We had the opportunity to attend Microsoft's first Business Applications analyst meeting, in Seattle on February 11th till 12th 2018, held at its HQ in Seattle. The event was well attended with over 30 analysts, including my colleagues Cindy Zhou, Dion Hinchcliffe and Ray Wang, look for their findings of the event here




Prefer watching over reading – here is my short video summary (if it doesn't show up, check here): 


Here is the 1 slide condensation (if the slide doesn't show up, check here):

Want to read on? Here you go:

The Digital Feedback Loop

All vendors need some thought leadership piece de resistance where to align their offerings around, and for the Microsoft Business Apps team it is digital transformation and there specifically supporting the digital feedback loop. Unsurprisingly it features the product areas where Microsoft has most SaaS support – around People, Customers and Products with Data and AI / Intelligence at its core. 

Microsoft Business Apps Holger Mueller Constellation Research
Microsoft's new TriFoil: The Digital Feedback Loop with People, Customers and Products
Source: Twitter (@holgermu)

MyPOV – Good to see People / HR prominently, Digital Transformation is a pitch that is aging fast to hang your hat on as a SaaS vendor, but it seems to work for Microsoft (seeing the reaction from customers recently, it looks this is a mainstream concern for the target group, always a good reality check). If "products" flies well for the services target group remains to be seen. For traditional ERP the Finance decision makers may not see their 'home' right away. But we will see more of the feedback loop from Microsoft this year, likely with some tweaks.

The Platform as the Differentiator

SaaS has arrived on PaaS (and IaaS) – Microsoft has moved all its Business Applications (aka MSFT Dynamics) to the its Azure IaaS and PaaS stack, starting with a new unified user experience. Under the hood, the suite now takes advantage of PowerBI for analytics, PowerApps and Flow for low code / no code extension and customization, and there is a data fabric underneath the whole suite. The latter wasn't shared, as weren't too many details on the ongoing integration of the 3 graphs (see below) as well as integration with Office (and there notably Teams). 

Microsoft Business Apps Holger Mueller Constellation Research
The Microsoft Marketecture
Source: Twitter (@holgermu)

MyPOV – It's always hard for SaaS vendors with a PaaS and IaaS to use the latest PaaS / IaaS capabilities. The latter products move faster than traditional enterprise applications and re-certifying the SaaS suite on them takes time and resources. Nonetheless Microsoft has achieved that, which may explain the relatively few functional highlights on the roadmap for the rest of the year. But Microsoft is doing what everybody expects – prospects and clients – that is that all Microsoft products work together in a consistent and synergetic way. The resulting differentiation and efficiencies will be appreciated by customers and prospects.

The Graph Data Differentiator

Windows, Office and LinkedIn – Microsoft is combining three massive graphs at the moment: The Windows graph (devices, networks, logins etc.), the Office graph (all your documents, OneDrive, Teams (?) and the LinkedIn graph. Conceptually there needs to be a Microsoft Business Apps graph (or a customer graph etc.) as well, but wasn't mentioned. Combining these and exposing these are substantial engineering, architecture and usability challenges. Not to mention the privacy aspect. But Microsoft is in the process and I guess it will be later in the year where we will learn more about this in detail. The usual feature shown was the LinkedIn Sales Navigator – but that is an older integration, even from the time before Microsoft acquired LinkedIn. 

Microsoft Business Apps Holger Mueller Constellation Research
Alysa Taylor walks by the 3 Graphs - Windows, Office and LinkedIn
Source: Twitter (@holgermu)

MyPOV – A very compelling undertaking by Microsoft, finally delivering on its founder's vision of "Information at your Fingertips". Without the connective tissue of a multi-dimensional graphs, that cannot work and today we know that it could not have worked (in today's scope) back then. Kudos for Microsoft to tackle the problem now, with CosmosDB playing a key architecture role (not mentioned at this meeting, interestingly). There are almost infinite opportunities and benefits for users from this, they have to be made more tangible by Microsoft going forward, across the product portfolio. 2018 should be the year where this offering is ripe enough.

Finally a HCM Story: Microsoft Talent

Pressed in time, but nonetheless (finally) present was Microsoft's HCM story – starting with Microsoft Talent. A good place to start, given the LinkedIn acquisition. It also includes key HR Core capabilities which the Talent product name does not pay justice. As well as partnerships in the payroll space, starting with Ceridian (I expect more to follow this year).

Microsoft Business Apps Holger Mueller Constellation Research
The Digital Feedback Loop - People Dimension Details
Source: Twitter (@holgermu)

MyPOV – A key area to address by Microsoft, even before LinkedIn. You cannot run an enterprise ignoring the biggest expense (and investment) for an enterprise, people. But Microsoft is not acting as a Top 3 (maybe even #1) HCM vendor – just based on the LinkedIn revenues. LinkedIn is de-factor an HR software company, probably larger than SAP and Oracle (who don't break out revenues) with a small sliver of Talent Management, Talent Acquisition. Clarifying the road forward between the Microsoft and LinkedIn HCM roadmaps is going to be key portfolio and messaging homework, as it's confusing for customers…


Overall MyPOV

Good to have the inaugural event, which was overdue from many angles. Good to see Microsoft investing into synergetic benefits across all offerings, something customers always expect, but not always see vendors deliver. But that takes time and resources, and the usually associated functional pause needs to overcome now by Microsoft Business Apps. The gaps and white space are the largest in the HCM space, where Microsoft's offerings are to new to compete on an overall end to end suite with the established players. But differentiators like LinkedIn can help, though Microsoft needs to work on the product, platform and commercial integration. I expect a similar line of thinking coming from my colleagues Cindy Zhou and Ray Wang along the lines of the Adobe partnership.

On the concern side, Microsoft is late to the ERP suite game. It certainly has put the leadership team in place, now it comes to delivering. 2018 already saw the ERP market leader announce an on premises product, a key lesson learnt that when you don't develop fast enough, customers will dictate the platform. In this scenario Microsoft has Azure Stack, but that was not mentioned at all on Day #1 of the analyst meeting. And Microsoft needs organic, in-house SaaS load to scale Azure successfully. But for that customers need attractive automation benefits: If Microsoft can be half as successful as it was with its CRM offerings in the other key areas of ERP automation (Finance, SCM, Procurement and HCM) – it will be in a great place for customers in a few years. But that's a big ask.

But it's early in 2018, much more to come this year, and it's a good start for Microsoft Business Applications. Stay tuned.

Want to learn more? Checkout the Storify collection below (if it doesn't show up – check here).


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