As a longtime WPC / Inspire-observer with a perspective geared toward Microsoft Dynamics, I’d like to share some of my initial impressions on this year’s Inspire 2017 in Washington DC. And highlight some of the important trends you’ll find more detailed analysis of in this year’s Inspire Business Report for Dynamics partners.
So these are among the most important stories – and questions – coming out of Microsoft Inspire 2017:
- Microsoft is broadly perceived as being back at the top of the industry. At WPC 2014, when Microsoft was at its lowest point in terms of appearance, COO Kevin Turner had to admit publicly that Microsoft has dropped from “dominant market leader” back to “challenger”. And at last year’s WPC, Tim Campo, CIO of Facebook, told the audience “Microsoft got cool again”. This year, Microsoft just was cool! No doubts about that.
- The move to the new ‘One Commercial Partner’ set-up is the biggest change in the Microsoft sales organisation of the last decade! OCP – already widely abbreviated – is made up of three parts: ‘Build-with’ (partner management, recruit, develop, launch, grow), ‘Go-To-Market’ (offers into markets and capacity requirements) and ‘Sell-with’ (channel management, territory success). Dynamics partners need to find their place and their new contact persons in this model right away.
- OCP is an important determinant for the re-organisation Microsoft announced just before the start of Inspire. Remarkable – during the keynote sessions, Microsoft executives didn’t spend one word on this. However, in the walkways, it was the conversation of the day. The expected impact on the Dynamics partner channel is that substantial numbers of managed partners will lose their position and need to find business support elsewhere. Those partners that keep their position as a managed partner will most likely be managed by a Microsoft employee. And not by a Microsoft Dynamics employee anymore.
- The Dynamics products are absolutely mainstream! Microsoft presented the 4 main themes in their value proposition that they will push in all markets around the globe. These themes are: Modern workplace, Business Applications (including Dynamics ERP, Dynamics CRM and Dynamics 365), Infrastructure & Application and Data & AI. From a high level, digital transformation relies on those four areas to empower employees, engage customers, optimize operations, and transform products. Microsoft expects this worldwide market for “Intelligent cloud and Intelligent Edge” to reach a value of around $ 4.5 Trillion.
- Microsoft has a track record in bringing enterprise technologies down to the SMB market. That happened before with ERP, CRM, Business Intelligence and even relational databases. The same now happens with Analytics and Artificial Intelligence. At this event, Microsoft repeatable emphasized the big opportunities specific for SMB partners – including Dynamics partners – to adopt these solutions in order to grow revenue and differentiate from competition.
- Much stronger than in previous years, Microsoft emphasized the importance of specialisation and verticalisation as a success factor for the partners’ business. As CVP Industry, Toni Tunes-Whitley said: “To understand a customer, you need to understand their industry!” Inevitably, this transition must be accompanied by higher marketing investments at on the partner side in positioning and lead generation, as well as in product management. Until recently, these subjects were considered by Microsoft to be more of a tactical nature. At this event, however, they were important topics in the vision keynote presentations!
- On the product side, Microsoft announced Microsoft 365 – “the intelligent, secure solution to empower employees”. This announcement re-confirms the Microsoft strategy to bundle single category products into a series of real ‘stack solutions’. Just like Dynamics 365. After all, this stack is generally considered as Microsoft’s biggest Unique Selling Point. Microsoft 365 bundles of Windows10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility & Security suite, with differences for Business (SMB) and Enterprise editions.
- Regarding the Dynamics solutions family, there was not much product news except for updated launch goals later in calendar year 2017 for Dynamics 365 Business Edition, Sales and Marketing. Unfortunately, Dynamics partners have to wait a little longer before the can lay their hands on this solution. Likewise the wait continues for the localised availability of Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations BE in most places. So, the patience of the Dynamics partner channel is again properly tested.
- In the weeks before Inspire, Microsoft decided to re-brand her Dynamics 365 product lines. The new branding now is ‘Dynamics 365 Business Edition or Enterprise Edition Finance and Operations’. Clearly, over the last year, the terms ‘Operations’ and ‘Financials’ have created lots of confusion in a world where end-users are still searching for ERP and CRM solutions. Besides, the term ‘financials’ gives the general impression that it was just ‘accounting’, where ‘operations’ suggested just ‘supply chain’. At Inspire, we’ve observed that the Microsoft people had to get used to this new branding as well. Many slides still talked about ‘financials’ and ‘operations’. Some slides talked about ‘Financial & Operations’. In other presentations, we’ve seen the terms ‘customer engagement’ mixed up with ‘Dynamics 365 Sales & Marketing’. Over time, we probably all get used to the new terminology.
- LinkedIn pervaded the conference. At WPC 2016 last year, Microsoft was not allowed to even say a word since at that time the acquisition was subject of formal approval processes. At this event however, Microsoft tied in LinkedIn where ever they could. So of course, LinkedIn was included in the various demonstrations as part of the vision keynote sessions. But it was also there in the registration process, where you could use your LinkedIn profile as your log in to the Microsoft systems. So LinkedIn, together with Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365, creates an extremely powerful trio; a real game changer!
- Regarding the “stand-alone” Dynamics ERP products, Microsoft re-confirmed that both NAV, GP and SL will continue to be further developed, updated and supported. However, there was only one session in the whole event dedicated to these product lines; fewer than even before. And this one session was facilitated in a fairly small room, that was complete overbooked. Many partners felt that this non-verbal communication was symbolic since everybody understands that Dynamics 365 is the way to go!
Guus Krabbenborg’s thirteenth annual Business Report from WPC / Inspire will become available mid-August. You can download the 2016 report here and order 2017 edition.