A new buzzword that is creating a stir in ecommerce circles, ‘customer experience’ was the catchphrase at Convergence 2014, the Microsoft Dynamics event held in Atlanta, Georgia this month. But in a twist on the term, the expression was used at this year’s annual user conference and expo in a multi-layered way to reference both businesses’ need to better target their own customers’ unique requirements, and Microsoft’s investment in tools to service an emerging customer segment for its Dynamics solutions — the line of business manager. As Microsoft EVP of the business solutions group Kiril Tatarinov explained to 12,000 attendees in his opening keynote, a "new era of the customer" is emerging, and successful businesses will be those that create a "customer centric culture" with "people2people operations" and a "chief digital officer" at the helm, and which can deliver an "amazing experience across all channels, wherever the customer is."
So how is Microsoft working to help its customers better serve their customers? Over the three day event, the company outlined a "Dynamics Innovation Roadmap," focused on the introduction of additional social, mobile and cloud capabilities, on the integration of Microsoft solutions to generate keener business insight and expand functionality, and on the creation of a simplified user experience to democratize use of technology across its ERP and CRM product lines. At the show, Microsoft highlighted the following updates to its AX ERP:
- a new end-to-end mobile app and services framework in Dynamics AX 2013 R3, which is scheduled for launch on May 1, 2014. AX mobile updates are designed to allow businesses to develop and distribute apps for specific scenarios and mobile devices. As example, Microsoft introduced a new shop floor app for production reporting via touch-enabled Windows devices.
- support for deployment of Dynamics AX 2012 R3 as IaaS via the Azure platform, which offers pre-configured environments to speed deployment and reduce time to value for demos, development, testing and production usage of AX.
- release on Azure of Microsoft Dynamics Lifecycle Services, new solutions to help businesses service and support business applications. According to Microsoft, use of the service allows customers to reduce time spent in defining, developing and operating business applications, while supporting self-service management of application issues.
To underscore the value that Microsoft Dynamics AX can deliver, Microsoft also released results from a commissioned Forrester Consulting TEI (Total Economic Impact) study, which found that an organization using AX 2012 R3 would see a three-year ROI of 92 percent, and a payback period of 21 months. But beyond current business value, Microsoft pointed to new app, mobile device and cloud services capabilities as harbingers of the future of ERP — and to additional updates that are expected throughout the year.
On the CRM front, Microsoft stressed new functionality introduced in the February release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, which is expected to be in market in second quarter 2014, and announced pricing and packaging details for the new Dynamics Marketing, Social Listening and customer care capabilities. This new functionality includes:
- tools for smarter marketing, such as a visual campaign designer that works across multiple social channels, new lead management and scoring capabilities, scalable email marketing that will deliver millions of messages per day, marketing analytics as well as automation of marketing functions in Dynamics Marketing (formerly MarketingPilot).
- personalized customer care via enhanced core case management capabilities in CRM and a new Unified Service Desk call centre application that enables agents to handle multiple interactions simultaneously, automates repetitive tasks and displays scripts to help agents offer more effective service. With the cloud-based, self-service capabilities gained in Microsoft’s January acquisition of Parature, Dynamics now offers a range of customer service deployment options, including self-service via support portals, Facebook and Twitter, Web chat and video capabilities, which all leverage a shared knowledge base to ensure delivery of the right answer on the right social channel at the right time.
- social listening that enables sales, marketing and customer care professionals to listen and gain insights in order to more effectively engage with customers across social channels. The new service allows users to analyze and act on market intelligence from social conversations, deploy sentiment analysis across a range of social channels and to track product, brand, competitor and campaigns in real time for better understanding of customer businesses. Currently, Microsoft is offering Social Listening for free as part of the Dynamics CRM Online professional license.
While the innovations introduced into Dynamics CRM and ERP speak to business need to harness the power of social and mobile technologies in the delivery of good customer experience, a more striking element in Microsoft’s flurry of announcements and event demos was the integration of capabilities from across Microsoft’s portfolio, and access to these from simplified, easy to use interfaces. As Wayne Morris, CVP, Microsoft business solutions marketing, noted at the event, "it used to be that we needed tons of different tools to do the marketing job, but this was unproductive so Microsoft has built a unified approach in MS Dynamics Marketing," creating tools that bring together projects, marketing execution, assets and media, budgeting and performance. By integrating company and other data as well as different CRM capabilities, Morris explained that Microsoft has enabled users to look beyond these high level functional divisions, drilling down with tools like Power BI (Microsoft analytics) to consider project metrics such as campaign performance by country and to manage related social activity.
The goal of this kind of integration is to encourage stakeholders across the organization to leverage new kinds of information from different areas of the business as they develop projects and programs — to draw together sales, marketing and customer care teams in the common cause of building better customer experience and ultimately better business performance. According to Morris, Dynamics Marketing innovation is also designed to "democratize the role of marketers, making marketing cheaper and more accessible to everyone." A key piece in this process has been the creation of a simplified user interface that automates the integration of data and applications in a way that is transparent to the user. Describing use of the CRM tool, Jujhar Singh, GM of Microsoft Dynamics CRM noted, set up is "as easy as a five minute job’’ and designed for the business unit manager — as opposed to the IT guy — with lots of drag and drop. Since "planning, executing and analyzing is all in one place," he added, it’s easy to build a self-service campaign featuring visibility across multiple social channels and email scale. In the video below, Judson Althoff, Microsoft president of North American sales & marketing, demonstrates this ease of use in a personalized dashboard that he has assembled to run his $5 million area of the Microsoft business.
The facility that Althoff displays is in large part a by product of Microsoft efforts to remove complexity from use of applications that still offer powerful functionality, especially when unified through a single pane of glass (Windows) interface. These efforts have grown out of recognition of the need to address a key trend in software acquisition. While the purchase of software licenses was formerly the preserve of IT, line of business managers are increasing their influence in purchase decision-making — armed with a credit card, many are turning to rogue acquisition of cloud offerings, creating shadow IT that is the bane of CIOs everywhere. According to data presented in Techaisle's The 360° on Cloud in the U.S. SMB market — 2014 report, while IT department managers in small to medium sized businesses in the US have primary responsibility for infrastructure issues like IaaS, virtualization and remote device management, business department managers are now three to four times more likely to define corporate approaches to key business support systems like business analytics/BI, collaboration and social media. Much of Microsoft’s innovation is targeted at this business department manager — and the CMO in particular, who’s visibility is growing within many organizations as the source of efforts to drive better customer experience, and who is the natural customer target for what Gartner has concluded is the fastest growing software segment — CRM.
Is this approach working? Kiril Tatarinov would answer yes. The EVP of Microsoft’s business solutions group explained: "When you look at calendar year 2013, our whole op growth in the business was 10 percent, which includes both the ERP and CRM sides of the business. We have had phenomenal growth in Dynamics AX: in North America, we saw license growth in the last six months of over 30 percent…. In Dynamics CRM, we now have 38 quarters of double digit growth so momentum continues to build there… and in the last six months we have doubled NAV seat ads for Dynamics CRM online (or the cloud option)… so twice the number of net new customers. Customer ads in the SMB space for Dynamic NAV and Dynamics GP grew in the last six months by over 30 percent. So it’s end-to-end, a very exciting growth story."
Strong growth is in order if Microsoft is to address the market juggernaut represented by SAP and Oracle on the ERP side and the challenge posed by cloud-based CRM incumbent Salesforce.com. Stay tuned for more on how Microsoft is confronting its own marketing contest, and in the meantime, click on the video below to learn more about Canadian opportunity with Microsoft Dynamics (Canada) GM, Rob Adams.