I spent 1 ½ days in Atlanta recently at the Microsoft Convergence annual confab. As I look back at my notes, I didn't get the news overload I had expected. Seriously, the biggest thing I heard was the possibility of Dynamics AX going to become a multi-tenant cloud solution maybe in 2013. Maybe.
Dynamics NAV might actually beat AX to the multi-tenant cloud world. Maybe.
No, this was a show that I struggled to find cool things to report.
Dynamics AX 2012 was announced at the show. It's got more vertical solution functionality and more similarities within the products to other Microsoft products (e.g., Outlook-like functionality, ribbon command interface). But, in a demo of it that was shared with members of the press, I saw a solution that showed a lot of screen panels that looked like rows and columns of data from a database. The information was all transactional, historical and internal to a business. If you didn't know this solution could be hosted and presented to a customer via an Azure cloud, you would think the data was originating from a pre-Internet or early client-server solution. For example, when users are looking at supplier data on a procurement screen I saw no vendor logos, no vendor web hotlinks, etc. I'm sure this stuff is somewhere in the system but every demo screen I saw, until we got to a supplier portal screen, was just tabular, internal transactional data. Where was the integration of third party information from online databases like Hoover's, Dun & Bradstreet, etc. in the procurement module (Note: D&B information is available in the Dynamics CRM product)? The technology underneath AX may be new and re-done but the functionality (or the look of it) seemed stale.
I get it that Microsoft is "all-in" with regard to the cloud but the business applications (i.e., Dynamics AX, GP, SL) seem to moving in an overly generous timeframe to the cloud. We were treated to new Microsoft capabilities like the use of Kinect (an XBox 360 motion detection capability) with Microsoft applications. All sorts of Microsoft products (especially Outlook, Office 365, etc.) are now integrated with the ERP applications. This is a good thing and Microsoft should enjoy some advantage with this. Integration with Azure cloud is another update with big potential. So yes, the proof is there that the company is clearly targeting the cloud and is coming at it from many directions and product lines. But, I believe the applications will get to the cloud later than other Microsoft products.
Microsoft is definitely priming its channel to fight pure-play SaaS solution providers like Intacct, NetSuite and Plex. Their first move is to get products positioned for the Azure cloud. Hosting of the ERP products is a big step. Second, MSFT is making easier for customers or implementers to create product enhancements (via C#, Visual Studio, et.al.) that will carry forward to future product releases. But, this capability will need more oomph if it is to compete with platforms from Salesforce and NetSuite. Third, many ERP vendors need to re-evaluate what else the cloud, in-memory database technology and more can bring to ERP products. The cloud is not the destination: a new kind of solution that solves the new kinds of business problems modern businesses face should be the destination.
Not every vendor can have a bunch of blockbuster announcements at every single user conference they host. This was one of the lighter events. Maybe next year we'll see the Dynamics NAV (nee Navision) in a real, multi-tenant cloud environment.