Microsoft Targets Innovation for "Dynamic" Businesses

ATLANTA — Claiming that his company is currently delivering its largest-ever wave of innovation, Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) President Stephen Elop told a packed ballroom at the Convergence 2010 keynote here this week about operating "in the center of a remarkable transformation." The transformation, he told attendees, can be traced to the emergence of cloud computing and the penetration of social networking into the workplace.

Microsoft's role in responding to this transformation, Elop said, is to deliver the products and solutions demanded by consumers. He then recited a litany of new and recent releases - Microsoft Bing, the company's new search engine; productivity suite Office 2010; collaboration engine SharePoint 2010; and the recently launched Windows 7 operating system - reminding the 8,500 attendees of Microsoft's Business Launch event on May 12.

Kirill Tatarinov, the corporate vice president of MBS, echoed Elop's point later in the conference by noting that the name Dynamics, after all, means to change rapidly. "The 'dynamic' business," Tatarinov said, "is the one that does not stand still."

"The whole must be greater than the sum of the parts," Elop told the crowd. "That is our focus and Microsoft Dynamics and upcoming releases are further extensions of how we are lighting up this principle." Elop, without hesitation, dove into news on the business solution front, which largely revolves on Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. The May 2010 service update for Microsoft Dynamics CRM will push the Online product out to 32 markets worldwide. This includes expanded language support, totaling 41 countries.

"We are seeing tremendous momentum around the Dynamics CRM product," Elop said. In fact, in a later session among press and analysts, Tatarinov informed the group that the "CRM business did not really feel the recession." In 2009 Dynamics CRM witnessed 40 percent growth. In other evidence of the business unit's growth, not only is conference attendance up by 2,000, Tatarinov said that more than 800 prospects made the trip to Convergence.

Not only will Microsoft Dynamics CRM be extended geographically, but it will also be integrated with a Microsoft ERP product -- Microsoft Dynamics GP. In a promotional period, GP customers can take advantage of monthly licenses at just $19 per user for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The integrations can be with both CRM on premise and Online and it's an opportunity, Elop said, to "celebrate" and take advantage of interoperability.

As Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of CRM consultancy Beagle Research, points out, ERP is a big driver among not only the Microsoft customer base, but rather, all across the board. "Every organization needs ERP, and most get ERP before CRM," Pombriant says. "If you look like kinds of companies that Microsoft services, they serve companies across the spectrum, and they have a lot in the manufacturing sector." These types of companies, Pombriant says, have a need to very carefully track production, manufacturing, invoicing, billing, and other business processes. So, implementing CRM in an ERP scenario makes a lot of sense.

With the May service update, Dynamics CRM customers also can take advantage of new portal accelerators, which include Event Management, eService, and Partner Relationship Management. In a demonstration of portal management, the Microsoft CRM team showed how end-users can customize, rebrand, and repopulate a customer portal without much technology support. Hosted on Azure, sophisticated portals can take advantage of social CRM connections with sites like Twitter and Facebook. Users can push knowledge base content out to forums.

Lastly, Microsoft Dynamics is bringing its popular customer and partner communities closer toward the actual Microsoft Dynamics software platforms, establishing an alliance with the Microsoft Dynamics AX User Group, Microsoft Dynamics CRM User Group, Microsoft Dynamics GP User Group, and the Microsoft Dynamics NAV User Group. Last year CRM magazine took an in-depth look at Microsoft's business solution user groups following the 2009 Convergence event.

Looking forward, the Business Solutions team demonstrated a few "Innovation Lab" products and also previewed a product, Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail, which will be available in 16 countries on August 1. Partnerships pertaining to this release include Avanade Inc., Columbus IT, Fujitsu, Hitachi Consulting Corp., Ideaca, Junction Solutions and Tectura Corp. are establishing new practices that focus on delivering retail solutions based on Microsoft Dynamics AX.

Elop also shared his vision and definition of cloud computing, which revolves primarily around providing to infrastructure scalability. "We're all in," Elop said, repeating Microsoft's current tag-line toward cloud computing. "We have the Intention to fully embrace the cloud that fits the needs of our customers," he said -- emphasizing that it doesn't have to be "all or nothing."

In the morning keynote, Elop referenced "the North Star," at several points in time, laying out Microsoft's vision for the future. In the afternoon press and analyst sit-down session, Elop outlined three fundamental themes affecting Microsoft's areas of innovation:

  1. Expression: Elop posed the question: "How do I express myself through technology and how is information expressed back to me?" Expression is changing, he said, estimating that even the 65,000 white boards currently in use at Microsoft will be gone within the next 10 years. 
  2. Connections: The executive referenced video chat, which was actually demonstrated in the morning as a channel for making a sales call. Whether it's person-to-person interaction, or a person to a conference, or a company with a cloud, Microsoft is looking at new types of connections. 
  3. Insight: Microsoft recently has been placing new emphasis on "role-based insights," which dive deeper into an organization's management level. In the future, Elop says, insights will all be "contextually relevant," and perhaps ten years from now, search engines will be displaced by contextual and relevant displays of information. 

"Enterprise software is in a transition state right now," Pombriant says, to a degree echoing Elop's previous statement. A lot of companies are moving into recovery mode and thinking things will go back to the way they were before the recession, Pombriant says, however, other factors -- the aging workforce, the maturation of the tech bubble, and the need to work remotely -- has called for a new face to CRM.

"The industry, of course, needs to do more with less, which...has to do with being in front of the customer without having to be physically present, understanding customer motivations and needs without having to ask them, and using social technologies to intuit a lot of our complex moves," Pombriant states. "As the economy comes out of this recession and we see the current crop of economic drivers be more manifested, it creates better context for CRM and things that companies like Microsoft, Salesforce[.com], RightNow [Technologies], Oracle, and NetSuite are doing."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.

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