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Microsoft Dresses Up Enterprise Apps

Microsoft advances cloud, mobile, social, and marketing options for Dynamics apps. Delta Airlines touts massive Windows Phone point-of-sale deployment.

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a wave of new Dynamics CRM and ERP applications and enhancements, tying the marketing, social, mobile, and cloud-deployment enhancements to the theme of improving customer experience.

The new apps and features, announced in Atlanta at the company's annual Convergence Conference, include Microsoft Dynamics Marketing and Microsoft Social Listening applications based on the company's MarketingPilot and NetBreeze acquisitions. The products were partially integrated with Microsoft Dynamics CRM soon after their purchase in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but the new Microsoft branding denotes a completed transition to consistent, Office-inspired interfaces, and cross-application data access and workflows. 

Microsoft is not alone in mixing marketing and social capabilities with CRM. Competitors Salesforce.com and Oracle have followed the same path. Salesforce.com acquired Radian6 for customer-sentiment analysis in 2011, and it added Buddy Media in 2012 and ExactTarget in 2013 to bolster its Marketing Cloud services. Oracle acquired Collective Intellect and Vitrue for social-analysis and social marketing in 2012, and Eloqua and Responsys in 2013 for marketing.

[Want more on Microsoft's latest Dynamics deal? Read Microsoft Parature Buy: Think Self-Service CRM.]

Microsoft Social Listening will be included with the next release of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, which is set for release in the second quarter. Customers deploying Dynamics CRM on-premises can add the social app for $20 per user, per month.

Microsoft often uses aggressive pricing as a weapon against its cloud rivals, and a new Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Enterprise license might be the latest example. Salesforce.com's Sales Cloud Enterprise license is $125 a month, but Microsoft is including Microsoft Dynamics Marketing, Microsoft Social Listening, and a new Unified Service Desk (supporting social and more conventional service channels) in its $200-per-user, per-month deal. Salesforce.com sells its Marketing Cloud social and marketing services separately, and it doesn't publish the prices for those services.

Microsoft honored Atlanta-based Delta Airlines with a Customer Excellence Award at Convergence for its use of the Microsoft Dynamics Retail mobile point-of-sale platform. As part of the deployment, Delta has distributed Nokia Lumia Windows phones equipped with credit card readers to more than 19,000 flight attendants to support in-flight food and beverages purchases on 5,800 flights per day. The Mobile Airline app that Delta is using is based on the point-of-sale system and was developed by integrator Avanade. The platform also handles passenger manifests, frequent-flyer information, connecting-gate updates, and flight-attendant scheduling updates.

Microsoft announced a series of ERP upgrades at the event including a new applications and services framework for its flagship Dynamics AX ERP suite. The framework makes it easier for companies to develop and distribute mobile applications tied to AX, according to Microsoft. A new application for shop-floor operators, for example, lets these factory workers report on production using touch-enabled Windows tablets and phones.

AX 2012 R3, a release expected in May, supports deployment on the Windows Azure cloud platform via infrastructure as a service. Microsoft will also offer pre-configured AX instances on Azure, but in both cases it's apparently handled in a hosted (managed services) approach. Kirill Tatarinov, executive VP of Microsoft Business Solutions, was recently quoted as saying that multi-tenant AX services won't be offered until the next major AX release in 2015.

Microsoft's GP and NAV ERP applications run as hosted services on Azure and on multiple partner cloud platforms. Microsoft apparently isn't too worried about competition from Kenandy, NetSuite, Plex Systems, and Workday, as it's taking its time about delivering multi-tenant ERP services.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer