Full disclosure: I didn’t actually physically attend Microsoft Convergence 2012 in Houston, Texas. However, that doesn’t mean you have to feel left in the dark, thanks to the immersive experience that is the social web of our times. With live webcasts, near-live blogging and some 6000 tweets on the #CONV12 hashtag, keeping up with the online buzz has never been easier. Here’s my summary of what the event looked like through the eyes of a virtual attendee and some thoughts on where Microsoft and its Dynamics product line appear to be heading based on the announcements at Convergence.
The opening keynote is where the stage is set for the rest of the event, so watching the live broadcast on Monday was definitely on my agenda. Sure, it’s all about building up hype for your products by telling how great you’ve done so far, how excited you are about your future roadmap and showing off with future concept demos that have little to do with the current reality. So what! You need a little show business alongside your business applications conference.
Having the luxury of my PC keyboard & mouse at my disposal during the event allowed me to experiment with Storify, a social media storytelling tool. I captured the best tweets, photos and screenshots during the keynote and compiled them into my Convergence 2012 story. If you’re anything like me, the mental barrier for sitting down and watching a recorded conference event for 1.5 hours is quite high, so why not glance through the highlights of the show on the Storify summary? After that, you can decide if you want to read the full transcript or watch the recording on the Virtual Convergence site.
Some notes picked up from the opening keynote included:
- The Dynamics CRM momentum now stands at 2,250,000 users in 33,000 customer organizations.
- “There are no happy Siebel customers in the world, there just aren’t.” – COO Kevin Turner on Microsofts internal journey from Siebel to Dynamics CRM.
- Nearly half of the deals won by Microsoft over Salesforce.com have been due to the on-premises option and the hybrid model.
It’s Windows reimagined time all across Redmond now as we’re nearing the launch of Windows 8 later this year. This means everything that can be shown as a Metro style app running on a tablet, will be shown precisely that way. The fictional Contoso Electronics scenario of the big keynote demo used a highly customized UI built for the retail store experience only. A much more interesting demo was the project management Metro app that looked so realistic you could imagine it becoming an actual UI to some future Microsoft product to be rolled out at Windows 8 launch.
We didn’t get any official screenshots of a Dynamics CRM Metro app yet, but luckily Garth Knutson was able to snap & tweet this picture of a UI concept presented in one of the sessions. Just imagine if assigning users onto a Dynamics CRM opportunity record would look like this, how much higher would the user adoption of a CRM system be among sales people? Ah, CRM reimagined…
But the road to metro is paved with Apples. The actual tablet product Microsoft had to show at Convergence was the Dynamics CRM Mobile client for iPad, which meant that Apple devices were well presented in many of the Convergence sessions. Funnily enough, during the conference an internal email leak revealed that Microsoft was banning the use of company budget to buy any Apple products for its Sales, Marketing, Services, IT, & Operations Group. Oh well, guess we won’t be seeing many iPads on stage anymore in the following events. For those of you who haven’t seen the current client yet (developed by CWR Mobility), see my previous post on Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile iPad screenshots.
An important aspect to note is that the move towards Metro apps and tablet devices does also have an impact on traditional desktop usage of Dynamics CRM. Back in November I speculated that the legacy of Outlook could not be carried over to the world of Windows 8 tablets in its existing form. Since then this assumption has only been enforced by the announcement of Windows on ARM (WOA) tablets with no classic Windows application support and no sign of Outlook in the list of Office apps promised for these “iPad killers”. What this means is that the functionality exclusive to Dynamics CRM Outlook client must be moved to the cloud. At Convergence, the following functionality was more or less revealed to be included in the R9 release later this year:
- Direct synchronization of activities through Exchange (instead of Outlook)
- Support for “track in CRM” functionality in Outlook Web Access (OWA client)
Woo-hoo! It’s been a long time coming, but to me this is a clear sign that Dynamics CRM is definitely on the right track in terms of becoming more compatible with the habits of today’s mobile workforce; how they manage their activities and messages on multiple clients, not just the single Outlook on their work laptop. Making the CRM features available through new channels, such as the Office 15 Agaves, is very important for making Dynamics CRM a relevant tool for knowledge sharing as the applications and devices surrounding it are evolving.
The biggest announcement for me personally was that Silverpop is acquiring CoreMotives. I’ve been both a customer and a partner of their Marketing Suite and all I can say is big congratulations to Rhett & Jeremie (the founding team)! You’ve done an awesome job in building the first truly integrated solution for online marketing to leverage the XRM capabilities that Dynamics CRM provides. I’m sure the product will only continue to improve and deliver even more value to the 800+ customers out there.
Despite of the acquisition, Silverpop doesn’t intend to give up on building their own integration between Dynamics CRM and their Engage platform. Another big marketing automation vendor, Marketo, also launched their integration to Dynamics CRM. Both companies have been big on the Salesforce.com scene, but obviously there’s been more and more demand for Microsoft’s platform from the types of accounts that traditionally invest in standalone marketing applications like these.
So, which route should you as a CRM customer take then? Go for a native Dynamics CRM solution like CoreMotives or ClickDimensions, or choose an integrated, external platform like Silverpop Engage or Marketo? There probably isn’t a single right answer. If you know the Dynamics CRM product/platform well and are comfortable with workflows, Advanced Find and view/chart customizations, you can get a really big bang for the buck by investing in a native solution that builds on top of your existing business application. If, on the other hand, your marketing people are not currently working with Dynamics CRM and you foresee the need to grow beyond capabilities that are a natural fit for tight CRM integration (just because it can be done through Dynamics CRM, doesn’t always mean it’s the optimal choice), you might want to investigate these new alternative offerings as well.
