Mar 19, 2013 (08:03 AM EDT)
Microsoft App Focus Echoes Salesforce.com

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

Microsoft Office 2013: 10 Best Features
Microsoft Office 2013: 10 Best Features
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The Microsoft Convergence Conference got underway on Tuesday in New Orleans and, in some ways, it's an echo of Salesforce.com's Dreamforce Conference, which was held in September. There was lots of talk about marketing, mobile, social and cloud, and lots of customers, including Chobani yogurt, Revlon and WeightWatchers, which were highlighted in slick videos and on-stage interviews talking up Dynamics CRM and ERP applications.

Just about every CRM vendor is talking up marketing, mobile, social and cloud these days. But one key difference for Microsoft at this year's Convergence Conference (versus last year's conference) is that it has made significant moves within the last year to put some substance behind the talk. The list includes acquisitions of MarketingPilot, Yammer and, in the latest deal, Netbreeze, which makes social-monitoring tools. Microsoft has also released Windows 8 mobile phones and tablets, though Dynamics customers are more impacted by the vendor's moves to support much more widely used iOS and Android devices.

October's MarketingPilot acquisition gave Microsoft a starting point to discuss cross-channel marketing campaign management capabilities. A new version was announced Tuesday that is said to offer an upgraded, easier-to-navigate interface and integrations whereby qualified leads can be handed off to Dynamics CRM.

How will this new functionality compare to what Salesforce.com already offers through its Marketing Cloud by way of the Buddy Media acquisition? A key point is that MarketingPilot addresses Web, social and even TV, radio and direct-mail campaigns whereas Buddy is focused exclusively on social. A better comparison to Marketing Pilot than Buddy Media is Oracle's Eloqua deal, though MarketingPilot is a software and hosted software product, not a cloud-based application.

[ Want more on Microsoft Dynamics? Read 6 Pros And 3 Cons Of Microsoft's Cloud Strategy. ]

Microsoft acquired the Yammer collaboration platform in July for $1.2 billion, so unlike last year the company can legitimately point to a well-established and respected collaboration platform that's being integrated with Dynamics CRM and ERP apps. Indeed, a December update of Dynamics CRM embedded Yammer into the app and exposed CRM workflows within Yammer, so customers are already using the combination so colleagues can collaborate around leads and opportunities.

In an important follow-up, Wayne Morris, corporate VP of Microsoft Business Solutions, announced here that that the company has acquired Netbreeze, a Swiss social media monitoring and analytics company that supports customer sentiment analysis and identifies influencers and trending topics across more than 10,000 social networks, forums, blogs and media outlets. It does all this in 30 languages, so it has accuracy advantages over competitive offerings that lose the meaning of comments in the process of translation to English and other, more popular languages, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft says Netbreeze social monitoring capabilities will be integrated with Dynamics CRM sales, service and marketing processes. But given that the deal is days old, the company could only say the integrations will come "in a future release." How will these capabilities stand apart from what Salesforce.com has offered for two years with Radian6? It will be built-in functionality, not an optional module, Microsoft promised.

There's plenty of evidence that Windows 8 smartphones and tablets aren't selling as well as Microsoft would like just yet, but the Dynamics team put the best face on those offerings by demonstrating the devices in plenty of CRM and ERP applications. CRM customers are undoubtedly relieved that Microsoft has made good on last year's Convergence promise to open up that app to other platforms, including iOS and Android.

As for the Dynamics ERP team, Microsoft announced that new mobile expense-management, time-entry and approval workflow apps are on the way, but they won't be available until Q4. They'll be available on Windows 8, iOS and Android smartphones, but for now, only Windows tablets will be supported. Other tablet operating systems are "under consideration," according to the company.

One big area where Microsoft's talk is still just that is in bringing Dynamics ERP apps to the Microsoft Azure public cloud. At last year's Convergence Conference, Microsoft said that would happen by year-end 2012 for Dynamics GP and Dynamics NAV. The new target date announced on Tuesday for these two ERP apps is June 2013, although given last week's 15-hour outage of Microsoft's Hotmail and Outlook.com services, customers might just be thinking, "take your time and get it right." The company also announced that Dynamics AX, the company's flagship ERP suite, will hit the Azure public cloud in 2014.

Microsoft executives said Dynamics CRM is growing at a 30%-plus clip and now has more than 39,000 customers with 3 million users. Dynamics AX has surpassed more than 18,000 customers, with 50% growth in North America in recent quarters, according to Microsoft.