Event Report: Reflections On Microsoft’s Convergence 2009

Published on March 21, 2009 by R "Ray" Wang

Banner from Microsoft Convergence 2009

(Photo: Convergence banner in the New Orleans Convention Center.  Copyright © 2009 R Wang. All rights reserved)

Over 7000 customers, partners, Microsoft staff, and paparazzi made the pilgrimage to New Orleans to hear the latest and greatest from the Microsoft Dynamics team.  The great band, surface computing demo, and festivities in New Orleans wiped out most of the gloom and doom of the economic recession and negativity towards continued reckless US government spending.  Attendees were upbeat, optimistic, and energetic.  One explanation for this sense of “can-do” attitude among attendees can be based on how Microsoft has successfully transformed itself into a value and innovation alternative to the large ERP vendors moving into the small-medium enterprise/business (SME/SMB) space.*  Customers such as National Air Cargo state a 25% increase in employee productivity, GFK talks about is 50% less time spent on financial reporting, and Champion posts 60% faster order processing times using Microsoft Dynamics products.  Conversations with Rick Harkins and Robert Dills of the Cleveland Red Cross highlight the ease of use and rapid implementation time.  Customers of Hitachi consulting expressed both Microsoft and Hitatchi’s commitment to getting the job done right and the close relationships with the Microsoft Dynamics product teams.

In fact, in more than a dozen customer conversations at this year’s event, these born again ERP evangelists exclaimed, this is the “kinder and gentler” ERP company.   One other attendee professed, “I know, I know, its Microsoft but they aren’t the big bad wolf in the enterprise applications space”.  Another demonstration of care for customer and corporate responsibility includes the generous volunteerism with Habitat For Humanity in bringing over 400 employees, attendees, and partners to rebuild homes in New Orleans as part of the pre-conference activities.

Users And Partners Express High Levels Of Satisfaction

In a quick two question survey of 71 ERP users at this year’s Microsoft Convergence event, respondents from all industries and Microsoft Dynamics ERP product lines praised Microsoft Dynamics for the following when asked ” What features or qualities do you find positive about Microsoft Dynamics ERP”

  • Office integration (n=66 or 92.9%)
  • Usability (n=64 or 90.1%)
  • Product quality (n=60 or 84.5%)
  • Implementation time (n=59 or 83.l%)
  • Total cost of ownership (n=57 or 80.2%)
  • ROI or overall value (n= 55 or 77.4%)
  • Extensibility (n=53 or 74.6%)
  • Easy to learn (n=52 or 73.2%)

And of course, a few found opportunities for improvement in Microsoft Dynamics for the following when asked the converse question, “What features or qualities do you find negative about Microsoft Dynamics ERP”:

  • HR/payroll capabilities (n=61 or 85.9%)
  • Finding the right Microsoft Partner (n=56 or 78.8%)
  • Upgrade path or ability to easily upgrade from older releases (n=51 or 71.8%)
  • Mobile options (n=45 or 63.3%)
  • Deployment options such as SaaS and Hosting (n=38 or 53.5%)

2009 Convergence Highlights Progress In Delivery Of The Promised Road Map

Key design elements across all product families include a people centric approach with a strong foundation on user experience research, the Microsoft Dynamics Customer Model (61 user profiles), and a Role Tailored Design.   With the death of Project Green (the convergent product lines project), Microsoft moves forward from the lessons learned and upholds its promises across the 5 major product families:

  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM pushes forward to cover the large enterprise and small business. One can say that Dynamics CRM was the star of this year’s event from demos to product announcements.  Over 16,000 customers, 800,000 users, from small to enterprise organizations in over 80 countries now use the product in over 25 languages.  As the product progresses towards CRM ’5″, the CRM 4.0 March 2009 update includes accelerators for analytics, eService, Event Management, Enterprise Search, Business Productivity, Extended Sales Forecasting, CRM Notifications, and Sales Methodology Support.  Other capabilities include Up-time SLA, Internet Lead Capture, Cloud Integration Services, and Quick Start Tools.

