Microsoft pushes the advantages of making data common

Martin Banks Profile picture for user mbanks March 22, 2018
Basing collaboration on a single, shared, version of the truth for a business or project is now the bedrock for Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 business management tools.

James Phillips

Spring may not yet have sprung, but that hasn’t stopped Microsoft trying to bring a bit of sunshine to its Dynamics business services line with a launch event in Amsterdam aimed at the European business management community.

Thematically the event was built around two fundamental building blocks: the unification of data across just about all of the company’s business-focused tools, and the gentle subjugation of things technological as the focus of importance, and a rise in place of humanity, both as provider and consumer of information.

The event was opened by Jean-Phillipe Courtois, Microsoft’s Executive VP and President of Global Sales who outlined the company’s current world view. This now comes down to three factors.

The first is user experience, including the ability to deliver to multiple devices and multi-sense. The second is AI and the greater use of all types of intelligent device. The third is server-less systems, particularly where compute is best located out at the edge of the network. Courtois said:

This can create the intelligent cloud with the intelligent edge, and means having the tools to empower employees, engage customers, optimise operations and transform products and services.

He followed the increasing - and to-be-encouraged! - trend in such events of having a number of customers up on stage with him and letting them tell the tale.

For example Pierre Hardouin, a VP of elevator manufacturer, Otis, which  has some two million elevators installed around the world and reckons to move the equivalent of the world’s population every three days. The company was, he suggested, therefore very dedicated to people.

Otis's  problem was that most failures come from the doors. It has always had lots of data, but until now had not been able to use it. Now it's possible to find the usage patterns and pick the slackest times in which to perform pre-emptive maintenance. It also ties in the delivery of the right parts to the right elevator at the right time. Next in line is providing personalised services to customers based on what they are actually using, rather than a one-size-for-all approach.

Belinda Thompson, Global head of IT at accountants and business advisory firm, BDO, outlined the company’s move from a function-led operation to a service led approach, with the goal of building global partnerships with customers.

She said that many customers are now ready for such conversations. She also stressed the importance of getting every part of the business lined up to make the transformation and pointed to the gambit of ensuring that customers are an integral part of the internal conversation, a move that brings what they want to the fore, while subduing the rise of internal company politics.

Where data gets common

James Phillips, Corporate VP of Microsoft’s Business Applications Group, took the audience through some of the developments and updates coming through in Microsoft Dynamics 365. The underlying factor the company is looking to meet is the need for commonality of data now being found in a wide range of market sectors, coupled with expanding the ways in which is can be exploited. He said:

Data is now coming out of everything, so businesses can use it to learn much more about their customers.

Historically, CRM  has been about the known knowns. Now customer interactions are coming in anonymously, but a business still needs to find and connect all the dots about them. Similarly with products. It used to be that once a product left the warehouse it was gone. But now a business can still be intimately connected with a product and its welfare. The same applies to services, said Phillips:

Till now business applications have never really changed – they have been systems of oppression. But we are now on verge of systems that are fundamentally different, that can give you guidance and advice.

The design goal behind Dynamics 365 is to make it as unified and modular as possible so users can just add what they need. There are some major upgrades for the Common Data Services for Apps platform that will enable a broad set of capabilities for modelling more powerful business solutions. There will also be a new BI capability, the Common Data Service for Analytics, targeted on reducing the complexities around integrating and analysing data that is silod across business apps and services.

These are being supplemented by some targeted applications. Dynamics 365 for Marketing, for example, is now generally available with this round of updates. This is designed for companies that need something more comprehensive than basic email marketing when it comes to the daily grind of turning prospects into relationships. Dynamics 365 for Sales Professional has also been added to the roster, aimed at optimising sales processes and productivity.

Microsoft is also introducing some targeted applications in the business intelligence and analytics space with the introduction of a range of Power BI Insight applications, starting with Power BI for Sales Insights and Power BI for Service Insights. These will be pitched at users looking for an out-of-the-box capability that can provide business insights tailored to specific scenarios in areas such as marketing, sales, service, operations, finance and talent.

The common platform approach is also intended to play into the hands of Microsoft’s large partner community. If all parties to a customer project are working in and through the same common data platform, then any number of them, in any combination, should now be able to make a contribution to that project.

Office 365 is now also built of the same common data platform which should, Phillips suggested, help bring in additional data from outside to enrich the data pool and subsequent analyses:

The goal is to build a range of industry-specific data services that customers can use easily. The value of a large partner ecosystem comes from the fact that, these days, no application is ever finished. Markets change and the applications must change to match and cope. Our aim is to grow our freight train of innovation in this area.

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