Q&A on Dynamics365

Over the last 10 days you might have seen lots of people talking about Microsoft Dynamics 365. It’s been confusing trying to find the substance behind the marketing and understand what it actually is but having been at WPC this week I’ve had the opportunity to ask some questions and thought I’d summarise my conclusions.

And seeing as the question and answer style I used on ProjectMadeira seemed to work well I thought I’d do the same here.

What is Dynamics365?

Its Microsoft’s new brand that covers all its online business applications. It’s a new umbrella heading that covers the CRM & ERP functions they are providing in software and as service form alongside and arguably part of Office365. It does not cover any on premise, third party hosted or even hosted on Azure applications so NAV, CRM, GP, AX or SL.

Microsoft have made a big play that it also includes what I would call surround apps, such as the new Flow and PowerApps, as well as the more established PowerBI.

More importantly they intend to break the boundaries between the different apps and move to a common data model so that users don’t have to change between different apps. They intend to have any data and process presented where it is needed, in the interface and on the device of choice, in a intuitive and convenient way.

What’s it actually made up of?

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The components that are available(ish) today are based on:

CRM – actually the most ready because it’s been in the online model for a few years now. There are optional extras for customer service, field service and marketing as well as part of this.

Under the heading of Operations/Financials we have:

· AX – for the Enterprise Edition of Dynamics365 we have AX 7 which is the new online only version of AX that just been launched.

· Project Madeira – for the Business Edition which is targeted at SMB which is based on the NAV platform and currently in preview in the US & Canada

Flow – the new Office365 workflow platform that Microsoft launched a few months ago where you can connect to any of the data sources and build ‘if this then that’ processes in a easy to use graphical environment without writing any code.

PowerApps – the new, again O365 based app which allows you to build applications for either iOS, Android or Windows and then publish those to anyone, again without writing code.

PowerBI & Cortana Analytics – the business intelligence tools used for reporting and dashboarding across lots of data sources, again already in widespread use.

Then we have third party extensions or solutions which make it work in for instance in particular industry sectors which can be consumed from the new Appsource apps store.

Are there two Editions of Dynamics365?

Yes, one aimed at Enterprise and one aimed at SMB. The stated targeting is that the lower Business Edition is for organisations up to 250 seats and has a maximum of 300 seats, above that you need to go to Enterprise.

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It seems the future sales and marketing on the slide above are a simplified version of CRM Online that’s currently still being put together.

From within the Editions, how do you select what you need?

Each company will have a ‘plan’ which will detail what they need for who. This is similar to having an Office365 subscription and having so many people with Office, some with Visio, some with project and some with all three, and then having extra one drive storage for others. It’s all within the same subscription or plan but the different elements are authorised for different users.

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One area of concern is that Microsoft describe the Business Edition covered by Project Madeira as ‘Financials’ – it’s a bit more than Financials having inventory for instance. It contrasts with the ‘Operations’ in the Enterprise edition, so called because that included manufacturing. Does Microsoft think that organisations below 250 users don’t manufacture? I know it’s not in Project Madeira now but it’s just a time thing right? In which case why all the ‘future’ tags under the sales and marketing headings?

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What are Team Members?

These are the limited users of the online plan world but boy are they more useful. For starters they can read data across any of the application areas; so having someone seeing ERP data in CRM in not an issue here – real progress.

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It’s a stated aim by Microsoft that everyone in an organisation should have access to the systems and that the team member licence will enable that – we will wait to see what it costs before commenting further.

What is Appsource?

Appsource is I think the most exciting (but I’m biased) part of the whole Dynamics365 initiative. It’s a Microsoft wide apps store for buying add on business focused solutions for any of the Microsoft technologies. It can be found at AppSource.com

The company I work for has already published two into the Project Madeira store, the process to get them in there was simple and straightforward. It is a curated store though so you need to get your app to a certain quality and tick quite a few boxes. It’s aimed at apps which are to be sold to multiple customers so customisations for one specific customer cannot be put onto Dynamics365 via this route.

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Still it gives companies like mine the ability to package and sell their ‘products’ worldwide much much easier than they ever have had before. From the customer perspective, they can find an app that makes Dynamics do what they want without paying for it to be developed. Wins both ways as I see it.

Are there any pricing details?

