By Jason Gumpert, Editor
Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) is resetting
elements of its Dynamics ERP and CRM product management and marketing to
align with the company's larger goals in the commercial space. While many of
those changes will likely become visible in smaller chunks over time, Microsoft
partners and customers who believe in Microsoft's vision will be wise to
continue to pay attention and absorb the updates as they happen.
Two major products, Power BI and Microsoft Dynamics CRM,
offer examples of how Microsoft and its partners have already started looking
at altering their approach.
Partners and the Power
version of Power BI that is now globally available as a preview has some
key advantages to many organizations' current piecemeal BI and reporting mechanics.
James Phillips, Microsoft's corporate vice president leading
the Power BI effort, said in an interview that making Power BI both adoptable
and directly relevant to the business of Dynamics ERP and CRM partners will be
important to its success:
"I have had a number of partners
and implementers contacted me on LinkedIn. They wanted to figure out how to
incorporate Power BI into their practice. There's a revenue stream there
perhaps and a solution for their customers: the ability to get value out of the
data. There is a natural desire for the integrator space to expand [on the software
with] service offerings."
Power BI adoption will depend on Microsoft and its partners developing
a story that goes much deeper into the customer's world in two key ways. First
there is the need to define the types of analysis and performance management behaviors
that would propel an organization forward, showing executives, teams, and individuals
how to get a handle on Power BI capabilities with a reasonable workflow.
Second, there are the common data management and integration challenges that
Power BI aims to reduce. BI solution providers have been trying to help
simplify data management challenges for years and they have the battle scars to
Microsoft has many true believers for their BI roadmap, but
these are the same people who have largely mastered the fundamental technologies
that make Power BI possible. As one such Microsoft customer told us at
Convergence, his expertise in Power Query, Power Pivot, SQL Server Reporting
Service, SQL Server Analysis Service, and SharePoint make Power BI an
attractive option. For less intrepid IT professionals, strong partner guidance
(read: handholding) will remain a key element of improving BI maturity.
Challenge: Talk about
CRM from the customer perspective
With Dynamics CRM, Microsoft has undertaken an ambitious and
largely successful revamping of its R&D and product management over the
last two years. Its CRM product suite is considered top tier by most analysts
and it is showing strong growth in the marketplace. CRM is expected to be an
important area of expansion at Microsoft this year - there was talk last week
that some Microsoft sales reps have seen their CRM quotas more than double for
Beyond that product progress, some CRM experts also say they
are waiting for the strategic positioning of Dynamics CRM to catch up to the
Director of CRM Product Marketing Angela Bandlow, who is
still a relative newcomer to Microsoft, pointed out in an interview that sales
productivity will be shaped by both the CRM and Office teams going forward. Developments
like the embedded Excel and OneNote windows in the Dynamics CRM client are
first signs of the changing nature of that inter-department relationship.
"We give [the Office team] that feedback on how to evolve
their tools. There is great collaboration between teams," she said.
This approach should be welcome news for partners who have
heard the talk but will want to see the results that they can bring to their
clients and prospects.
"True sales, service, and marketing professionals want to
see Microsoft relate [CRM] to a meaty customer problem," says Dave Nelson, head
of CRM solutions for Avanade. "It still comes
across as things you can do, not [for example] ‘here's how these things will
help a grocery chain increase customer retention or average promotion uptake'. Show
me how the tools are used in a real life situation."
Nelson adds that his team has seen great results by taking a
more customer-centric point of view in pitching CRM solutions. Whereas
Microsoft is talking sales productivity and employee usage scenarios, Avanade
is now presenting from the customer perspective. (You can check out a similar type
of presentation on building
a roadmap to omni-channel customer engagement, delivered to an MSDynamicsWorld.com audience by Avanade's
Barry Givens in late 2014.)
"We show the customer's expectations at various points,
their actions at various points," Nelson said. "Then we showed the technology
that a business might use to respond to that. That resonates much more with a
business audience. As Microsoft looks to make [Convergence] more the business
event, and in doing so attracts more true sales, marketing, and service pros,
rather than IT, it will be critical to have more content and demos that
demonstrate that Microsoft understands their day to day lives."
The year ahead
If Convergence 2016 will serve as an indicator of anything in
the Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem, it will be how well Microsoft has navigated its
ongoing product marketing and management transition. The event could very likely
be smaller next year, but if it can verifiably attract and satisfy an
underserved audience of strategic thinkers in the customer base, that may be
the best possible outcome for Microsoft and its partners.