It takes nearly 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other of the over 1,000,000+ square foot Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The conference center provided a fitting metaphor for both the breadth of Microsoft’s offerings and the distance that Microsoft Dynamics CRM has covered over the past two years.
Walking through the French Quarter, and through the halls of the convention center during Microsoft’s 2013 Convergence conference, I had the ability to listen, observe, and have conversations with Microsoft executives, customers, partners, and prospects about what they’re working on and what they’re looking for.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM now boasts more than 3 million users and more than 39,000 customers. They are making progress on their cloud offerings and providing a growing mix of mobile capabilities. The announcements around the new release of the recently acquired Marketing Resource Management (MRM) / Marketing Automation tool Marketing Pilot and its CRM connector, plus the social listening vendor NetBreeze acquisition hints that they’re dedicated to continuing to improve their suite of capabilities. While the new capabilities are triggering increased demand and inquiries, Microsoft is still working on understanding and defining use cases, as most customers appear to still be wrestling with trying to understand exactly what’s possible with these new tools and capabilities.
Chargrilled Oysters, Jambalaya, and Gumbo
On Tuesday night, I had New Orleans chargrilled oysters for the first time at the ACME Oyster House. They were magical, unexpected, and delicious. So good, that I had more on Wednesday night. This is what happens when the right ingredients come together in the right set of conditions. Like Jambalaya, Gumbo, and other Creole cuisine, good ingredients transform into something amazing when mixed together in a perfect blend.
And in many ways, this is a fitting analogy for the potential that Microsoft has before them. There is a growing list of high quality ingredients: Dynamics CRM, AX, GP, NAV, coupled with Skype, Lync, Yammer, Azure, Sharepoint, SQL Server, Office, Windows 8, Surface, NetBreeze, Marketing Pilot, etc. Each of them has a good value proposition on their own.
But all ingredients have a development lifecycle. Oysters need to grow, be harvested, shucked. Cheese starts with milk, and needs to aged and pasteurized. Garlic needs to be grown, harvested, peeled, chopped. A fire needs to be built, stoked, and managed to just the right temperature.
In the same way, all of the Microsoft ingredients are still on their path. The raw ingredients themselves are still being refined.
AX appears to be coming along and growing quickly, making inroads into the enterprise. CRM is morphing and trying to be the unifying fabric of many capabilities and customer information, also moving upstream and improving their value proposition for organizations of all sizes.
Skype and Lync are merging, improving their independent capabilities while trying to imagine how an integrated solution might make things even better. Azure is growing and still trying to find its footing in the fast growing world of cloud infrastructure. Windows 8 is moving along and keeping Microsoft incumbents happy. The Surface is likely powerful enough to keep Windows enthusiasts happy and progressive but I am not sure if they will eat significantly into those that have a growing loyalty and commitment towards Apple and Android platforms.
As stand alones, they are solid. In most of their respective categories, the Microsoft offering is almost always considered as one of the top 3 vendors to consider.
But again, it is the perfect construction, assembly, presentation, and delivery where the magic happens. This is Microsoft’s real opportunity, where they haven’t begun to realize their full potential here.
New Orleans is also the cradle of Jazz, Blues, and Swing Music, yet another powerful metaphor for taking good elements (in this case notes and sounds) and placing them together in perfect harmony to create an amazingly beautiful sound and experience. In a fast moving business and technology landscape, this may be an even better metaphor than incredible fusion cuisine to describe today’s current reality.
Improvisation is central to Jazz and today’s fast moving business climate requires consistent innovation. In a 1988 interview, trombonist J. J. Johnson said, “Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will.” This statement could clearly be applied to the fast moving technology world, and as technology penetrates deeper and deeper into the core functions of business and society, it is safe to say this is true for all of our respective personal and organizational lives.
The Road Ahead
Microsoft did a really nice job with their event. Highlighting their customers’ stories, integrating live music into their keynotes, and evangelizing a story of unity across roles, functions, and domains. It resonated and received praise from the attendees.
Kirill Tatarinov, President of Microsoft Business Solutions Division, effectively highlighted the current business environment and the accomplishments of the division over the past 12 months. He spoke in a compelling narrative of democratizing opportunity through providing tools to compete in a new economy, seemingly building on the legacy of Microsoft in the early days when they made productivity applications widely available through the innovations of Windows and Office.
The event was themed “The Road Ahead”, and while they executed well, I didn’t get a clear sense of what the road ahead is going actually going to be, or how well Microsoft understands where things are going. However, the journey that Microsoft is on is all of a sudden more interesting and compelling than it has been for a while.
If Microsoft can continue to innovate, increase their pace along its current trajectory, and focus on creating magic through the integration of great ingredients, notes, and rhythms, there is actually potential for them to re-establish the brand as an innovative technology leader. Some of the dust has actually already begun to be blow off through their fast growing consumer devices and their recent innovations and acquisitions.
Providing a greater ability for their customers to identify opportunities, and respond with agility in a fast moving era, Microsoft should aspire to the second incarnation of “The Big Easy”.
Disclosure: My travel expenses and conference registration was paid for by Microsoft and they are a client. I have received no request or remuneration for this post and these are my candid views based on my research and experience.