Why Microsoft’s VoloMetrix “People Analytics” Acquisition Matters – A Lot

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by Dann Anthony Maurno, Assistant Editor

If “knowledge is power,” as Microsoft founder Bill Gates often said, current CEO Satya Nadella seems focused on turning knowledge into productivity. Nadella has been laser-focused on building a single-platform productivity suite around Office 365, and the recent VoloMetrix acquisition promises to be another intriguing step-change for Office-based productivity tools.

Further, if all goes well, VoloMetrix should be well aligned to integrate with Microsoft Dynamics CRM in the near future, and perhaps with the Dynamics ERP suites after that.

VoloMetrix positions its offering as a solution focused on boosting employee productivity and retention by creating feedback loops that help achieve higher, more meaningful productivity. That sounds abstract, but Boeing, Facebook, Genentech, Qualcomm, Seagate, and Symantec, all VoloMetrix customers, seem sold on it. As Fortune reports, the four-and-a-half year old Seattle-based startup with less than 50 full-timers raised $17 million in funding before its exit from, among others, Split Rock Partners and Shasta Ventures. It counts “several dozen” large companies in its customer portfolio, including the aforementioned.

Volometrix solutions mine email and calendar servers (among other business systems) and aggregates metadata about collaboration between organizations – any type of organization, be it strategic accounts, key customers, or other departments. The analytics are presented in an online application and can also be exported or accessed via an API.

VoloMetrix claims the application can be set up in less than a week, and can deliver immediately actionable metrics, dashboards, and change management tools, using as few as two data sources (or, presumably, one if that source is the Office 365 suite).

Small but significant

“Microsoft customers should be really, really happy to know that VoloMetrix help is on the way,”writes analyst Dallas Salazar on Seeking Alpha. Salazar believes that VoloMetrix gives Microsoft a leading edge in the still-young field of “people analytics,” or more precisely, knowledge-worker productivity analytics.

VoloMetrix is a small startup, but a significant one, given Microsoft’s excitement. In announcing the acquisition, Rajesh Jha, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Outlook and Office 365 describes the need for people analytics this way:

“Giving people access to real data and objective, personalized feedback can lead to a virtuous cycle of improvement for both individuals and their company. The hardest part about this is accessing and making sense of the real behavioral data that would give people these insights.”

Analyst Alan Lepofsky of Constellation Research advises that it is still too early to know exactly how VoloMetrix will integrate with Delve Organizational Analytics or where that Delve UI will manifest itself, but the possibilities are broad, and they include Microsoft Dynamics. He told MSDynamicsWorld.com:

“For example, there are Delve updates available as an email digest, Delve Boards in the Delve app itself, and Delve contextual content shown on user profiles. So, it’s not unreasonable to think that the metrics (what’s working, what’s not, who to contact, who to ignore, etc.) will be integrated (perhaps a sidebar or widget) directly on Dynamics records. That way people will not have to switch context, but instead have the relevant information surface to them in place.”

Productivity is of course readily measurable in manufacturing; how many motherboards passed through a workstation? It’s perhaps measurable in service fields, in speed to resolution through a helpdesk operator or, say, the writing of new insurance policies. But in marketing, pre-sales and sales VoloMetrix might measure meaningful collaboration, and measurable goals like time spent with management; time spent on strategic accounts; time spent with another department. For example, a marketer may have a goal to spend more than five hours a week with product development in order to develop strategies down the pike.

What does this mean for Dynamics?

It seems all but inevitable that VoloMetrix tools will eventually be made easily accessible to Dynamics CRM users. The Dynamics CRM 2016 release will integrate with Office Delve, and will focus on improving interoperability with Microsoft products such as Office 365, OneDrive for Business, and Azure machine learning; also with acquisitions like FieldOne and FantasySalesTeam. And Dynamics customers using Office 365 will of course be able to start working with VoloMetrix even before a full CRM integration is offered.

Ruben Overkemping, group manager of CRM at Avanade, said “As a CRM implementation partner I see the added value of understanding the people in the people-business that CRM actually is. Having data-driven insight in how your sales organization is working can be very positive.”

From an implementation perspective VoloMetrix should be “well fitted into the change adoption part of the CRM system,” and used as a tool to accelerate the employee performance but with a positive twist. “Improving employee performance by coaching and empowering them with insights is one of the important aspects we as Avanade view as part of the optimized digital workplace,” he says.

Overkemping’s hope is that “From an architecture perspective…Microsoft will integrate it properly into (on top of) their CRM platform and not keep it as a standalone product with its own software architecture,” as it appears to be doing with Parature. “As in our enterprise customers’ environments, I do see challenges in introducing another component that needs to be interacting with the calendar/email services. Relying on the trusted architecture of Dynamics CRM would help.”

No word from Microsoft yet how or where Delve – or VoloMetrix – will fit into Dynamics ERP – or even if it will. But it seems likely.

Given Microsoft’s new-found agility under Nadella and the Dynamics teams’ eagerness to stay ahead of competitors in , we can expect VoloMetrix to be hard at work in Office 365 (and by extension, Dynamics) before the new year.

About Dann Anthony Maurno

Dann Anthony Maurno is a seasoned business journalist who began his career as International Marketing Manager with Lilly Software, then moved on as a freelancer to write for such prestigious clients as CFO Magazine; Compliance Week;Manufacturing Business Technology; Decision Resources, Inc.; The Economist Intelligence Unit; and corporate clients such as Iron Mountain, Microsoft and SAP. He is the co-author of Thin Air: How Wireless Technology Supports Lean Initiatives(CRC/Productivity Press, 2010).

Dann can be reached at [email protected].