Convergence 2015: What does a broader business customer focus mean for Microsoft Dynamics ERP and CRM?

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Jason Gumpert in MSDynamicsWorld.com reporting on a revamped focus and approach to this years Dynamics Convergence conference.

With Convergence 2015, Microsoft broadens the event’s scope while working to preserve the value and pedigree that the Dynamics ERP and CRM attendees have come to expect. The event has undergone some changes, organizers freely admit, but the changes should result in a richer overall message and a re-calibrated experience, not a reduction in the benefits that veteran attendees and sponsors have come to expect

From an event content perspective, the most visible change will be the approach to the keynote and general sessions, which will focus more on business value concepts and de-emphasize specific product information. Dynamics products are still the core of the event, organizers says, and sessions focused on features and roadmaps will still be there to accommodate as many attendees as necessary. But the event is now about the ideas and vision first and the products – Dynamics as well as other Microsoft commercial offerings – second.

Depending on whom you talk to in the Dynamics partner channel, changes to the event could be seen as a sign of good or bad things to come. The broader messaging, product focus, and general Microsoft visibility could signal a breakthrough for Dynamics into the Microsoft mainstream. For the pessimists, the same factors could be cause for concern that some products and interest groups could be de-emphasized and lose critical mass at the event.

What’s new about the 2015 lineup

This year’s updates to Convergence make it a component of Microsoft’s four event lineup for commercial business customers and partners. Following Convergence in March, Microsoft will run Build, the Windows developer conference from April 29 to May 1; Ignite, the enterprise IT conference, from May 4 to 8); and Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) July 12 to 16.

“As part of that lineup, we’re thinking of Convergence as the event for business leaders because we think business process is … the lifeblood of business,” says Marie Huwe, general manager for Microsoft Dynamics. “The Dynamics community becomes the core of what Microsoft is trying to accomplish in terms of growing relevance and engagement with business leaders in businesses of all sizes.”

Organizing sessions toward business value

General sessions at Convergence 2015 will take a more integrated, less product-centric approach, says Huwe. They will focus on positioning the event as a “Microsoft event for business” that can demonstrate the company’s vision for addressing disconnected business processes. Expect speakers to address topics like mobility, big data, internet of things, and how these trends impact Microsoft customers. General sessions speakers are mostly from outside of MBS and include Microsoft CMO Chris Caposella, Corporate Vice President for US Marketing & Operations Allison Watson, CVP of the BI products group James Philips, President of Microsoft North America Judson Althoff, and CVP for Microsoft Office John Case.

For Dynamics customers and partners who want product updates most directly relevant to their work, those sessions will still be there. There will be “product roadmap and strategy” concurrent sessions for each product, some of which run concurrently with general sessions. And those roadmap types of sessions will be in rooms big enough to accommodate everyone who wants to attend, says Huwe.

“But a guiding principal is whether [attendees] are hearing the end to end story,” she says. “Instead of [making the general sessions] a point of departure on products, it’s what’s on the mind of businesses and what do we have to do to address their needs.”

An eye on the mainstream

If you believe MBS products need more attention and adoption throughout Microsoft, the updates to Convergence are welcome news. Making Convergence a business decision maker event for Microsoft customers ought to be another step toward making MBS products more broadly accepted across Microsoft and it corporate customer base.

The product most likely to be on its way to being “mainstreamed” is Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which took a big step up in 2014 when it was named one of the three fundamental components of the Microsoft business cloud, along with Azure and Office 365.

“We’re super excited,” says Jim Sheehan, chief operating officer at Dynamics CRM partner PowerObjects. “Dynamics CRM is not an outsider product and we hope others pay attention to us. It’s on everyone’s scorecard, there are more deals, and it’s growing faster than ever before.”

Sheehan says partners should be looking to Convergence to achieve the same goals as they have in the past, and probably even more. A broader range of Microsoft teams at the event means Dynamics partners should be looking to expand their reach, get their message out, and engage with a larger segment of the Microsoft ecosystem.

Anya Ciecierski, director of Marketing at Dynamics GP reseller CAL Business Solutions, writes that the changes to this year’s event need to be evaluated in the context of the overall Dynamics event landscape.
“I am looking forward to Convergence 2015 and I feel confident that our clients who are attending will have a fantastic event. But I also think that this will be the year to evaluate the changes made to the event with a keen eye.”

For exhibitors, Convergence remains a strong draw, with this year’s event maxed out, according to Huwe. MSDynamicsWorld.com has heard concerns from SMB VARs and ISVs that the broader scope and ever-increasing sponsorship rates may drive them and their clients away from Convergence in the future. For ISVs, however, the pressure to be seen at Convergence seems to still trump concerns, with any such decisions largely delayed to 2016 and beyond.

The new Microsoft event landscape

With the growing range of events aimed at different segments of the Microsoft Dynamics audience in recent years, this year’s updates to Convergence are certain to be watched carefully by anyone with a limited event budget. WPC, the Dynamics Technical Conference, the UG Summit events, NAV Directions, GP ReImagine, eXtremeCRM, Convergence EMEA (which is coming back, we’re told), the Asia Partner Conference, and the Dynamics Industry event all require time and budget.

Changes at Microsoft under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, who will be keynoting Convergence on Monday March 16, mean that the event is unlikely to revert to any past form. Instead, think of what you see this year at Convergence, along with at WPC, Ignite, and Build, as Microsoft’s best effort to put forth its overall business solutions vision. And yes, that includes Dynamics.

“The center of gravity [at Convergence] is around that business customer,” says Microsoft Dynamics director Jim Desler. “We’re here to represent the business process and the business applications. But these changes in the way Microsoft functions and thinks about how we show up for our customers means that someone like [Microsoft CMO] Chris Caposella is looking across the events and asking: what does it sound like if someone is going to multiple events and wants to see an integrated strategy? So Convergence is the center of those business apps and that is represented by Dynamics.”