Dynamics 365 – Strategy Simulator

There are a lot of opinions floating around the Dynamics 365 channel today. Talk to any partner and they will say things like “If it were up to me, I would do this or that… but don’t tell anybody I said that“. Seems to me, if we don’t tell anybody what we think, we should not be entitled to complain about any results!

“Microsoft wouldn’t listen to me”

This is the most common response I get, when I suggest to someone that they should share their opinions with Microsoft. Whispering to each other in the corners is not going to accomplish anything. If you have built a practice that is dependent on Microsoft, you have an obligation to yourself and your company to make yourself heard; and I have found that Microsoft is not just willing to listen, but is usually eager to hear! That does not mean that they will act on your particular suggestion, but as a Partner Led company, partner opinions are core to everything they need to accomplish. If they built some thing that no partner liked or agreed with, then no partner would sell it! In fact, Microsoft has significant motions in place to get this exact kind of Feedback, from the MVP Communities to Partner Advisory Councils, and more, including the Dynamics 365 Strategy Simulator.

Pilot for a Day

You know those flight simulators that they train pilots in, so Microsoft has a secret one, 24 levels below a non-descript building on campus. What if James Phillips were to say to you, “Okay smart guy, you take a turn in our “D365 Strategy Simulator“. Umm… it is one thing to voice an opinion about some particular aspect that impacts your particular footprint, we could all do that pretty easily. But that is only navigating for your practice, at the end of the day, even if a course could be plotted that satisfied every partners’ viewport, it would crash and burn. While Microsoft may be Partner-Led, partners are not the customers. So, let’s try that again, but this time, don’t solve for partners, solve for customers.

The Invite

So I get this email from Phillips, “Steve, we have identified you as an opinionated know-it-all, and wanted to invite you and some other opinionated know-it-alls, to spend a day in our Dynamics 365 Strategy Simulator. Be on campus this Friday at 5AM at bus stop #12452“. So I arrive at exactly 5AM and there are already several other partners, that we all know very well. We all get on the bus, and the blindfolding process seems to take longer than it should, but we are eventually underway. After about 30 minutes the bus stops, and I can hear a big garage door closing. We are all led, still blindfolded, down a corridor and guided into an elevator, as the door closes, we are told we can remove our blindfolds. The elevator has only one button, and Phillips pushes it and we start to go down. The ride takes a full 3 minutes, but stops smoothly and the door opens to a cavernous room. In the middle of the room is a large capsule, with a door on the back of it, sitting on a bunch of metal arms and levers. I snuck a photo of it when Phillip’s back was turned.

Pre-Flight

We are ushered into a small auditorium, and sent down two rows to sit, I am in the back row. The first problem is that I am sitting right behind James Crowter, and he’s pretty tall so I have to crane my neck to see. I look to my right to see who is talking, when we are supposed be be quiet, of course… Joel Lindstrom. Anyway, on the stage stands Phillips, and right behind him from left to right are Marko, Param and some AX guy I don’t know. Above their heads are three large monitors, side by side. Each monitor is displaying various data about a particular platform like pricing, structure, licensing, functionality, etc. From left to right the monitors are NAV, CRM and AX. As Phillips opens his mouth to speak, George Doubinski jumps up from his seat and says “I am the only real developer here… just saying” and sits back down. Phillips looks at him for a few seconds, and then continues, “Behind me you will see an overview of the items that you will be able to control in the simulator. Each of you will have full control over every aspect of these items“. I hear Mark Smith say, just loud enough for everyone to hear: “Brilliant!“. Then I notice that Marko is kind of tipping his head, and darting his eyes up, motioning towards the NAV monitor. Phillips catches this out of the corner of his eye, and turns to Marko, who smiles sheepishly and stops. Param rolls his eyes, but the AX guy didn’t notice. I also see Alysa Taylor, over by the door, whispering to some guy I have not met before, his name tag says, “Hi, I’m Hayden”. We will be taken, one at a time from here to the simulator, and Crowter goes first. He stands and passes Sarah Critchley, who I can see is laser focused on her phone, I lean forward to see what is so important, at a time like this, and see she is editing a new cat emoji.

