This week Microsoft announced a new offering (available in the Fall): Microsoft Dynamics 365. Sound familiar? It should. Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Microsoft Dynamics AX all come to mind, and this was not done by mistake. Microsoft is bringing together the capabilities from these products, their intelligence tools, and third party or internally-built apps from its newly launched AppSource. Microsoft will use Dynamics 365 to provide disaggregated applications that serve the functional needs formerly delivered through CRM and ERP suites (e.g. sales, service, marketing, operations, etc.) atop is a common application platform and data model.
So what is Microsoft looking to achieve with these changes? Well, business doesn’t end with a customer interaction, and delivering superior customer experiences doesn’t end at the front office. Front office and back office apps need to talk to one another to make sure companies are able to win, serve, and retain customers. Microsoft aims to:
Give employees access to the right data and tools to perform their jobs. By utilizing a common data model, Dynamics 365 will show a consolidated view of the customer, inclusive of transactional data. This consolidated view delivered in the context of business apps will provide marketing, sales, and service professionals the appropriate context and functionality to serve their customers.
In a report, Forrester discussed arguments made by Microsoft regarding the potential benefits of the tie-up. There are some additional aspects that I also consider important when discussing the implications of the tie-up:
LinkedIn's status of trusted independent platform for professional information exchange could be undermined. Although the deal, should it go through, would help Microsoft to strengthen its social networking services and professional content, there will be LinkedIn users that are not keen to become sucked into the Microsoft ecosystem as part of their social collaboration activities and abandon LinkedIn as active users.
Microsoft must be much faster to decide on LinkedIn's strategy than it did with Skype. It took Microsoft several years to define its strategy for Skype, and Yammer for that matter. This slow response to sort out Skype's place in the Microsoft family slowed down Skype's momentum significantly. By the time the new Skype strategy was announced, most of the hardcore Skype users had migrated away towards other social collaboration platforms like WhatsApp, Facetime, or WeChat.
Microsoft must redouble its mobile efforts. A large part of LinkedIn users’ activities are mobile based. Microsoft's weak position in mobile ecosystems could dramatically undermine LinkedIn's longer-term opportunities. If Microsoft underestimates the mobile dimension for LinkedIn, the future for LinkedIn could be very questionable. Users are fickle and there is no loyalty to outdated social media platforms.
We’re all guilty of falling prey to the lure of social media and losing hours to it. But there’s little doubt that social networking also encourages collaboration, creativity, and productivity – especially if it’s used for work. When Microsoft made history this week by announcing its $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner argued that such a move will allow both companies to realize their “common mission to empower people and organizations.” And empowerment in the workplace is deeply attractive, particularly for the rising generation of employees: Millennials.
Forrester’s Business Technographics® survey data shows that younger employees leverage social networks at least daily because they believe this enhances productivity. At work, employees tune into social networks across devices, but most do so on tablets:
Today, Microsoft's Terry Myerson announced the new strategy for Windows in the classroom. Windows 10 -- which is now Windows-as-a-service, with periodic updates delivered from the cloud -- will see a big feature update this summer with the Windows Anniversary Update, announced a few weeks ago at the BUILD developer conference. Now we're learning about the education-specific features that will take on Chromebooks.
It's no secret that Google's Chromebooks have taken the education market by storm; they now constitute more than half of shipments of new devices sold to U.S. schools. Some schools are even re-imaging old Windows PCs into Chromebooks. As a result, both Apple and Microsoft have seen their positions in the educational market slide south over the past four years.
Why does this matter? Well, for the obvious device sales implications, of course. But it's part of a longer-term customer relationship issue, too: If young people grow up not knowing Windows, will they ever care about the platform? Tomorrow's Windows customers could be shaped in today's classroom... or tomorrow's Chromebook customers could be.
For schools, Windows Anniversary Update will address key issues in education:
If you're one of my regular readers, you may remember a post from August 2015 – "The Future Of Retail Is Digital" – in which I highlight key findings from a report on the future of retail experience. One recommendation was that retailers should begin to experiment with augmented and virtual reality technology early, so that potential use cases can be piloted in-store. Well this week, Microsoft announced a partnership with Lowe's to demonstrate the viability of Microsoft's Hololens to help Lowe's customers visualize custom kitchens.
While VR/AR is a long way from widespread market adoption (see this March 16 post by J.P. Gownder), the time needed to pilot and experiment with this technology means tech and CX teams in retailers need to be piloting use cases now in order to figure out what, if any, business impact the technology will have. (See also my comments from CES 2016).
In 2014 I wrote about Microsoft and Dell’s joint Cloud Platform System offering, Microsoft’s initial foray into an “Azure-Like” experience in the enterprise data center. While not a complete or totally transparent Azure experience, it was a definite stake in the ground around Microsoft’s intentions to provide enterprise Azure with hybrid on-premise and public cloud (Azure) interoperability.
