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Microsoft Readies 'Wave of Innovation' in Its Dynamics Business

Microsoft has been steadily incorporating more and more of its enterprise intelligence chops into its business applications, and Dynamics 365 looks poised to be one of the effort's biggest beneficiaries.

At Wednesday's Business Forward event in Amsterdam, Microsoft unveiled details and highlights of the upcoming Spring '18 release of Dynamics 365. "We're unleashing a wave of innovation across the entire product line with hundreds of new capabilities and features in three core areas: new business applications; new intelligent capabilities infused throughout; and transformational new application platform capabilities," said James Phillips, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Business Applications Group, in a blog post unveiling the changes.

One hotly anticipated component that will be generally available on April 2, when many of the capabilities of the spring release are set to begin rolling out, is the overdue Dynamics 365 for Marketing application. "This is a new marketing automation application for companies that need more than basic email marketing at the front end of a sales cycle to turn prospects into relationships," Phillips said of the component, which was originally announced in October 2016 and was supposed to ship a year ago.

Along the same lines of a more basic experience for customers with less intensive needs, Microsoft is also rolling out a new module called Dynamics 365 for Sales Professionals on April 2. Phillips described the Sales Professional version as a streamlined version of Dynamics 365 for Sales, with an emphasis in the new version on core salesforce automation capabilities. "From opportunity management to sales planning and performance management, the solution optimizes sales processes and productivity," Phillips said.

New Intelligence Capabilities
The spring release is also productizing the years of work and millions invested in artificial intelligence research, Phillips said. "These investments are infused throughout Dynamics 365 and are now available with the spring 2018 release," he said.

The highest-profile examples are in a feature set Microsoft is calling "embedded intelligence" in the Dynamics 365 for Sales application. Microsoft previously referred to the feature set as Relationship Insights. The idea is that embedded intelligence leverages information created in the sales process to recommend actions. The initial spring release on April 2 will include a relationship assistant, auto capture and e-mail engagement. Relationship Assistant analyzes customer interactions in Dynamics 365, Exchange and other sources to generate action cards that suggest next steps. Auto-Capture takes a salesperson's Outlook messages and appointments that relate to Dynamics 365 deals and offers to track them. E-mail Engagement tracks whether recipients open messages and attachments, click through links or reply to messages, and allow scheduling e-mails and reminders.

[Click on image for larger view.] As part of the Spring '18 release of Dynamics 365, Microsoft is readying a public preview of artificial intelligence technologies to rate the health of a salesperson's relationship with potential customers in the pipeline. (Source: Microsoft)

Common Data Service for Analytics and Apps
The launch will also include previews for a new set of data integration services built on the common data model -- one for Power BI and one for PowerApps.

The Common Data Service (CDS) represents another Microsoft run at the age-old problem of integrating data from multiple sources and trying to wrangle actionable business intelligence out of the combined data. "The CDS for Analytics capability will reduce the complexity of driving business analytics across data from business apps and other sources," said Arun Ulag, Microsoft general manager of Intelligence Platform Engineering, in a blog post. Common Data Service for Analytics works with Power BI.

Ulag said CDS for Analytics expands Power BI with the introduction of an extensible business application schema. "Pre-built connectors for common data sources, including Dynamics 365, Salesforce and others from Power BI's extensive catalog, will be available to help organizations access data from Microsoft and third parties. And organizations will be able to add their own data," he said.

One of those pre-built Power BI apps, designed for Dynamics 365 for Sales, is supposed to enter the public preview stage during the second quarter of this year. Called Power BI for Sales Insights, the app will provide relationship analytics. The purpose is to help salespeople manage pipeline by using AI to rate the health of customer relationships with techniques including sentiment analysis. Another CDS for Analytics-based Power BI app coming to public preview in the second quarter is called Power BI for Service Insights.

On the Power Apps side, Microsoft is unveiling a preview of Common Data Service for Apps on April 2. When it ships, it will come with PowerApps and offer capabilities for modeling business solutions within platforms like Dynamics 365 and Office 365.

Others of the hundreds of new features in the spring release aim to unify Microsoft's business applications and improve integrations with Microsoft technologies, including Outlook, Teams, SharePoint, Stream, Flow, Azure, LinkedIn, Office 365 and Bing. Microsoft will be providing more detail on March 28 in a Business Applications Virtual Spring Launch Event.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 03/21/2018 at 1:51 PM


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