New analytics, productivity app integrations to highlight Microsoft Dynamics release

While the new Dynamics CRM 2016 isn’t scheduled for release until Q4, there are some major changes here which will interest partners, some of which should lead to new opportunities.

Bob Stutz Microsoft 300

Bob Stutz, corporate vice president, Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Microsoft has announced details of the changes to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016, which is scheduled to be released in Q4, and which the company is touting as the most comprehensive Dynamics upgrade ever. It includes some major analytics enhancements, better integrations with existing Microsoft products, and improved mobility capabilities.

“This is our most comprehensive CRM release and a milestone in the company’s efforts to reinvent productivity,” said Bob Stutz, corporate vice president, Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Improved analytics is a huge part of the story. The existing integration from the Cortana Analytics Suite, which provides data management and advanced analytics capabilities designed by Microsoft as an advisor to users of its new operation systems, has been enhanced.

“We’re taking our Cortana integration to the next level by embedding sales activities, accounts and opportunities into Cortana to surface what’s most relevant to salespeople at any time,” Stutz said. “We’re introducing capabilities like intelligent product suggestions (for cross-sell), and recommended cases to resolve customer service issues. We’re harnessing the power of Azure Machine Learning for sentiment analysis in Microsoft Social Engagement.”

“That business analytics part of it is key for us,” said Jim Sheehan, COO and partner at Minneapolis-based Microsoft partner PowerObjects. “It’s a new frontier to drive value into the customer base, taking the power of cloud computing, along with Big Data and driving actionable information back to line of business users. You can’t get this data out of email or a database, but you can out of sales, marketing and business process, if you can get the data out to make meaningful decisions. We haven’t had the computing power or the right tools before, so what Microsoft is doing here is exciting.”

A key change with this release is a new design principle that allows organizations to manage their customer-facing activities in a single experience, with no need to export or switch applications, slowing down the process. This is made possible by improving the integrations with other Microsoft products.

“We are eliminating the distractions people inevitably encounter when they bounce from application to application in the course of doing their job by taking away the need to export or switch applications, and by automating fundamental tasks,” Stutz said.

The most important of these is an enhanced Excel experience within Dynamics CRM, complete with new Excel templates for various tasks, functions and scenarios.

“This helps our customers across the board but particularly in sales, as it allows them to do things like calculate commissions or manage a sales forecast,” Stutz said. “They get analysis and insights directly in their sales processes, without the need to export or switch – just easy toggling to reduce countless steps and eliminate the complexity.”

Other integrations provide access to their documents within Dynamics CRM for OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, and Office 365.

“Our customers can now seamlessly open various Office apps within CRM or the CRM mobile app,” Stutz said. “We’re making it easy for people to open a document in the CRM app using different application on various devices like Microsoft PowerPoint for iPad or Microsoft Word for iPhone. After reviewing the document, they can return back to the CRM app simply by just tapping on the “back” button.

Jim Sheehan PowerObjects

Jim Sheehan, COO and partner at Microsoft partner PowerObjects

“With changes in the product in recent years, particularly the monumental leap from 4.0 with the new UI and navigation, fine-tuning the Microsoft integration story has become more of an issue,” Sheehan said. “Can we leverage other pieces of what Microsoft has to make Dynamics better? Customers aren’t commenting about the speed of the application or the clunky interface anymore, because those things were fixed. It’s now about applications, not working on the plumbing. It’s working even better with Outlook, and working with the analytics tools. The changes to Excel are cool, but you also expect a lot of that because it is all Microsoft.”

This release also introduces Delve functionality into the Dynamics application. Powered by Office Graph, Delve helps users increase productivity by making them aware of pertinent content online.

“Delve functions to surface trending content that is most relevant to what a person is working on and what is trending around them,” Stutz said. “For example, Delve might show popular presentations or proposals to help our customers with their opportunity or account.”

New Document Generation capabilities have been added.

“Personalized sales documents based on CRM data are now easier to build with Document Generation,” Stutz said. “People no longer need to manually extract CRM data for documents such as account summaries, quotes/orders/invoices, or product sheets in Word. Automation of this core sales task is another way we’re saving people time.”

Customer service capabilities have been enhanced in this release as well, something that Microsoft originally started with native CRM capabilities for case management, and expanded with knowledge management and self-service capabilities from its Parature acquisition in 2014. This July, Microsoft announced the acquisition of FieldOne to add field service capabilities to the customer service portfolio. Stutz indicated that all this will come together in Dynamics CRM 2016.

Sheehan said that for partners, this is a great opportunity.

“CRM is really three core business processes – sales, marketing and customer service, and I don’t see the others picking up and running with customer service the way Microsoft is,” he said. There have been a lot of advancements, particularly the field service piece of it. I’m most excited about that from an opportunity perspective.”

Mobility for tablets and phones also receives a major boost, as the new release will provide full offline capabilities for sales and service professionals on phones and tablets and across the Android, iOS and Windows platforms. The release also introduces the ability to create task-centered mobile apps to streamline the completion of sales-related activities on the go.

“Mobility has been the Achilles heel of any CRM program, particularly the offline capability of mobility,” Sheehan said. “Microsoft is doing some great things here to make it an offline-capable CRM platform. We see this as a core piece of this release.”

PowerObjects, which had been a broad custom app developer on multiple tools since their inception in 2001, made the decision in 2006 to focus their practice exclusively on Microsoft Dynamics after seeing the result in another practice when another vendor stopped investing on a product on which PowerObjects depended. Sheehan said that changes in Microsoft’s internal organization have been critical in making it easier to get things done to improve Dynamics.

“It has led to a mainstreaming of the product,” he said. “Before things were more siloed, but with Bob Stutz now reporting to the enterprise group, the same people who control say, the ability to get changes made to Azure that would benefit Dynamics, are now the same people who control Dynamics. It makes it easier to get things done, by breaking down the siloes, and making core Microsoft assets get tighter and tighter, and Dynamics will take advantage of this.”