    Launched in April 2008 for the US and Canadian markets, CRM Online continues to build closer alignment with Microsoft Online via integrated services, shared billing, and provisioning.  Release 2 delivered in September 2008 adds Internet marketing and supports up to 2000 users per organization.  Deployment options include on-premise, hosting via Microsoft’s data center, or subscription to CRM as as Service from Microsoft’s data center.  Release 3 will focus on improved business analytics.  As proof of its ongoing value, Microsoft announced a 75% savings on Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online for $9.99/user for 6 months if users signed up and activate by May 1st 2009

  • Microsoft Dynamics AX delivers key mid market, industry specific, and globalization requirements. Released in June 2008, Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 represents the latest release built on top of two important .NET libraries: Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF).  Usability enhancements bring Enterprise 2.0 capabilities.  Further, Dynamics AX represents logical organizational models through improved data structure modeling.  Some examples include Multi-Sites that model advanced internal supply chains, trading partners which model stakeholders such as customers and suppliers, and Shared Services that model inter company relationships.  Microsoft Dynamics AX continues an industry strategy focused on discrete manufacturing, process manufacturing, wholesale/distribution, retail, and professional services.  Public Sector will be revealed in Dynamics AX ’6′.  Though Microsoft Dynamics does not provide multi-tenant SaaS options, the Software plus Services approach delivers new retail customer deployment options for services such as online payment processing and payment services that work on the Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) price list, (a.k.a. subscription pricing models).

    The latest service pack, SP1, provides over 330 fixes, 5-DCR’s, and supports over 42 languages and language variants.  New features include project time management, intelligent data management, Microsoft Dynamics Mobile, Lean Manufacturing, and the Environmental Sustainability Dashboard.  Key enhancements in SP1 include electronic signatures, left right date support, time zone patching, and enterprise portal deployment.  Technology support includes Microsoft Dynamics Mobile, Windows Essential Business Server 2008, and Microsoft SQL Server 2008.  In Q2, the product will be available in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia.  Brazil will have availability in Q3.

  • Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 adopts key enabling technologies. Launched November 2008, Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 moves from a two-tier to a three tier architecture.  As part of the new release, the product adopts the role tailored client, new reporting capabilities, and more web services enablement.  The product  currently is in an ISV Beta Access Program with more than 70 ISV’s and 15 Technology Adoption Program (TAP) participants representing 7 countries and 8 verticals.  Initial usability results cite 22% more success in performing tasks and 23 point higher satisfaction rate with the new product when compared to the NAV 5.0.  Over time users can expect mobility updates and support for additional countries.  For a more detailed perspective on Microsoft Dynamics NAV, check out a fellow industry star analyst of SMB ERP, PJ. Jakovljevic at Technology Evaluation Centers.
  • Microsoft Dynamics GP 10.0 expands access and reach. Major themes include usability and productivity, access to information, and communication and collaboration.  GP 10 delivered UI improvements including Action Panes and Lists.  Other enhancements included Excel and SRS reports, and work flow and search.  GP 10 FP adds Rapid Install, Configuration, Migration; Excel Report Builder; Project and Field Service.  New for 2009 will be SP4 which adds Microsoft CRM capabilities.
  • Microsoft Dynamics SL 7.0 extends collaboration and role-tailored productivity. Microsoft Dynamics SL offers a project based solution in the North American market.  Key investments include SL 7 FP and SL SP 2 delivered in Q4 2008, improved project manager productivity, and performance enhancements.  SL 7 FP enhances collaboration with access to project, customer, and vendor related documents.  The system adds work spaces and document repositories when new projects are created or when vendors or customers are added.  Project managers gain  improvements with new flexible period time reporting and integration with Office Project 2007.  Usability enhancements reduce the time to create service tasks and financial tasks.