All hail the social business, or ignore it at your peril. Already in the opening keynote, Kirill talked about the inevitable shift from systems of record towards systems of engagement that provide the tools needed for improving productivity in modern knowledge work. While Microsoft has seemed to be slow to make moves on the social front, but recent reports give indication that they intend to make significant investments to ride the social enterprise wave, on their own terms. Instead of producing individual tools for the social component, it will rather be baked into every application, one way or another.
We already knew that the upcoming R9 release of Dynamics CRM would finally contain functionality that extends beyond internal communities at work and into the great wide open that is the public social networks. The only question was, what was this thing going to run on? Now we know the answer to that, it’s InsideView. Not only will there be some level of free solutions available for download (there has in fact been a free version for over a year now), but their service will actually be integrated into the core product of Dynamics CRM. There doesn’t seem to be much details out there yet about what to expect, but functionality such as promoting information from an external network into the internal CRM Activity Feeds has mentioned as an upcoming feature.
How relevant is InsideView then for non-US markets? Time will tell. Currently they have been working on expanding their database coverage to the UK & Ireland, so let’s hope their success continues and we see the service reach out to new markets soon. In the meantime, almost everyone in B2B around the globe is using LinkedIn. Luckily enough, it was also announced during a Convergence CRM general session that a solution offering LinkedIn integration with Dynamics CRM would be released to the Dynamics Marketplace “next week” (meaning end of March). Built around the LinkedIn Sales Navigator service (starting at €29/user/month), the feature set will likely be similar to the Salesforce.com counterpart described in this SlideShare presentation.
Other forms of data enrichment also remain as bullets on Microsoft’s slides, with talks about Azure Data Market and the likes, but I haven’t seen much concrete evidence on those. Social customer care, as in “how to turn a tweet into a case record”, will be on the R9 roadmap, potentially leveraging the current Social Analytics experiment on SQL Azure. There’s no shortage of interesting existing tools on the social front at Microsoft (for example, did you know about So.cl, the social search engine?), so the question will really be how they manage to turn all these features and experiments into a product offering that their customers understand and are able to leverage in their day-to-day business.
This is the least surprising theme of all. We already know Microsoft is all in the cloud, but rather than forcing everyone to jump in there with them, the hybrid cloud option remains their strategic differentiator.
Richard Seroter posted a collection of numbers and facts on Microsoft’s Online services, which I definitely recommend you to read. Here’s a small sample of those:
- 1,000 servers running CRM Online in 6 data centers around the globe
- 0 seconds of service downtime required for releasing system updates
As a customer, that’s what you get for €40/user/month. How does your own server room stack up in comparison? The economies of scale with services like CRM Online are hard to compete against. Especially when the company operating the service is also developing the applications it is running, with the help of 30.000 engineers on duty for cloud related development work.
Dynamics CRM has been in the clouds for “ages” already, so the biggest attention was on when would Dynamics ERP catch up. Both NAV 2013 and GP 2013 will be available on Azure before the end of the year, and AX will make it there in the next major version. Eventually also CRM Online and Office 365 will move from their current environments to run on Azure, but details on the schedule or implications to the services have not been announced.
While it’s never easy to upgrade CRM systems that contain lots of custom code and integrate to back-end systems and online marketing tools, the situation is hardly any easier on the ERP side, quite the contrary. Since also the Dynamics ERP products have now adopted an agile release policy, with new versions coming once a year, some customers are inevitably asking “in whose interest is this speed of change?” While it’s certainly cool to see demos of NAV running on a web client, deployed in Azure, operated through a Metro style app and even used while wearing your gloves, thanks to Microsoft Kinect sensor integration, surely not everyone is jumping for joy when the ERP system they were used to upgrading maybe only once per decade is now rolling out new features every year and moving onto tablets and clouds.
Speaking of the cloud, access to Dynamics CRM Online data from external applications is about to get easier with R9, if this rumor about OAuth support for the CRM OData endpoint is true. Now we just need OAuth support on other Microsoft apps like PowerPivot and the cloud data sources will soon start to catch up with their on-premises counterparts in terms of BI and integration feature set.
After the Dynamics CRM Q2 2012 Release Preview Guide was made available during Extreme CRM 2012 Berlin, there obviously wasn’t so much completely new information to be published by Microsoft at Convergence 2012 anymore. The same demos that were shown to 470 attendees in Berlin must have been reused as content to be displayed to the 10,225 attendees at Convergence, but of course that doesn’t lower the significance of these new developments. The speed of change in the Dynamics CRM world isn’t slowing down and it looks like there will increasingly be also new & updated functionality available between the bi-annual R8, R9 etc. releases. This means that you can no longer just attend one conference event per year and expect to keep up with what’s new in the product you are selling, developing for or working with.
Nowadays, just because you didn’t travel, doesn’t mean you couldn’t publish an album of “travel pictures”. As some of you may have heard, Pinterest is perhaps the hottest social network right now, and an event like Convergence finally gave me a good excuse to try the service in action. So, if you want to catch an overview of what was presented in Houston, why not check out my Convergence 2012 pinboard.
Convergence 2013 will be held in New Orleans, at the same dates as this year’s event. Be sure to mark the date on your calendar and turn to #CONV13 if you can’t make it there in person.