Microsoft Ups Its Game in CRM and ERP
Microsoft's update of Dynamics CRM is designed to help companies better serve empowered consumers. It is also refreshing Dynamics ERP with improved supply chain capabilities.
According to the Chinese calendar, 2014 is supposed to be the year of the horse. However, Microsoft prefers to dub it the year of the customer, a consideration that has led it to add new features to its Dynamics CRM software.
Kirill Tatarinov, executive vice president, Microsoft Dynamics explained that the millennial generation (born between the early 1980s and early 2000s) is more informed, has radically different expectations and is changing the market dynamics for every industry. This new breed of consumer, he said, has a constant connection to the Internet and uses social networks for feedback that can quickly go viral. They feel empowered.
"Over 90 percent of people today never complain when not served well," said Tatarinov. "They just leave and never come back."
Microsoft’s answer is a new version of Dynamics CRM 2013 as well as Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3. Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, which is now generally available, comes with new process templates including sports management, healthcare, government and nonprofit. Users can download them at no charge from the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Marketplace.
Included are 18 new vertical industry templates that handle such things as process flows and dashboards, said Wayne Morris, corporate vice president for Microsoft Business Solutions. "It is also available for mobile devices, and Office 365 users can obtain Dynamics CRM for up to a 40 percent discount."
Sharpening CRM Processes
The templates provide pre-defined and configurable processes where each stage is outlined, along with recommended completion steps. On the mobile side, the CRM software operates on Windows Phones, iPhones and Android phones, as well as tablets. Finally, on the CRM side, an update has been released to the Microsoft Dynamics Business Analyzer. This app adds analytics and mobile BI for Dynamics users.
So what can users do with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 that they couldn’t do with the previous version? Jim Desler, communications director for Microsoft Dynamics, said there is a big difference in usability and efficiency. This encompasses such things as more instances of all information on one screen, a reduction in clicks to get to information and, with integration of Skype, Yammer, Lync and SharePoint, no flipping between applications. As a result, he said, business processes including the above mentioned industry-specific templates, are easier to navigate.
"These improvements decrease the time spent completing tasks with these applications," he said.
CRM with a Social Spin
He called attention to another feature: the inclusion of social insights integrated into the online version of the product through a co-development partnership with InsideView. This populates CRM lead, contact, opportunity and account records with real-time data. Within CRM records, for example, users can see: company graphics and financials; industry and competitive profiles; business family trees; contact details and social profiles; breaking news and social buzz; and social and professional connections.
"This feature enables users to enrich leads and maintain clean data with one-click sync, as well as doing all pre-call research within CRM," Desler said. "You can also create a watch list to follow target companies, people and competitors; as well as receiving email alerts, consolidated social profiles from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and getting introductions to prospects from connections."
Microsoft Dynamics is also giving a facelift to its AX 2012 ERP suite. The R3 update has been announced and will be released in April.
"Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R3 has new warehouse management, transportation management and demand planning capabilities, as well as mobile apps for expensive travel, managing approvals and timesheet reporting," said Morris, noting that it will be available on-premise and also on Microsoft Azure as a cloud-based service.
In the real world, how will this impact the users of Microsoft ERP? Desler said the new version will bring improved supply chain capabilities and aid procurement. With the integrated warehouse and transportation management capabilities in Dynamics AX 2012 R3, for instance, businesses will be able to assist users better with fulfillment choices while helping to keep logistics and transportation costs low.
Warehousing upgrades are aimed at streamlining inbound and outbound warehousing operations with flexible process support including receiving, dock management, put-away rules, picking strategies and load planning. Transaction processing is also available through mobile devices (RF) including receiving, putting away, picking, staging and loading.
On the transportation side, Desler said R3 will help organizations slash costs. The new module includes rate, route, and load planning and provides inbound and outbound planning, order consolidation, routing guides, constraints-based routing, load build capacity calculations, multi-mode planning and methods to select a rate for specific loads based on the carrier’s rate profile.
For demand forecasting, it adds a planner with a baseline SKU-level forecast based on historical data, and the option to modify in Excel. It will use the Time Series of Microsoft SQL Service Analysis Services in combination with Microsoft Excel to view, visualize and edit the forecast data.
"Additionally, the R3/update will introduce support for Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 to be deployed on Windows Azure IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) bringing choice and portability between on-premises and private cloud deployments," concluded Desler.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).