Microsoft Dynamics Offers Stability And Business Assistance In Today’s Market

As one of the Big 4 (i.e. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP), Microsoft’s investments in its Microsoft Dynamics product line remains extensive and steadfast.  As companies begin to worry about the financial viability of their software vendors, Microsoft continues to:

  • Invest in R&D and innovation.  As other vendors begin to cut R&D in the face of global contraction, expect Microsoft to buck the trend and honor its commitments to deliver on its road map as promised.  With more and more consumption of .NET components, Microsoft can take advantage of its technology stack to deliver future innovations in search, data management, content management, and other productivity tools. Key innovations such as XRM for property management, complaint management, citizen management, dealer management and contractor management also highlight the other advancements to come.
  • Prove value to the customer.  Various programs to help deliver value were announced at Convergence including new financing options and the “Unleash Your Potential” program.  With SME/SMB customers facing liquidity issues, Microsoft Financing delivered a 0% Financing Offer that ended March 20th, 2009 on top of its Business Ready Licensing simplification programs.  The new Smart Pay offer allows customers to buy now and pay 6 months later with 24 or 36 month terms so long they take action by June 30, 2009.  Unleash Your Potential provides customers with a best practice business solutions road map to accelerate design time and improve implementation outcomes.

The bottom line – Microsoft Dynamics should be considered in short lists

Whether it be usability, functionality, integration with other services, or global availability, Microsoft Dynamics family of enterprise applications continue to improve with each release.  Large enterprises looking at costly upgrades of legacy ERP and CRM systems should consider the option of Microsoft Dynamics as an alternative in their divisions or subsidiaries.  Small and mid market customers will immediately benefit from usability and integrating with Microsoft Outlook and should leave Microsoft Dynamics in their short lists.

Your POV

How was your Microsoft Convergence experience?  How do you feel about your Microsoft Dynamics products.  Post your comments here or send me a private email to rwang0 at gmail dot com.  Thanks and looking forward to your POV!

Other useful coverage links on Microsoft Convergence 2009

*Other purpose built ERP options include Microsoft “Rainbow Stack” competitors Agresso, Epicor, Exact, Sage, and Syspro, SME vendors such as Lawson, IFS, Infor, and SaaS options such as NetSuite and Workday.

Copyright © 2009 R Wang. All rights reserved.

  • Wayne – regarding FRx:
    Rumors of the product’s demise are greatly exaggerated. It was scheduled to be folded into PerformancePoint and was being managed as a BI asset. Microsoft pulled the plug on PerformancePoint recently (see my Forrester blog post, Jan. 23 http://blogs.forrester.com/business_process/ ). FRx is now back in the Dynamics line of business and will continue to be sold and supported.

  • Wayne, you are absolutely correct that the product lines are all separate. In fact, the underlying code is different for each one. However, the progression to a common look and feel, adoption of a core set of Microsoft technologies, and common approach to usability have in my humble opinion, helped propel the product forward in the eyes of the customer. As for FRX, that’s a very valid point that I agree with based on the conversations on the show floor. Thanks for your comments!

    R

  • Wow. Just Wow.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a Sage Business Partner and not independent with respect to my comments. Take them FWIW.

    First, of course Microsoft should be on the short list. Agreed. Mostly because it’s hard not to have them on there due to the shrinking pool of quality ERP vendors who likely will be around in 5 years. In my amateur opinion we’ll see another round of mass consolidations. This time it won’t be billion dollar acquisitions..

    Second, the product families are all acquisitions — Dynamics, Navision, Axapta. Not as tightly integrated as the product names would lead you to believe. (Note: This is true of almost every competitor including the one we work with). Just a point of clarification.

    I think the part that would have me the most concerned is Microsoft’s seeming reliance on “selling the stack”. Based on conversations with VARS who resell Microsoft I’m hearing (right or wrong) their feedback saying that to make a lot of the sizzle really work you have to tie it together with a lot of Microsoft software.

    One of our members on the ground at Convergence came away very confused about the direction of their FRX financial report writer and we’ve read several other first hand accounts from people who attended. None of the accounts have been the same. FRX is the Microsoft acquisition that provides financial report writing. The product has been slated for extinction for quite some time and apparently Microsoft wasn’t very clear about exactly what the road map for FRX will be (of concern personally because one of the products we work with uses FRX heavily).

  • Convergence was truly a blast! The sessions were packed to capacity and were very useful. We’ll be there next year for sure!

    Henrik

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