Market Forces

Microsoft Promises To 'Mainstream' Dynamics, but Can It Deliver?

For those who believe Microsoft's rhetoric, the synergy that Dynamics partners have been dreaming about for 15 years might soon become reality.

Since Microsoft's acquisition of Great Plains in 2000 and Navision in 2002, ERP-focused partners have had a complicated relationship with Microsoft. Despite the promise of "One Microsoft," ERP partners have continued to work with a siloed Dynamics team for 15 years. With Microsoft's June restructuring, the walls around Dynamics came down, merging the group into the Cloud and Enterprise team led by Scott Guthrie.

During the 2015 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), CEO Satya Nadella coined the phrase that has Dynamics partners talking. "That's why I care so much about the mainstreaming of Dynamics," said Nadella. "It's not about Dynamics on its own. It's Dynamics at the center of the company."

To get a pulse of reactions to the restructuring and "mainstreaming of Dynamics," I spoke to three longtime ERP partners.

"It really landed with me during Scott Guthrie's keynote at WPC," says Andy Vabulas, CEO of I.B.I.S. Inc., a Dynamics GP and AX partner. "When he showed the enterprise business slide that included Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics and Power BI, I thought, 'We have finally made the transition I was hoping for 15 years ago.'"

Vabulas believes Guthrie's leadership of Dynamics is a win for all involved. "Through the reorg and the plans for FY16, I can see how Dynamics moves into the mainstream. We won't be off to the side anymore."

There's a big advantage to Microsoft in driving more business to the cloud through Dynamics partners, from Vabulas' perspective. "We will light up Azure better than any other workload. ERP is going to make the Azure meter spin," predicts Vabulas. "When I look at the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program, I think ERP partners are going to be the superstars. We are going to drive usage and consumption better than anyone else."

On the other hand, some partners are finding it hard to believe that Microsoft can reverse the disconnect between partners and Microsoft's internal systems and sales support. SSI Consulting is a longtime Dynamics SL partner frustrated by a revolving door of sales and support personnel.

"For a long time it has seemed that Microsoft is only interested in CRM and AX, as far as Dynamics is concerned," says Bill Aiton, president of SSI Consulting. "They let go the last Microsoft employee working on SL a year ago."

"I am a longtime advocate for Microsoft and have been excited about their potential, but over the past three years they have become the hardest vendor for us to work with," explains Aiton. "We are on our fourth partner account 'tele-manager' who is supposed to help us close business. I wouldn't know how to engage with any single person if I really wanted to grow Dynamics sales."

For Innovia Consulting (formerly ABC Computers), a longtime Dynamics NAV partner, the full Microsoft cloud services stack has already become the foundation of the company's future. "About two years ago, the lightbulb went on for us," explains Tom Doran, Innovia's Customer Engagement Director. "We've spent the past 18 months gearing up with Office 365 and Power BI to augment the Microsoft Dynamics ERP experience."

Doran believes that Microsoft has tried to make it clear to partners that the future lay in the cloud for several years. "While there is some amount of business we will continue to deliver through the traditional model, we see that ending."

Of the last four new Dynamics NAV systems that Innovia sold, three were cloud-based. "There has been a learning curve to the administrative processes, like licensing, but Microsoft has been dedicated to working through the process. In the end, both we and our customers have had a positive experience."

Doran believes that the mainstreaming of Dynamics started even before the restructuring was announced. "I do see progress," says Doran. "Some of the people that used to be in silos are more capable of talking to each other."

There are clearly disenfranchised Dynamics partners who have lost patience during a decade of promises, and the year ahead will definitely be a test of whether the silos within Microsoft really are breaking down. But for those partners who believe Nadella's rhetoric, Microsoft's cloud may deliver the synergy that Dynamics partners have dreamed about for 15 years.

More Columns by Barb Levisay:

About the Author

Barb Levisay owns Marketing for Partners, a marketing and service delivery leadership firm for Microsoft Dynamics, SharePoint and ISV partners. She serves as the event chair on the Board of Directors for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners.