By Jason Gumpert, Editor

ISVs in the Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem walk a fine line, investing in solutions that extend core ERP or CRM strategically, while working against market forces, ambivalent partners, and the specter of Microsoft's evolving roadmap.  With every product update by Microsoft, ISVs need to reevaluate their positioning. 

But adapting to Microsoft's plans is an expected part of the game for ISVs, and in the last year we've seen several vendors react to Microsoft's plans. In the warehouse and transportation management spaces for Dynamics AX, we've learned that more than one ISVs has considered leaving the Dynamics ERP space altogether following the acquisition of Blue Horshoe's solution IP. And the introduction of SmartList Designer for Dynamics GP prompted eOne Solutions to mount an aggressive defense of SmartList Builder.

With the release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 and its "CRM Anywhere" updates, mobile solution providers now face a similar challenge, one they have been expecting for quite some time - the need to differentiate themselves in comparison to Microsoft's own product roadmap.

One veteran mobile provider, Resco, has started making its case for why the need for third party mobile is as great as ever, and it taken a sensible step, posting a respectful but forceful point by point takedown of certain claims about just how far you can go with Microsoft's free option.

The post, written by Resco's Zuzana Farkasova, first takes on Microsoft's suggestion that the free apps handle offline capabilities.

"The articles, press releases, discussions... they all talked about Microsoft finally coming up with an offline capability. The truth is: It's non-existent," she writes. Caching a few hundred records, as Microsoft's apps do, is not the same as a real offline mode since users can't access any data they haven't already viewed.

As for mobile functionality, Farkasova commends the look of Microsoft's mobile apps, but "if you dig a bit deeper, you'll see that the functionality is, let's say - limited. You can't, for example, send e-mails, create quotes or edit and fill in data whenever you want. You might be able to do so in 2-3 years' time... but who has the time to wait so long?"

Microsoft's effort to bring better solutions to mobile has been a key component of the Dynamics CRM 2013 vision and marketing message. And to the company's credit, they have delivered their companion tablet and smartphone apps to market in sync with the launch, and with a positive response (and maybe a sigh of relief) from their channel partners.

But before this app refresh made it out the door, third parties were more or less the only game in town for Dynamics CRM customers with serious mobility needs. Companies were either going to pay for a custom app or they were going to purchase a third party solution. Microsoft had even planned at one point to adopt an ISV solution for its own mobile roadmap, although that plan ended amid the struggles to release product updates in 2012.

ISVs also face the challenge of justifying the cost of an add-on mobile client versus the free version from Microsoft.  Fortunately for Resco and competitors like CWR Mobility, they have an existing product line and reseller channel who they will count on to get smart on these points to help clients compare between the limited capabilities of the free solution from Microsoft and the deeper third party solutions.

Farkasova strikes a conciliatory note in wrapping up her case for third party mobility apps. "Resco is not competing with Microsoft. In fact, Resco & Microsoft are collaborating very well. Microsoft does a great CRM system and we provide an awesome mobile solution for it. It's a win-win relationship."

But in case you didn't fully appreciate her message, she also offers up a chart comparing Resco Mobile CRM capabilities with Microsoft's own mobile apps.  As you'd expect the full featured mobile CRM solution has a whole lot more to offer businesses who are serious about a mobile CRM strategy. The only trailing feature area that they identify is use of CRM 2013 process flows, which they say is coming soon.

"Don't get me wrong, Microsoft's mobile app is a nice complementary feature of Dynamics CRM. Great for those who use the standard browser version and find themselves occasionally needing a mobile access. But those, who see mobile CRM as a daily working tool, not just as a nice-to-have accessory, need something more. (Yes, I am now referring to Resco Mobile CRM.)"

Dynamics CRM 2013 is a big update for Microsoft, and its range of improvements are only the beginning of a refreshed roadmap that will take the product deeper into areas that ISVs enjoy now like integrated marketing management (IMM, which includes marketing automation), social data, and customer service, among other areas.  Decisions to either build their own new features (like in customer service), incorporate and evolve acquired technology (like Yammer, MarketingPilot, and NetBreeze) or to pick a preferred ISV (like InsideView's free Social Insight solution for CRM Online) will impact other players in the market.

As Resco's Farkasova points out, Microsoft can almost never move its solutions ahead as quickly as its smaller ISV partners. ISVs can often buy themselves years of breathing room with the right product management decisions, but not always.  ISVs can and do exit the space when the opportunity becomes too uncertain (or too certainly not opportunistic).  Some vendors have shown that it is possible to react strategically and continue to thrive even as the landscape changes. As long as Microsoft moves its own roadmap forward, the ISVs in every segment of the Dynamics ERP and CRM market will continue to exist in what truly can be called an ecosystem.