The Simulator

About an hour passes, and Crowter re-enters the auditorium. I can’t tell from his face, whether he passed or failed, and he is not letting on. Before I get a chance to lean in and ask him how it went, my name is called. “Right Now Mordue!” Ugh. Phillips leads me into the main room, and the door is opened on the back of the capsule, and a staircase unfolds. He motions for me to enter, apparently I was climbing the stairs too slowly, because he kinda pushed me over the last one, and then slammed the door shut. It is quite dark, just a red glow, enough where I can make out shapes. There’s a chair in front of me that looks like Captain Kirk’s Star Trek chair, and I circle around and sit in it. As I sit, a metal seat-belt comes out of the left side and crosses my stomach and clicks into the right side. I look at the armrests, and it looks like almost all of the padding has been scratched off, and even the metal underneath has what looks like claw marks. Suddenly, I am awash in bright light as three monitors fire to life, in the same orientation as the auditorium. Below each monitor are switches, levers and dials to adjust what is on them. Below the middle monitor is a small LED that says “Mission One: Solve for Enterprise“. It flashes a few times and then says “Begin“, I feel a slight jolt as the simulator comes to life.

Mission One

Hmm, Solve for Enterprise… not my area of expertise, but I’ll take a shot, because it doesn’t look like I can skip it. First, I reach to the left, under the NAV monitor. I am remembering Marko saying that NAV can be used for SMB, all the way up to Enterprise, but most of the NAV partners I know, are not focused on Enterprise. I don’t know AX that well either, but understand it to be a more complex product aimed at enterprise. So I turn off all of the NAV capabilities, and on the right, I crank up all of the AX levers. In the middle, where the CRM label has been crossed through with a sharpie, and Customer Engagement has been hand written below, I also start turning up levers. Field Service: On, Project Service: On, anything marked “Insights”: On. A new monitor lights up below, that I had not noticed before, it is not very tall, but it spans across and under all three of the big monitors, and flashes CDS before showing a whole bunch of other dials, and I see a new set of levers below it. I flip them all on. I sit for minute… thinking… looking at the glowing green button on the right armrest labeled “Start Simulation“… I press it. I hear laughing erupt outside of the capsule, apparently the crew has seen this configuration before, I fear that I won’t do well, but hey, this is not my area of expertise. I have no doubt that Joel will crush my score on this one. The capsule rocks around for a bit and then stops, all monitors go dark, the LED says “Simulation Completed“. It did not say “Mission Accomplished“, so I have no idea what happened, but before I can even think further about it, the LED flashes, “Mission Two : Solve for SMB“.

Mission Two

Now we’re talking, SMB is my wheelhouse. The three big monitors light up again, the same as they started in the first simulation. The first thing I do, is turn everything on the right (AX) side off. When Microsoft says SMB, I assume they are really meaning upper small to middle sized companies, as nobody makes any money on the 5 seat deals, so that is the lens I am thinking about. I look at CRM, ugh, I mean Customer Engagement next, as that is what I know. First thing, turn off Field Service and Project Service. My goal is to solve for the meat of the SMB market, not the fringes, so I go ahead and turn off Customer Service for now also. This is going to focus on Sales, the door that 90% of SMBs enter from. Insights? Too complex for most SMBs, at least to start, so I push those levers down, but not all the way. Appsource? Yes, yes, that one goes full to the top, SMB would rather buy than build any day. Plus, some of the enterprise features I turned off, will be filled by SMB focused products from Appsource. As I make adjustments, new windows appear, based on the selections I have made, a new one pops up in the corner now, it is labeled Business Edition in a crossed through font with a question mark next to it. I know that regardless of that they end up calling it, this is the simplified UI, so I push all of those levers to the top. A box flashes at the bottom of the window, “Do you want to change the default price of $40/user?“, I check “No“. I lean back, feeling pretty good about this configuration, I let me head loll to the left, and I am facing the NAV monitor.

