Microsoft challenges Salesforce with emphasis on greater out-of-box ease of use with new Dynamics 365 applications

Microsoft previewed two major components of the October 2018 release for Dynamics 365, with three new AI applications and two mixed reality business applications, with a strong emphasis on their being easier to deploy and use than their competition.

Alysa Taylor, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Business Applications & Industry

It wasn’t that long ago when Microsoft Dynamics was a long-in the-tooth, past-its-prime, on-prem application, which had been left in the dust by Salesforce and other cloud vendors, and which survived largely on sales to die-hard Microsoft shops and cloud-shy bastions in government. Dynamics 365 changed all that when it was introduced in 2016. The combined ERP-CRM offering has been posting strong momentum and today, the company announced what it sees as a significant challenge to Salesforce, with new Dynamics 365 AI applications, including their first mixed reality business applications: Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Layout.  They are part of the October 2018 release for Dynamics 365

“We are making a real challenge to Salesforce,” said Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Communications, at a Tuesday webcast of the announcement. “In the same way that Azure and Microsoft Teams have been growing and taking market share, Dynamics is growing as well.” Shaw noted that Dynamics 365 revenue surpassed $1 billion in billings last year.

“What we did with Dynamics 365 is took our legacy CRM and ERP onto the Azure platform, broke down the monolithic suites into purpose-built applications, aligned by functions, and threaded them with intelligence, making it all modular and highly adaptable,” said Alysa Taylor, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Business Applications & Industry. In doing this, Dynamics moved from static products to connected services, from providing siloed data to providing a degree degree view of business, and ending the old practice of monolithic suites and their long-term rip-and replace deployment cycles that the market simply no longer found acceptable.

Taylor introduced three new Dynamics AI-based offerings, with the emphasis being on their ability to provide their capabilities out of the box, through the integration of Microsoft Power BI, the Azure Cloud, and the Common Data Service.

“These three new Dynamics AI applications set out to democratize AI applications,” she stated. “Dynamics 365 AI for Sales gives individual sellers and sales managers greater insights into prospects, and recommends the next logical actions – all out of the box. Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights lets organizations harness and analyze social sentiment to increase brand loyalty and understand how to increase brand affinity. Dynamics 365 AI for Customer Service uses Microsoft’s AI and natural language understanding at both the individual agent and at the manager level, to help understand and predict customer service issues before they become big issues. Many vendors offer this, but they do so in a way that’s cumbersome to adopt. Salesforce partners with IBM Watson to deliver on this. We deliver it out of the box.”

That out-of-the box message was central to the whole announcement. Everything that was announced as new functionality for Dynamics 365 around AI are things that Salesforce does today. Microsoft’s emphasis here is that Dynamics 365 does them in a more user-friendly way.

“No other vendor can provide this type of out of the box AI capability,” Taylor emphasized. “We are incredibly excited to announce this today.”

Navrina Singh, Principal Product Lead, Microsoft AI, then did a demo with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella demonstrating Dynamics 365 AI for Customer Service.

“It shows the five per cent escalation in incoming cases, and that it is related to a new product released by the company,” she said. “The Service Manager can see agents are overloaded by the high number of unresolved cases. The Manager can proactively reduce impact by automating a topic to the Virtual Agent, easily creating a conversation. This is all powered by AI, and it’s very simple to do.  Service Manager curates a conversation using building blocks to better train a virtual agent and address customer questions.” This can all be done without the intervention of in-house AI experts and without writing any code.

The other part of the announcement is around bringing mixed reality and business applications together, following up on momentum and feedback from the release of Microsoft HoloLens over two years ago.

“We are introducing two new Dynamics 365 Mixed Reality business applications, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Layout,” Taylor said. “Dynamics 365 for Remote Assist works in a hands-free environment, to quickly triage issues before they become critical. Dynamics 365 Layout allows for new ways of spatial planning, merging the physical and virtual world to do new ways of space planning.”

“Dynamics 365 Remote Assist provides an opportunity to address the needs of first line workers, who are more than 80 per cent of the global workforce, who need their hands free and available to do their work,” said Lorraine Bardeen, GM of Mixed Reality Workplace at Microsoft. “It lets first line workers solve a problem without calling in an expert. With Dynamics 365 Layout, customers can see a significant improvement in quality of decision making, cost savings and effectiveness of first line workers.”