Most technology shows have a buzzword. As Microsoft prepares to kick-off its annual Convergence conference for Dynamics products, the buzzword for this show seems to be "information."
More information about Microsoft Dynamics CRM in particular is a hope for many. Dynamics CRM has undergone big changes in the past year. Users, vendors and analysts attending the four-day event -- from Monday through Thursday -- in New Orleans, undoubtedly expect to get detailed information on how these changes -- including the integration of a marketing program -- can be applied to current software platforms and what it all means for future offerings.
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Take Mitch Milam. He's the owner -- or, as he likes to say, "chief technologist" -- of the Dallas-based consultancy CRM Accelerators. Milam will lead a Convergence conference session for developers, sharing tips on how to make the most of Dynamics CRM.
He knows some of what Microsoft will discuss at Convergence, but not everything. A lot of details on product integration and new features are under wraps, and Milam's guess on what will come is just as good as anyone's.
"We've been told some things, but some things are still in flux," Milam said. "It's like moving an oil tanker. A lot of stuff has to happen first."
But Milam believes that beyond the buzz, the Convergence conference will serve as a classroom of sorts for attendees, resuming a flow of information that ended at a January conference of Dynamics CRM partners in Rome.
Microsoft has started to make "radical changes" to Dynamics CRM, and now the trick will be explaining to users what they can do with redesigned and future products, he said.
One such change comes with MarketingPilot. Microsoft purchased the Evanston, Ill.-based software company last year, and hasn't revealed much about its expected integration with Dynamics CRM.
MarketingPilot is a social marketing tool that could benefit small businesses once integrated with Dynamics CRM, said consultant Denis Pombriant, who will attend the conference. The software will give small businesses new ways to reach out to customers they may already know, according to Pombriant, founder of Beagle Research Group LLC, an IT consulting firm in Stoughton, Mass.
"Social marketing is a new frontier and everyone has to get on it," he said. "It's nice to see Microsoft not waiting three years to do it."
The Convergence conference should also highlight other recent changes to Dynamics CRM.
In November, the Dynamics division unveiled an update that included a new user interface, integration with the Skype Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP service, and a fuller connection to the Yammer social network service.
Microsoft bought Skype in May for $8.5 billion. Via Skype, users can have video and voice chats with colleagues or customers directly from Dynamics CRM.
Complete integration of Yammer with Dynamics CRM is one of the prizes of Microsoft's $1.2 billion purchase of the enterprise social network service last summer. With five million users, Yammer is expected to help Microsoft catch up to its competition in the social network arms race.
This year's Convergence conference will undoubtedly also deliver news. Microsoft announced late last year that cross-platform CRM mobile support on the iPhone, Android devices and BlackBerry phones will be pushed back until 2013, the second such delay. The conference would be an ideal venue to unveil developments on mobile.
Jason Gumpert, editor of MSDynamicsWorld, expects word on "out-of-the-box" platforms.
Microsoft has started to advise its Dynamics CRM partners that they intend to publicly articulate a vision on creating more out-of-the-box software, Gumpert said. Industry talk suggests Dynamics CRM will build more products for the marketplace, instead of using independent software vendors, he said.
More Dynamics-created products that are ready to go will better serve users, instead of having them clear the hurdles that come with integrating products, Milam said.
"People are busy enough. They don't have enough time now," he said. "This is the [2000s.] We're beyond working to figure things out."
Pombriant predicted Microsoft will also reveal a marketing shift at the Convergence conference.
"To date, Microsoft is better at selling technology, rather than selling the vision of business technology," he said. "I look for them to make a transition at Convergence. There's no shortage of products out there. Selling a product as a differentiator doesn't work anymore. You need to offer a vision of solutions and a clear articulation of the business problem."