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Does Dynamics really drive “unity”? Reflections on key themes from Microsoft’s Convergence 2013.

In New Orleans last week the theme of “unite” was played out in front of 11,500 people at Microsoft Dynamics Convergence 2013, the conference’s biggest audience yet. Having had some time to take stock of the key messages after four days of intensive Dynamics-related conversations, here are some of the most important things I took away from the event.

Microsoft Dynamics Convergence 2013

Does Dynamics alone have the ability to unite, or is something bigger needed?

Kirill Tatarinov, President of Microsoft Business Solutions Division stated “Microsoft Dynamics Reimagines and Unites the Worlds of Business and IT.” Microsoft Dynamics is certainly a powerful tool for uniting people, business, processes and organisations, but in my view it’s the sum of the whole that can truly allow us to deliver on the paradigm of connected, unified business and consumer communities. 


The connectivity of communities

The announcement of the NetBreeze acquisition during the Microsoft Convergence 2013 keynote was a significant step in this journey of unity, connecting businesses with the powerful sea of social media. Throughout the conference there were many sessions, sponsors, marketplace vendors and attendees focusing on greater engagement with the end consumer. What is exciting is that the NetBreeze application empowers the Dynamics community to monitor the ‘heat’ of their brand within the marketplace, to analyse trending social messaging and to turn potential detractors to supporters.

In terms of uniting people, social media has had the most profound impact on the connectivity of communities and giving their voices newfound strength. Internal social media is also making real advancements with solutions such as Yammer, acquired by Microsoft in 2012, referred to as the enterprise social network

What is particularly exciting to see is that all of the concept demos Microsoft presents seem to be showcasing an internally-focused community voice. Across the Microsoft stack we are experiencing embedded social and chat capabilities, leveraging solutions such as SharePoint 2013, and using Lync 2013 for instant chat. At a HR-focused demo in the AX General Session at Convergence, we saw Lync presence presented alongside the Skype calling of a potential candidate. Pervasive across many of the concept demos, the Microsoft team continued to present “What’s new” activity feeds and social chat within the ERP and CRM solution stack. These are exciting developments allowing organisations to share knowledge and encourage rapid feedback across the business.


Beyond Dynamics to customer service excellence

Connecting with your consumer is vital in this hyper-competitive global village; however consumer connectivity is meaningless unless you’re providing excellent customer service. What was interesting to see was the increasing focus on solutions that empower your teams to deliver this ‘customer service excellence.’  No longer is it acceptable just to provide a solid ERP or CRM solution that will underpin your backend processes – this is now viewed as a given. Employees and consumers expect so much more, and many argue that the proliferation of simple to use apps on consumer devices has driven this expectation.


Creating the right first impression with design-led experiences.

I’m a traditionalist and feel technology should never get in the way of a good conversation between business and the customer. I’m sure you have had customer experiences where you watch the sales associate tap information into a green screen application looking for some form of divine inspiration, only to then announce that the ‘computer says no!’ This type of experience creates a lasting impression, and rarely a positive one. 

I was reminded of this all too familiar situation as I sat in one significantly oversubscribed session. The focus of the session was on creating Windows 8 applications to manage a specific business scenario and provide a gateway into the back-end “systems of record”. The feedback of the partner and customer community on this session was overwhelming and showcased our own recent experience of the power that design-led experiences on Windows 8 apps can have on the user and customer. 

Technology, when used in front of customers must augment and outwardly project your brand; it must deliver the same rich experience we have all come to expect on the smartphone and tablet devices.  Consider the above example again but one where the sales associate works with you to understand the product or service requirement and shows the capability to deliver, in real-time, relevant useful information on a tablet, whilst also offering additional suggestions; on one level we would most likely consider that to be ‘cool,’ on another level the experience would compel us to consider products and services that we were not previously considering.

Apps are going to be big and without doubt Microsoft has delivered a platform that allows business to deploy, in a controlled manner, enterprise ready applications into the hands of the user. These applications drive a high degree of empathy between user and technology, the CIO will look a hero, not least of all for giving the sales team a tablet!

Microsoft has also just announced that it is investing significant R&D into mobility for Dynamics AX, creating new native experiences for smartphones, tablets and POS, helping to improve ‘on the go’ efficiency and connectedness.


Good looking, great, but can it talk?

Windows 8 solutions provide an excellent platform to deliver great solutions for businesses. With reference to that customer experience again, it’s all well and good that an application looks great but if it can’t deliver the goods then it’s pointless. This is where we come full circle and return to the back-end systems. Microsoft announced a whole screed of exciting embedded solutions that further position Microsoft Dynamics as the only system that can provide the paradigm of consumer and organisation unity. 

Whilst the extensive and innovative Dynamics ISV marketplace provide many of the solutions today, Microsoft has looked to strengthen the core capabilities of Dynamics AX. At Microsoft Convergence 2013 during the Dynamics AX General Session Kees Hertogh, director of product management for Dynamics AX announced that the team would further strengthen the core application with a feature pack release in 2013 for warehousing, transportation, and mobility solutions. Additional solutions for demand planning and further investments in shared service models and budget planning where other examples of Microsoft’s desire to further improve their unified solution.


Who delivers ‘unity’?

What is so exciting about Microsoft is that it is the only vendor capable of delivering on this connected paradigm. Over the years I’ve heard competition quote that they are ‘more Microsoft than Microsoft’ which is somewhat unrealistic. The investment that Microsoft puts into R&D is staggering and eclipses their nearest rival in the software industry by some margin. The reason nobody is like Microsoft is because no other vendor out there has a hope of providing a one stack integrated story. 

So does Dynamics really drive unity? No, not in isolation. It’s not the Dynamics business unit that delivers on the unity of consumers and organisations, it’s the sum of the whole; the ‘stack’ as it’s often called. Allowing organisations to focus on solutions that add real value to the consumer rather than spending effort integrating technology that should just work together. Providing platforms to engage with the customer or citizen in a joined up, seamless experience and providing the organisations the agility to respond to the social feedback to drive results on the bottom line. An exciting world ahead.

Posted by: James Page, Practice Director Partners, Alliances & Channels | 26 March 2013

Tags: AX, CRM, ERP, Social Media, Microsoft, Convergence, Windows 8, Yammer, SharePoint 2013, Microsoft Dynamics, Convergence 2013, enterprise social network, Lync 2013, NetBreeze

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