Microsoft Analyst Event Part Three: What Else Can Dynamics Do, and What’s Next?

Microsoft recently held its annual Dynamics Fall Analyst Event (FAE) in Redmond, Washington, where news about the company’s Windows 8 platform (see Part One of this blog series) and Microsoft Dynamics products (see Part Two of this blog series) was released. Among the demos and tours was info on some of the lesser-known data platforms and business intelligence (BI) capabilities for Microsoft Dynamics.

Lesser-known Microsoft Dynamics Data Platforms and BI Capabilities

For example, not many folks are aware of the fact that the Microsoft SQL Server 2012 (code-named “Denali”) comes with impressive in-memory capabilities, and presents an impressive data and business intelligence (BI) platform for Microsoft Dynamics. Similar to TIBCO Spotfire, Microsoft’s PowerView (formerly “Project Crescent”) provides intuitive ad-hoc reporting and visualization for business users such as data analysts, business decision makers, and information workers. These users can easily create and interact with views of data from data models based on PowerPivot workbooks or tabular models deployed to SQL Server 2012 Analysis Services (SSAS). At the event there was a great demo of Microsoft Dynamics AX leveraging PowerView for in-memory BI, and it was announced that PowerView will also be available as a plug-in to Excel 2013.

At the recent PASS Summit 2012, the major conference for Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft BI professionals, Microsoft announced new capabilities for Microsoft’s data platform that should help businesses accelerate their time to insight with any type of data. The announcements included the unveiling of a project code-named “Hekaton,” a new in-memory technology that will ship in the next major version of SQL Server. In-memory computing is a core element of Microsoft’s strategy to deliver a data platform that enables customers to analyze all types of data while also accelerating time to insight. Currently in private preview, “Hekaton” will complete Microsoft’s portfolio of in-memory capabilities across analytics and transactional scenarios, offering customers performance gains of up to 50 times. Because Microsoft’s in-memory capabilities are built into SQL Server, customers will not need to buy specialized hardware or software and will be able to easily migrate existing applications to benefit from those performance gains.

Also announced was the next version of SQL Server 2012 Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW), Microsoft’s enterprise-class appliance, which will be available in the first half of 2013. SQL Server 2012 PDW will include a new data processing engine called PolyBase, which should enable queries across relational data and non-relational Apache Hadoop data to drastically reduce time to insight.

Microsoft also announced the immediate availability of the SQL Server 2012 Service Pack 1 (SP1). SQL Server 2012 SP1 supports Office 2013 by offering business users enhanced capabilities for self-service BI using familiar tools such as Excel and SharePoint.

Another impressive yet lesser-known solution that Microsoft is working on is SQL Server 2012 StreamInsight to monitor, analyze, and act in near real-time on large amounts of data streaming in from multiple sources. In addition, Windows Azure HDInsight Server has a bidirectional connector that allows users to move data between Hadoop and Microsoft SQL Server 2012 or SQL Server 2012 PDW for analyzing structured data. The aforementioned StreamInsight technology can also be used with Hadoop and SQL Server to manage streaming data, such as in complex event processing (CEP). This looks smart and the hybrid in-memory and traditional databases will be a less risky strategy to most CIOs and value added resellers (VARs).

Microsoft is a bit mum on its machine learning/predictive analytics efforts that are still in the lab and in collaboration with some universities worldwide (see the related NY Times article) . But it is likely that the upcoming solution will work on retail store demand predictions based on point-of-sale (POS) data streams. Other solution ideas are “social in context” (i.e., more precisely follow relevant people, data, events, etc.) and “communications in context” (enrich contacts data, save Skype or Lync conversation history as data, etc.). A good analogy would be having your GPS tell you exactly where to go while you drive instead of printing out a map before your trip and trying to read it while on the road — enterprise apps should do the same within this “contextual BI” paradigm.

Via the cloud, Microsoft Dynamics intends to remove the barriers between enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) users and to offer solutions for everyone in any business. Unified user experience on any device should also help in that regard.

What Might the Future Bring

During the final Q&A session with all of the Microsoft Dynamics executives, I did not expect that I would ruffle any feathers by asking why Microsoft Dynamics is remiss in the realm of human capital management (HCM). Indeed, with Skype and Yammer in its fold, with the coming Azure Cloud availability, and with Microsoft Dynamics AX and CRM being global enterprise products, HCM is an apparent gap. Imagine having the opportunity to conduct employee performance reviews or have a learning management system (LMS) via Skype or Lync, and having the ability to record courses, etc.? The team reacted a bit stunned much to my surprise, as it’s not like I asked them to admit to wanting to acquire, say, Workday or Cornerstone OnDemand. At the end of the day, the answer was as expected: stay tuned for more news in that regard, we are working on it, etc.

Microsoft also appears to have a “missing in action (MIA)” situation in the realm of product lifecycle management (PLM), which is surprising given that all of the Big Three PLM/CAD players are Microsoft shops (not necessarily in terms of database, but certainly in terms of server tools and user experience). While being a CAD player might not be something we could expect Microsoft to be (unless it wants to buy, say, Autodesk), Microsoft could at least do something about product ideation and project portfolio management (PPM) given its related collaborative tools like SharePoint, Skype, Yammer, and Microsoft Project. In fact, PTC has SharePoint-based products called Windchill PPMlink and SocialLink, and Windchill ProjectLink based on Microsoft Project. Buying Sopheon and Autodesk would bring a nice SMB solution for Microsoft, but that is just speculation.

Enterprise asset management (EAM) and manufacturing execution systems (MES) are also capabilities that Microsoft could develop or acquire (given how much Microsoft tools are widespread in plants), but one must have realistic expectations. The time and cost to develop a real MES system is too much, while one particular MES partner acquisition might alienate the others.

In any case, with these three principles—1) apps for everyone, 2) a single Microsoft experience, and 3) being the platform to build up on, bundled with in-memory BI—Microsoft Dynamics is coming close to challenging SAP and Oracle. At least it is getting close solution-wise, but the go-to market approach might still favor SAP and Oracle. To further differentiate, i.e., convince the customer why they should wean themselves off SAP, Microsoft Dynamics must also come up with more targeted marketing, directed at improving business income for customers in a specific industry. The big issue here is again that most implementations are done by the big consulting firms, and their Microsoft Dynamics ERP practices are still nascent. In the SMB space, a company’s favorite VAR will focus on one solution and the cost for a VAR to switch is too high. Thus, Microsoft Dynamics has some pondering to do on how to solve this conundrum.

Related TEC blog posts:
Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013—Out and About (on the Cloud) (Oct 2012)

Related blog posts:
Microsoft Struts its Stuff (Nov 2012)
Accelerating Insights in the New World of Data (Nov 2012)
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