Dynamics 365 – Leading from Behind
My head has been swimming. I spent the entire weekend re-watching the “Airlift” presentations that Microsoft gave us last week on the new Dynamics 365. There were about 50 of them, each on a new feature or capability of the new platform. Even though I am left with more questions than when I started, one thing is clear, Microsoft plans to set a new bar here.
Make no mistake, Salesforce is the Target
While Microsoft has had some success against the 800 pound gorilla in the CRM space, Salesforce still had one of its best years ever. To be fair Salesforce, is all that Salesforce does. Dynamics is but one of many things that Microsoft does, and it has not even been one of the high priorities. When you look at the efforts around Azure and Windows and other broad reaching products, it is not a surprise that Dynamics has been the red-headed stepchild. But Satya Nadella is an old Dynamics guy and it is obvious that he gave Jujhar Singh a big bag of money to go make something significant happen… finally.
The Bromance ends
It was not that long ago that Dynamics CRM Partners like ourselves watched, with our mouths agape, as Nadella and Benioff announced the arranged wedding of Salesforce and Office 365. I remember thinking “Well, that’s it then… we should have remained a Salesforce Consultant”. Microsoft just gave away our biggest competitive advantage. Since then we had the Salesforce acquisition rumors, and Nadella overpaying for LInkedIn, just to snatch it from Benioff’s grasp. Clearly, the Bromance is thankfully over.
And what of Dynamics CRM?
Dynamics CRM Online went from half-baked to overcooked since it was launched in 2011. Under mostly Bob Stutz’ leadership, Dynamics CRM meandered aimlessly. Several misguided acquisitions were made, Parature and Marketing Pilot come to mind. Stutz was not the right guy for the job, and I for one, was happy to see him depart for Salesforce, and Microsoft tap Stutz’ right-hand, Jujhar Singh to take the reins. It is clear that Jujhar had been champing at the bit for this. Much of the incredible things we have seen over the last week or two had to have been started a while ago, and Jujhar must be beaming at the birth of his creations. Microsoft had wrung out all they possibly could have from the existing platforms, with nary a dent in Salesforce. Dynamics CRM, nay, the whole Dynamics family needed an enema.
Starting at the Bottom
Within the Dynamics family, including CRM, GP, SL, NAV and AX, only CRM was built in-house. The other four ERP products were acquired over the years. Each platform had its own data model. For example, in the database, a business could be called either a Customer, Account, Company, etc., depending on the platform. This presented challenges in providing an end-to-end system. While all of these platforms came from one company, it was no easier to integrate them than if they were all from different companies, and sometimes even more difficult. Microsoft knew this, and converting all of them to a common data model was explored before, but they never did it. Now they are… and not just the Dynamics parts, but also with Office 365. I have to think this is a massive undertaking, representing a significant investment, and unprecedented cooperation among the BGs.If they can pull this off, it will be truly amazing. We have been talking big about how only Microsoft can provide all of these capabilities from a single vendor, but making that happen, under the hood, in a seamless way for the customer has not really been possible, despite demo videos to the contrary. This will be disruptive. As I understand it there will be two phases to accomplish this objective. Phase one will be middle-ware that will simulate a common data model, followed by Phase two, an actual common data model. It don’t know how long this will actually take to accomplish, but Third-party ISVs are in for a wild ride.
What can we Expect?
Well, for one thing, many of those amazing video demos, depicting a hundred gears in motion with the push of a smartphone button, may actually become a reality. The biggest impediment to Microsoft’s achieving those dreams has been disparate data models. Some of the new features and capabilities we have seen clearly demonstrate this. Take the Outlook/CRM marriage for example. Most of us CRM Partners have touted the superior integration between Dynamics CRM and Outlook over any competing CRM. While that is a true statement, the reality is that the Outlook Connector (Thick Client) is crap. Carried over from several generations without much change, it looks dated. While many users use it, it is not a good experience. Also as a locally installed client, it required re-installation with new updates which was very disruptive. Microsoft launched the CRM App last year, which was a hint at where this was going, but it too was clunky. The new App that we have all just seen is truly amazing, finally. My hope and expectation is that Microsoft will finally deprecate the thick client. This is just one of a slew of new capabilities, and frankly not even the most amazing thing. But it is one that the vast majority of users will absolutely use and love.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Okay, so massive change does not come quietly. While a new common data model and a dizzying array of new features and capabilities are awesome, there will be pain. I am not seeing how this will roll through existing deployments seamlessly. Clearly Jujhar can see the promised land over the hill and is eager to get there. He seems prepared to rip the band-aid off and deal with some disgruntled customers that are perfectly fine with the way things are today. Some will be lost. But I have to give Jujhar props, he is betting the Dynamics farm in this one. There will be massive disruption of ISVs for sure. CRM Partners will have to learn everything again. Other partners that were thinking about starting a CRM practice, will scatter back into the woods. But after five years in the cloud, rave reviews, Gartner Magic Quadrants, etc. Salesforce is still smiling. It’s time to wipe that smile off their face.