2016 was an eventful year for Microsoft Dynamics - we saw the release of a new version of CRM and AX in Spring, followed by the game-changing release of Dynamics 365 in Autumn. However, there are plenty of things to look forward to in the near future of Dynamics 365.
Here are six developments we are excited to see in early 2017:
Adobe Marketing Cloud
The partnership between Microsoft and Adobe was first announced at the Ignite conference back in September, with Adobe Marketing Cloud in line to be the “preferred solution” for Marketing in Dynamics 365. This indicates that we can expect to see Adobe Marketing Cloud as a solution that directly integrates with Dynamics 365, and can be added by any organisation with access to Dynamics 365 for Sales.
This is interesting, as this would represent a change in tack for Adobe Marketing Cloud, which has traditionally competed at the higher price end of the market. Furthermore, the Adobe Marketing Cloud includes a number of different functional areas, including email marketing, web content management, analytics, and cross-channel optimisation, potentially adding a great deal of functionality to Dynamics 365.
Hopefully, we will see this solution enter preview at some point in the first quarter of this year, and we look forward to learning more about the price point and scope of functionality of the solution. If executed correctly, this could be a game changer, opening up an enterprise-grade Cloud Marketing solution to smaller organisations.
Further development of Dynamics 365 Machine Learning capabilities
2016 saw the conversion of the Cortana Analytics Suite into the Cortana Intelligence Suite, a rebrand that reflects the growing importance of Machine Learning capabilities to Microsoft’s product offering. Already we have seen Azure Cognitive Services and Azure Language Services (components of the Cortana Intelligence Suite) linked to Dynamics 365 via Microsoft Flow to provide capabilities such as translation, sentiment analysis and keyword identification.
However, these features are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Machine Learning, and we can expect to see an increasing array of Machine Learning-based features in Dynamics 365. Features already in preview include models to recommend products to customers and models to predict win count from sales pipelines, and we expect Microsoft to continue to leverage Machine Learning to add functionality to Dynamics 365 over the next 12 months.
Are we going to see a Dynamics 365 Web Chat solution?
In 2014, Microsoft acquired Parature, a service portal platform, with the aim of using it to extend Dynamics CRM’s Knowledge Base functionality, as well as to add Portal and Web Chat features to CRM. However, with the acquisition of ADX Studio in 2015, Microsoft gained a portal solution with native integration to CRM (now known as Portals for Dynamics 365), and Parature has now fallen to the wayside, having not developed a significant degree of integration with Dynamics in this time. This leaves Dynamics 365 without an integrated chat solution.
I have looked before at the importance of chat to multichannel, and based on this significance, it seems likely that Microsoft will make moves in 2017 to fill this gap. Microsoft has already demonstrated the use of Azure Cognitive Services to create chatbots, a feature which has “next big thing” status.
Given the gap in functionality and Microsoft’s capabilities in web chat from the acquisition of Skype and Parature, it seems likely that we will see some kind of web chat solution for Dynamics 365 in the near future. This is an exciting prospect, as it would extend the multichannel capabilities of Dynamics 365 for Service, and simplify the implementation of chatbots for customer service.
Bulk Data Loader for Dynamics 365
Importing and exporting data from Dynamics 365 can be an arduous task, especially with larger datasets. In 2017, Microsoft will release the Bulk Data Loader for Dynamics, a cloud service for moving data in and out of Dynamics 365 for Sales, Service, Field Service and Project Service. Users upload data to a secure cloud staging database, and then can perform data mapping, validation and cleaning tasks, before moving data directly to their Dynamics 365 instance. What’s more, data cleansing occurs within an Excel Online user interface, ensuring a familiar experience.
This tool will introduce a number of benefits. Microsoft Partners will need to spend less time on Data Import, decreasing their clients’ expenditure on this activity. On a similar note, this will also remove the need to spend money on third-party data tools. Overall, we see this being a win-win solution.
Cortana integration for Sales
I am known to be somewhat sceptical of the use of Cortana’s voice functionality with Dynamics 365 – exactly how useful is a voice interface in a noisy office? However, one group of users who have proven me wrong are Salespeople, who have found the preview of Cortana integration with Dynamics 365 extremely useful while on the road or multitasking, as it can be used on both desktop and mobile devices.
Microsoft has identified this and is developing a Cortana integration specifically for Dynamics 365 for Sales. Planned features include Meeting Preparation, Deal Overviews, and a Sales Digest, looking at all recently updated objects that might affect the Sales pipeline. This will be a welcome development, building on the existing Cortana functionality and adapting it to those most likely to benefit. Salespeople are always pressed for time, and anything that can make organising and preparing easier will free them up to spend more time selling.
We have taken a look at some of the features that we are looking forward to seeing in 2017. Some of these are confirmed, while a couple are developments we think are likely. However, if there is one thing that 2016 demonstrated, it is that a year is a long time in Microsoft Dynamics. It is unlikely that anyone could have fully predicted what 2016 would hold, and the same will almost certainly be true for 2017. Of everything to come in the next 12 months, we look forward the most to seeing developments that we couldn’t predict.