With over 9,300 attendees from 36 countries filling a room at the Georgia World Congress Center, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer outlined the news this morning that their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) technology would be headed to the cloud (among other important news including Dynamics CRM software). Perhaps more importantly, Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, previewed at the event, will allow customers to run the application both on premises, as they’ve always been allowed to, online, or as a hybrid. That agility across the cloud could be a game-changer, as Ballmer aptly pointed out.

“Make no mistake, when it comes to the cloud, Microsoft's all in,” Ballmer noted. “We believe that ERP and CRM should really be for everyone, not just the technology elite … Smaller companies want a competitive edge, too, and many large companies are very tired of the complexity and cost of their current legacy systems, and certainly the users are desirous of a simplicity that lets all of us access important business data.”

Editor's note: Microsoft is a sponsor of The Customer Collective, which is operated by Social Media Today.

Just last month, the Software Equity Group (SEG) released its annual survey, and perhaps the most impressive data to come out if it was that 81% of respondents said it is important or very important that their investment target be all or substantially SaaS/subscription-based, up from 51% in the 2010 survey. Microsoft’s new Dynamic AX 2012 seeks to fill that need.

 “It's ERP for everyone,” Ballmer added. “It looks like and works with Office. It's tailored to individual roles in your company. It makes it much simpler to model your organization visually, and to change your business processes quickly. It brings powerful industry specific capabilities. It's loaded with easy-to-use reporting and analytic tools, and built in BI that supports better insights and faster decision-making.”

A customer example highlighted in the keynote was Hydra-Power Systems, a Portland, Ore.-based distributor and manufacturer of hydraulic and pneumatic systems. The company participated in an early adoption program and the early returns have been impressive.

“Aside from the integration, which is key” notes Bob Jablonski, Operations Manager at Hydra-Power, “this gives us the ability to compete with the really big companies, and that’s what we’re looking for. We consider this our long-term business management solution.”

But why the cloud? Last August, CRN predicted that SMB spending on cloud computing would reach $100B by 2014. Additionally, in an outstanding February story on CNNMoney.com titled “Why the cloud is now the hottest trend in tech,” David Goldman noted that “the cloud is becoming the new normal for computing.”

 "With the cloud, individuals and small businesses can snap their fingers and instantly set up enterprise-class services," Roy Stephan, director of IT architecture and engineering at tech solutions provider Intelligent Decisions, added to Goldman’s story. "Like collective bargaining, small businesses can get together and spread the cost out among themselves."

What do you think? Can taking simple business processes to the cloud (where we are all living our lives anyway) remove the barriers to let small businesses compete with big?  Would you trust the cloud to all of this important data?