I got it wrong about other partners – as far as I know, Dell is the only hardware partner to offer Microsoft CPS – but it looks like my idiot-proof guess that CPS was a stepping stone toward a true on premise Azure was correct, with Microsoft today announcing its technology preview of Azure Stack, the first iteration of a true enterprise Azure offering with hybrid on-prem and public cloud interoperability.
Azure Stack is in some ways a parallel offering to the existing Windows Server/Systems Center and Azure Pack offering, and I believe it represents Microsoft’s long-term vision for enterprise IT, although Microsoft will do nothing to compromise the millions of legacy environments who want to incremental enhance their Windows environment. But for those looking to embrace a more complete cloud experience, Azure Stack is just what the doctor ordered – an Azure environment that can run in the enterprise that has seamless access to the immense Azure public cloud environment.
On the partner front, this time Microsoft will be introducing this as a pure software that can run on one or more standard x86 servers, no special integration required, although I’m sure there will be many bundled offerings of Azure Stack and integration services from partners.
Predictive analytics has become the key to helping businesses — especially those in the highly dynamic Chinese market — create differentiated, individualized customer experiences and make better decisions. Enterprise architecture professionals must take a customer-oriented approach to developing their predictive analytics strategy and architecture.
I’ve recently published tworeports focusing on how to architect predictive analytics capability. These reports analyze the trends around predictive analytics adoption in China and discuss four key areas that EA pros must focus on to accelerate digital transformation. They also show EA pros how to unleash the power of digital business by analyzing the predictive analytics practices of visionary Chinese firms. Some of the key takeaways:
Predictive analytics must cover the full customer life cycle and leverage business insights. Organizations require predictable insights into customer behaviors and business operations. Youmust implement predictive analytics solutions and deliver value to customers throughout their life cycle to differentiate your customer experience and sustain business growth.You should also realize the importance of business stakeholders and define effective mechanisms for translating their business knowledge into predictive algorithm inputs to optimize predictive models faster and generate deeper customer insights.
The big public cloud providers, most of which are still from the United States, sometimes have a hard time finding ways to balance their legal obligations at home with the quite different sensitivities they encounter amongst their new international customers. For a long time, the toolkit has been pretty consistent: site data centres as close to the customer as possible, vehemently support political efforts to harmonize laws, and ocassionally be seen to stand up to the worst execesses of Government over-reach.
(Source: Flickr user Luigi Rosa. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License)
Microsoft's announcements in Germany today appear, on the surface, to follow that model pretty closely. But there's a twist that's potentially very important as we move forward.
First, the standard bit. Microsoft, yesterday, announced new data centres will be operational in the UK next year, joining existing European facilities in Dublin and Amsterdam. Big competitor Amazon did much the same last week, announcing that a new UK data centre will be online in the UK by "2016 or 2017." Given the vague timescales, it might be easy to assume that Amazon was trying to steal a little of Microsoft's thunder with a half-baked pre-announcement. And then, today, Microsoft announced two new data centres in Germany. Amazon already has a facility there, of course.
On 6th October, 2015 Microsoft launched a number of new devices into the market, including the Microsoft Surface 4, Surface Book, and a number of new Lumia smartphones. While the hardware is certainly attractive, that is not enough to peak my interest, nor that of my clients. What is interesting, however, is the introduction of the Microsoft Display Dock and Continuum for phones. This new technology allows users to connect their smartphone to a screen, keyboard, and mouse and use the smartphone on a large screen – running universal Windows apps designed for the PC and phone. Suddenly the power of Windows 10 as a universal operating system can be realized.
While not a complete PC experience, it will be enough for a lot of users within your business. Most firms have employees that only require casual PC access (think site staff in construction firms, store management in retail, traveling sales staff, factory floor management teams etc). At present we spend more than we need to in order to serve these employees – often providing a dedicated PC or laptop for them – along with their smartphone. In a world where universal Windows apps are readily available, many or all of these users could be given a smartphone and a Display Dock to use with a screen on-site or at home – helping you save money and direct this spending perhaps to rewriting your internal applications as universal Windows apps. Even a communal screen and dock would be enough in some workplaces.
AR and VR technologies aren't new. Virtual reality first experienced a boom of interest in the early 1990s, spurred by the 1991 book Virtual Reality by Howard Rheingold. In 1995, Angelina Jolie starred in the movie Hackers, which introduced mass audiences to head-mounted VR display technology. But the early promise of the technology fell apart due to underperforming graphics, attention-jarring lag times, outlandish hardware requirements, and the lack of an application ecosystem. No VR market emerged (outside of niche categories like military usage) until Facebook acquired the Kickstarter startup Oculus for $2 billion in March, 2014.