Media Center.
So why couldn't Microsoft deliver an information technology solution for the home building industry if the company decided to put its multibillion-dollar reputation and marketing clout behind a product?
The answer is, it can, and it will—but it will take time.
Slowly and deliberately, and until now with little publicity, home builders are starting to install Microsoft's Solomon accounting system with either custom sales and warranty systems or Rockville, Md.–based BuildTopia's Web-based construction management system. Solomon partner Cardamel Consulting, a home building technology consultancy with offices in Phoenix and Denver that focuses on home building, has rolled out the first Solomon systems in the market.
Eric de Jager, Microsoft's director of product management for Solomon, says construction and home building are one of 14 niche vertical markets the company has targeted for the accounting software—others include automotive, high-tech electronics, and the food and beverage industry. De Jager says Microsoft is looking for home building companies that build at least 100 homes. “We're best suited for mid-sized and larger builders,” he notes.
What do some of the early adopters think?
“Solomon has some bugs, but Microsoft has been quick to respond,” says Marianne Cathey, CFO of Covenant Development in San Bernardino, Calif. “There are some enhancements that need to be done, and I'm confident they will make the changes,” she says.
First on the list is making it possible for a construction manager or super to view whether a bill is paid. At press time, BuildTopia could talk to Solomon, but Solomon could not talk to BuildTopia, says Cathey.
Another fix Cathey recommends is improving Solomon's search capabilities. “If I want to look up the status of a purchase order, I have to run a report,” she says, adding that many of her concerns as an early adopter will be addressed once Build-Topia's BT Accounting is installed and tested at Covenant Development over the next several months.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Denver, CO.