I saw something cool this week at Microsoft’s Convergence user conference that convinced me that anyone who thinks Microsoft isn’t a player against Apple’s IOS and Google’s Android needs to think twice. Make that three times. Trying out Windows 8 on a Samsung tablet and a Lenovo laptop/tablet hybrid made me wish I could justify adding one more techy toy to my collection.
And that was just the part of the conference that appealed to my geeky nature. The enterprise software side convinced me that anyone thinking that Microsoft Dynamics isn’t a player against SAP, Oracle, Salesforce.com and Infor needs to rethink their position a few times, too. From Dynamics’ hybrid cloud strategy to the growing market acceptance of its flagship AX and CRM software to its stronger large enterprise direct sales and services strategy, the message is clear: Dynamics isn’t just playing in the big leagues, it’s poised to be a major contender.
And don’t just take my word or the word of the company’s executives, the customers I talked to made it clear that they were ready to vote with their dollars. In conversation after conversation, the message was consistent: AX and Dynamics CRM are viable alternatives to SAP and Oracle in a number of strategic areas.
In the case of SAP, it's AX's ability to play in the subsidiaries and other tier two entities of SAP's large enterprise customers. In the case of Oracle, it's Dynamics CRM's ability to be the replacement of choice for Siebel customers looking for a desperately needed refresh. And those were just two of the bigger pipelines for Dynamics in its competitors’ markets.
[ Read more on the future of enterprise software? See The Rise Of The Hybrid Enterprise. ]
Microsoft’s emerging hybrid cloud strategy also helps make it a uniquely powerful contender in a cloud market that, despite Salesforce.com's success and Workday's pending success, is really still in its infancy. That infancy, best characterized by Marc Benioff’s “end of software” battle cry, is looking increasingly immature in the face of Microsoft’s hybrid strategy, which wisely leaves the timing of software's end up to the customer and not the vendor.
Microsoft's “end of the end of software” strategy has two essential characteristics that will make it hard not just for Salesforce.com, but for SAP, too. The first is the ability to deploy identical software both on-premises and in the cloud, and to move back and forth between the two deployment modes. Dynamics CRM can do that now, NAV and GP will be able to do it in 2013, and AX will follow shortly.
This strategy is the ultimate in customer choice, acknowledging that there are many good reasons why the cloud simply isn’t a viable solution. (On-premises AX customer World Vision, a global charity that delivers goods and services to some of the poorest countries, discussed a reason that I hadn’t heard before: Working in places where Internet services aren’t advanced enough to support a cloud deployment.)
Characteristic two is the leeway Microsoft is giving its cloud customers in accepting software upgrades. The plan for Dynamics CRM--which will also be used for Microsoft's other cloud products--is to give customers up to a year to accept the upgrade, during which time they will be able to run on their current version. So as not to break the multitenancy model, Microsoft will cluster these “recalcitrants” in a separate instance according to their rev. That approach lets Microsoft maintain the cost effectiveness of multitenancy without force-feeding an upgrade on its customers. Coming a little later will be the ability to run test and dev instances in the cloud as well, so that both upgrades and other changes can be tested before being made part of a live system, just as we do in the on-premises world today.
Taken together, these two components (three if you count the test and dev piece) of the strategy make it abundantly clear that, by comparison, Benioff’s “end of software” was more about the “end of customer choice.” This, in fact, becomes the underpinning of Dynamics’ cloud strategy: the “beginning of customer choice” in the cloud. (Microsoft isn’t alone in this approach--Hewlett Packard also is actively supporting customer choice in the cloud and is expected to showcase more of its strategy at an analyst event in Boston next week.)