Dynamics 365 – A Familiar Minefield

I was looking at a thread in the Dynamics MVP mail list the other day, and one of the comments was that it would be nice if Microsoft would actually “slow down” the pace of development for Dynamics 365.

Warning: Rip Currents

For those that watch Dynamics 365, the pace of advancement can look pretty impressive, but they are beach bound surf watchers. For those of us that actually work with the product every day, we keep on eye on the water, apprehensive about what wave may come next, as we frantically strain to keep our head above the waterline of the features brought by the last waves. In the past few years the waves have been unrelenting.

Catching up to the Joneses

I am not exactly sure who can be credited with this product transformation, but at some point there must have been a meeting of the Leadership team, where a decision was made, that if Microsoft is going to be a player in Business Solutions space, they have to aim their guns at Salesforce.com. The first assault by this previously sleeping team came when Dynamics CRM Online was pushed into the cloud… and Atlas Shrugged. The landscape did not appear to shift at all, it was as if Microsoft had done nothing at all.

Buying the Joneses

A couple of years ago the rumor mill was churning out reports of a possible acquisition of Salesforce by Microsoft. It made sense from the outside, if you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em. My sources at the time said this was not true, it was just Benioff trying to boost his stock value, but it was interesting what happened next.

A Mouse Roars

While Microsoft as a company is surely no mouse, Dynamics, in the real world of CRM competitiors, certainly was. Following whatever happened regarding an acquisition, somebody flipped a switch. Suddenly bales of spinach were being poured into Dynamics, and muscles started popping out all over the product. Many will credit Nadella, and his past Dynamics roots for the sudden commitment. But whether it was revenge for a spurned acquisition, or Nadella bubbling up his sense that Dynamics should be a key component of the Microsoft story, much larger guns were brought out and leveled at the 800 lb gorilla.

A Ding in the Door

Up until this point, Salesforce had little to be concerned about and I can imagine that Dynamics was a footnote in their leadership meetings. Something to chuckle about as the tossed their coffee cups in the trash on their way out of the conference room. But now, Microsoft had leveled their biggest guns and taken some real shots, most missed. But a couple of these shots did graze Salesforce. The chuckling slowed.

A Shift in Strategy

Up until this point Salesforce had made many opportunistic acquisitions, all in reaction to customer needs. While Microsoft was no real threat yet, if Salesforce did not cover their flanks, they could be. Their acquisition strategy took a decided shift towards shoring up areas where Microsoft could potentially do some damage.

A Quick Fighting Lesson

When I was a kid, and other kids’ parents were saying the best way to handle a bully was to avoid them, my Dad gave me some different advice. He said the best way to handle a big bully when he marched up to your face, was to haul off and punch him as hard as you could, immediately. It would be very simple to do, as he would never expect, or be prepared for little you, to do that. But, he added, don’t stop there, climb up on top of him and keep punching, before he gets his wits and footing and pounds you to pulp. Don’t stop punching him until a crowd forms and realizes what is happening. The other kids, who had also been terrorized by that bully, will be so impressed that they will rally around you. I said, “Is it safe to let him up then?“, and he said “Nah, keep punching him“. I would love to tell you that this actually happened, but truth be told, I avoided the bullies, just like all of my other chicken-ass friends.

The Title Bout

“In this coorneer, weighing in a 800 pounds, the reigning champion, Saaaalesfoooorce. And in this coorner, weighing in at 180 pounds, the contender, Microoosoooft Dynaaaamics”. “Ding”. Here comes the referee with the rules of the fight…”There are no rules”. “Ding” Microsoft runs out out the middle of the ring, but Salesforce takes a wide circle around the ring, looking out at the crowd, smiling and saying “this will be quick”. Suddenly Microsoft swings a leg wide and crushes Salesforce’s ankle. Salesforce looks to the referee, who shrugs and says “remember, there are no rules”. What happens next? I guess we’ll see, but it looks to me like Microsoft is taking my Dad’s advice.

So back to my topic

By now you are probably thinking, damn you Steve, you never seem to write about what your post title is. Sorry, I am not a writer, more of a rambling scribbler really, but I will get back to my title. So as the titans battle, jabbing and counter-punching with new features and capabilities, at an unrelenting pace, a price is being paid by other supporting participants in the battle: Customers and Partners.

Sorry, another story

Back when Henry Ford invented the automobile, (yes I am going there), he was the only game in town. Eventually he had some competition, in the form of other companies trying to replicate what he was doing. All of the sudden there were several companies making very similar cars, yet barely making a dent in Ford’s sales. Ford was an inventor, not an innovator. So the only chance to beat him, was to innovate on his original idea. “Our cars work perfectly fine, but in order to beat Ford, what if we put a more powerful engine in them?” The first pass at this was a bigger engine, nothing else, that should be enough. Suddenly new buyers were driving off cliffs. It seems that while the new engine provided a lot more power, the original brakes, which had worked perfectly fine up until then, were no longer adequate. Of course Ford did not sit on the sidelines, he started copying his new competition, with similar results. All of the sudden, cars became a pretty dangerous proposition. Every new powerful feature, broke things that had previously worked! Thus began this innovation circle: try and anticipate what might break, launch, and then scramble to fix what you did not anticipate, then repeat.

A Familiar Minefield

Okay, I hear you, I am getting to the point… finally. Completely separate from the fact that partners and customers are struggling to keep up with the pace of change, and absorb and comprehend new capabilities, we also have the dilemma of unintended consequences. As a partner, you log into your customer’s tenant to tweak a workflow, something you have done a thousand times, and you can’t update from picklists. What? Some new feature, added to the front of the car, caused the left rear turn signal to stop working. I can of course report something like this to Microsoft, and of course they will be all over it. But until then, the spinning world, has stopped. In the meantime, for things that I previously charged into doing without the need to even turn on my brain, I find myself tip-toeing down very familiar paths.

Maybe the guy was right

Maybe, in their zeal to slay the 800 lb gorilla, Microsoft actually went too fast? Maybe they need to put the brakes on the innovation pace and move more cautiously? Maybe they should “check”, and let us all catch up before they raise the bet? I can see the wisdom in that… but I cannot shake my Dad saying “Nah, keep punching”.

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