Hmm, NAV, I am not an NAV partner, but something is telling me that is is important for this simulation. I look down to the LED and it is flashing: “Create a branch of this simulation?” I think about this. Many customers that I have encountered in the SMB space have been looking for just a sales solution. Is that because they are not interested in an end-to-end solution, or because I do not know enough to offer one? If I did, and I offered it, wouldn’t that give me an even stronger competitive advantage? I decide to create a branch of what I started and find out. I look at the NAV monitor… it does not say Tenerife yet, but that just came out and the guy with the Sharpie hasn’t got to it yet. I see a lot of items on the screen that I do not understand, and the levers look foreign also, but I do recognize a few. One says SaaS on the top and on-premise on the bottom. I place it to about 80% SaaS, because I know there will still be some customers who are ignorant to the cloud. I tweak a few other levers that I really don’t understand, but I need to move them somewhere, as I am sure the defaults are not what I want. I notice another lever that says “re-factor platform?” Looking down at the LED, I see that I can create yet another branch of the simulation from here. I press it.

When I select “re-factor platform” for my new branch, I notice some new grab handles on the windows. I had just talked to Crowter the other day, and he floated an idea by me as a CRM guy, for my opinion. Hoping he did not notice the “Create a Branch” option, I am going to steal it and see if can beat him in this simulation with his own idea… I’m not proud. I take the grab handle at the top of the NAV screen, and drag the entire screen over to the middle one, and drop it on top of the XRM box. What if NAV were actually a CRM App built on XRM? That would take care of any integration challenges. I know we have CDS, but would this not be easier. One UI, a platform within a platform instead of next to it… I’m liking this idea, thanks Crowter, ya sucker. A box appears, “Do you want to change the default price of “TBD?” Hmm, this is a good question. Knowing that in the App model, different users could use different things, and I already accepted the $40 price for Sales only, I decide that for this NAV App a good price would be $75/user. It does not give me an option to create a price for Sales and NAV, but that may not come up that often anyway. I press the button on the armrest to start all simulations. The capsule rocks back and forth for what seems like a long time, and then everything goes dark again, just the red glow. Nothing is happening. The seat belt slides back open, so I assume I’m done. I stand and turn towards the door and it opens, I squint from the light and I see Phillips waving me out. He leads me back to the auditorium, and as I enter I hear, “Right Now Lindstom!

Post Flight

As my eyes adjust, I notice Crowter sitting in front of me. I lean in and say “James, did you see the branching option?“, and he says “what branching option?“. I lean back and smile. Several hours pass, and finally everyone has returned to the auditorium. The last one to return is Chris Cognetta, he is backing into the room, still turned towards the simulator, I think he is explaining to the simulator crew how simulators work. It’s quiet now, but I can hear George grumbling about a lever in the simulator that was sticking, and obviously not well designed. Marko, Param and the AX guy are nowhere to be seen. Alysa is still whispering to “Hi, I’m Hayden”, and pointing at some of us, although I can’t tell who. Phillips clears his throat, and says “Thank you for your participation, the crew will re-blindfold you and return you to the bus stop“. Before I can stop myself, I blurt out “Wait!! Who won?“, Phillips shoots me a glance, pauses, and says, “Hopefully, we all did“.

Next steps for you

As you can clearly see, Microsoft is extremely willing to take feedback from partners. The next time you see Phillips, Marko, Param, Alysa, “Hi I’m Hayden”, or the AX guy. Tell them you want to crack at the Dynamics 365 Strategy Simulator. They will probably deny its existence, and I will probably get some serious heat from them for exposing it. But don’t take no for an answer.

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