No pricing details have been announced yet but it will be sold on the relatively new CSP or cloud service provider licence scheme. Margins for Tier One CSP partners have been announced but I’m not going to post those on a public blogs for obvious reasons, just saying that they are workable in my view and better than the margins on lots of other cloud services.

When are we going to be able to get it?

That depends on how the preview of Madeira goes I guess but the launch in the US & Canada is at the NAVUG summit in October. They have promised that four other countries will follow before the end of June 2017.

This is speculation but I would be very surprised if the UK is not one of those given the ease of the converting with the language being very close to US English and it being one of the top four Dynamics markets in the world. My fingers are crossed anyway.

How does this affect NAV & CRM?

It doesn’t. They will still be the only way of getting the software on your own servers or with your unique customisations.

In fact for the foreseeable nothing changes for partners and customers. There are a whole bunch of things that need to happen before Dynamics365 goes mainstream in the midmarket and in my view we are at least a year away from even full availability for European users.

Long term will it affect traditional Dynamics markets?

Yes, at the lower and simpler end the move to Dynamics365 will make sense for lots of organisations. This will increase once more current vertical and even horizontal solutions are redeveloped as extensions for Madeira or solutions for CRM.

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The licencing is more straightforward if you are buying into the whole suite (and why wouldn’t you) so that will encourage people to go this route. We haven’t seen the cost yet but it cannot be more expensive that licencing all the individual components separately, can it?

What do you think is Microsoft’s biggest challenge?

Easy – the aspiration of a common data model. Currently NAV & CRM, because they have been developed by different teams with different priorities and experiences, have very different entity structures. Through in AX which unless it has changed in AX7 (I haven’t looked) has a ultimately normalised data model and it gets much harder.

It would be easier if you weren’t trying to do this and maintain hundreds of thousands of existing implementations across these three applications.

Still if it only means that going forward new changes will be co-ordinated and over time entity names will use common terminology then it’s a very positive ambition.

Will it be successful?

I’m quite a positive entrepreneurial type who also tends to think things will succeed. Even tempering my enthusiasm because of this, I can see it increasing the success of Dynamics still further.

The integration and simplicity is the key. Simple (and hopefully affordable as this is critical) licencing combined with great software that’s already mature from its on premise heritage, packaged into simple components that everyone who sells Office 365 can sell.

Who can provide a proposition that's remotely close?

No one. It might not be game over for the rest but its sure going to make their life much harder.

Author: James Crowter

I’m passionate about how businesses can improve their efficiency by getting process optimal more of the time. For the last twenty five years I’ve worked to help organisations of all sizes and types implement the ERP & CRM software that typically they decide they need when things are going wrong. I’ve seen that work unbelievably well and enabled those organisations to rapidly grow but I’ve also had some hard projects over that time where it’s felt more like warfare at times. Since 1996 (and version 1.01) I’ve been working with a small Danish product called Navision that’s now become Microsoft’s Dynamics NAV and I’ve also been using and consulting around Microsoft CRM since 2005. As managing Director of one of the longest established first Navision and now Microsoft Dynamics partners I’ve been involved in the complete history including numerous product councils and system design reviews. It’s my privilege to know many of the key Microsoft executives and product designers and have insight into both where the products are now and their future direction. So colleagues & clients have asked me to start this blog to share some of the insight that both this knowledge (obviously where not restricted by NDA’s or client confidentiality) and experience can help. Specifically I want to concentrate not on the specifics of how (there are some great blogs already for that) but why. If any user helps their business make better decisions or consultant can give better advice then that will be objective achieved. I founded Technology Management in 1992 and have led from the front ever since. Helping clients use technology to grow their business is my passion through explaining technology in terms that everyone can understand. My interest in computing began at the age of eight, long before my school had the equipment to cope. Throughout school and university I developed software commercially. I hold many IT certifications, such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV (for over 17 years), Microsoft Dynamics CRM (for over 10 years), as well as Microsoft Windows Server, Exchange and SQL. In October 2015, I was awarded the title of Most Valuable Professional (MVP), a title given to a select few individuals (31 currently) across the world specifically for Dynamics NAV. After years of working with a range of distribution and manufacturing software for hundreds of organisations, I focus on understanding the business requirements of an organisation, what it will take to deliver the systems required to maximise their potential. Follow me online via my other social channels: - Twitter: @jamescrowter - LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/jamescrowter Or email me directly at james[.]crowter[@]tecman.co.uk.

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