By: Dann Anthony Maurno
This autumn’s Microsoft Dynamics conference calendar will not be dull – they can’t be, between the pace of development, questions still hanging about Dynamics 365, and the increasing pressure to partner up in the channel. Directions North America 2016, happening September 25 to 28 in Chandler, Arizona,promises to help Dynamics NAV partners and ISVs start filling in their understanding of the changing Dynamics SMB ERP landscape .
“I’m really excited about what we’ve put together,” says Katherine Turner-Lawrence, vice president of sales and marketing at Western Computer and president of the NAV Directions Organizing Board. She says of attendance and sponsorship, “There are a lot of moving parts, but in the end the content’s really got to support [the event] that we organize.”
To learn more about Directions 2016 we spoke with Turner-Lawrence, as well as Brent Fisher, Dynamics NAV practice director at Tribridge and a member of the NAV Directions Content Committee, and Diane Saegar, CEO of Saeger Marketing, also chair of the NAV Directions Marketing Committee
As the three describe it, Directions North America is all new – every year – based on attendee feedback
Planned fresh yearly, by partners (and committee)
Directions North America 2016 is managed by a volunteer board made up of VARs, ISVs and independent consultants. The only absolute criteria for appointment (or even admittance) is partnership with Microsoft. Western Computer, Tribridge and Saeger Marketing work alongside Sikich, Fastpath, and Innovia, among others.
With only partners in attending, Directions North America’s board polls the community continuously in crafting the event.
So what resonates in 2016?
“Certainly Dynamics 365,” says Turner-Lawrence. “There will be several sessions related to Dynamics 365 and the technology that wraps around that. By that I mean the extensions that may be purchased from the AppSource. We will be doing quite a bit of education in that area.”
Dynamics 365 is the newsmaker, but it hardly overshadows Dynamics NAV – not at its own event. Fisher observes that NAV partners “continue to see a heavy investment from Microsoft into Dynamics and NAV, so not only with a new product release like Dynamics 365 but also updates to the Dynamics NAV platform. We look at Dynamics 365 as a separate offering in a public cloud – SaaS with managed services on Azure and working with Microsoft. But we also see heavy investments in technology and new features and functionality within the Dynamics NAV application itself.”
Can Microsoft expect an earful from partners?
Microsoft is continues to be involved in the event – they will present at the event, in addition to being the sole Platinum Sponsor. Microsoft representatives on hand will include Paul White, senior director of product marketing for ERP worldwide, and also general manager Marko Perisic, among others.
But, say committee members, don’t expect speeches from Microsoft. Rather, expect opportunities for attendees to ask questions. And one of the most common questions this year is whether to expect both a Dynamics 365 and a NAV release in the near future.
“Well yes,” Fisher says, “and we feel as a committee that partners and ISVs have [those types of questions] for Microsoft. That [Q&A] session is a good opportunity to ask questions around Dynamics 365, the vision, how this works, and about the NAV product and new functionality. We have the opportunity to speak to the product development team at Microsoft, and the executives about their vision and leverage that time as a partner or a third-party ISV to ask those questions.”
Was there a touch of disgruntlement among partners in planning this year’s event? The feeling that “Boy, Microsoft, you might have waited to announce Dynamics 365 ‘til the licensing was sorted out”?
“Always,” says Turner-Lawrence. “It would always be nice if [a release] was closer to a completed solution, with maybe with more wrapped around it. That would be easier to consume. But I also think that Microsoft wanted to get it out there and start talking about it as quickly as possible. That’s my take on it. We are looking forward to learning more and having a better understanding of the market that it’s geared for, and what will it do to our traditional partner model?
“There’s a lot of education [required] on our part in understanding, from the application standpoint but also from just a business perspective.”
All new in 2016
So, as an event driven by public demand – also of course by Microsoft product releases – 2016 will see a very different Directions North America, with even some shake-up in the speaker line-up.
Fisher says of the Content Committee “Our goal is to provide as much value and information as we can in the amount of time that we’re allotted. So we really reviewed the surveys and looked at what sessions people like to hear that need to continue to keep coming back, and what are sessions we need to broaden the content to give people good information.”
So this year, attendees can expect best practice information relevant to a consultant or developer, a technical consultant, or, as Fisher explains, “also from an executive and sales perspective, maybe looking at some different sessions around the Internet of Things or industry-related topics.” He adds that some sessions will not be heavily focused on just NAV, but looking at multiple technologies like Azure, Office 365, SharePoint, or others.
“So that is some feedback we saw,” Fisher continued, “being how do we broaden as the technology continues to change so fast? There’s a lot of technology that as partners and ISVs we need to be educated on to provide the best service for our customers.”
Chances (and motivations) to partner up
Networking is one of the main drivers for attendance, partners say in surveys; on top of which Microsoft increasingly pressures partners to team up and form their own channels and offerings. Turner-Lawrence believes that a heightened interest in networking is driving attendance in 2016. The committee expects this year to be the show’s largest attendance yet (about 700 versus nearly 600 in 2015).
So Directions North America 2016 provides ample opportunities to meet those partners. In addition to expo hours, networking will be enabled throughout the event, starting with the welcome reception on Sunday; expo reception on Monday; and partner celebration on Tuesday, on top of exhibit hours and a Directions Connections lounge.
“It’s always been one of our main charters in the event, the collaboration amongst the partners,” says Turner-Lawrence. “We’ve all got strengths and weaknesses where we have operated as our own separate reseller and could stay anonymous.”
No more. “We really do need to partner a lot more,” she continued. “A Dynamics NAV partner may not be an Office 365 reseller, so there’s an opportunity to partner there. The same thing with Dynamics CRM; your traditional business of being able to stand alone and do one thing is a little bit more difficult.” She observes of Western Computer’s own clients that “The integration points are so much stronger now, it’s not unusual for our prospects to be asking not only for Dynamics NAV but CRM and Office 365.”
100 new names; attendance up; and a new award
New partners and staff are on the rise, and Marketing Committee Chair Diane Saeger points to the new award category for 2016, an Excellence Award for an up-and-coming channel personality under 40.
Why under 40? “We recognize that we need to promote the up-and-comers because in some ways we see the same people year after year,” says Saeger. “The up-and-comers are going to be taking over, eventually.” Nominees are top young performers from the Dynamics NAV partner channel, says Saeger – those who are leading missions that spur innovation, who implement projects to enhance the end-user experience and execute creative ways to market Dynamics NAV. “We have had more submissions than just for our Standard of Excellence award,” says Saeger, indicating there is a strong and young presence in the Dynamics NAV ecosystem.
Also true, “Given some additional focus that Microsoft has on extending NAV to more partners, that is bringing us some additional attendees, the New to NAV type of companies,” says Turner-Lawrence.
The betterment of partners
Fisher points out that sessions are dedicated not only to the NAV application, but also to the business of NAV. “There are sessions around different industries, how the industries are changing, [perspective on] competition in the marketplace, and how do you as a partner adapt yourself to take advantage and be aware of the competition.
“So there are a lot of great sessions not just on the product, but also on the new things coming to the market and how, as technology changes so fast, we as partners deliver services. Really, we just want to educate and help partners figure out different strategies and take it to the next level.”