I listened with interest to Steve Mordue on the MS Dynamics World podcast today about his views on the recent announcements at the NAV Directions conference last week. Steve is a Microsoft Partner with an opinion worth listening to on everything Dynamics, but primarily CRM. As a Dynamics partner or interested customer, If you haven’t listened to the podcast I would recommend doing so, but first have a read of his blog post here which is a great read as well as includes as a bit of drama!
Listening to the podcast gave me some food for thought based on some conversations I have been having with some customers and other partners recently. With that in mind, I thought I’d share my own opinion here.
Microsoft’s decision to scrap Business Edition is absolutely the right one, but only if the replacement they come up with gets us all to a place where there is real clarity around how the product is architected, licensed and marketed. There needs to be coherence around all three of those strands. It’s better they take their time on this and get it right than make a quick change to meet a release date.
Product v MarketingMicrosoft have a superb product in Microsoft Dynamics. From a technical standpoint, the product has evolved dramatically in the last 10 years. There is a clear technical direction and coherence to it architecturally that means it is here to stay. Many customers can use it out of the box, Partners have a solid platform to build on, it has the potential to be a killer platform to build real line of business applications.
The Dynamics product team is trying to create a product that partners and customers will love, and the marketing team is trying to find these customers and convince them to come give it a try. It sounds straightforward enough, but in practice it’s not so easy.
One of the frustrations as a technical person is communicating to customers what product am I really talking about?
When I talk about Microsoft Dynamics, more often than not, I am talking about what was traditionally known Dynamics CRM (v4 -> 2011 -> 2013 -> 2015 -> 2016 -> Dynamics 365). Currently, this is currently known as Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement, and within that customer engagement platform there might be Dynamics 365 for Sales or Dynamics 365 Field Service. For the technically minded customers and partners, we will most likely still call the next version CRM v9 which is the platform, whilst understanding that the aforementioned monikers are ‘apps’ built on top of the underlying CRM v9 platform.
So from a Marketing perspective things could be better. James Phillips at Microsoft may soon come out stating that the ‘Business’ monikers and SKUs that never launched are dead. But the ‘SME Business’ market is still there though and should be ripe for picking with such a strong product – Business Edition previews showed us that the new interface is dumbed down and simplified and that probably suits the SME user base well.
So we need a licensing model that suits all users, and I’m hoping Microsoft has a magic wand here.
Enter Stage Left, Licensing
It must be tough enough for the product and marketing guys at Microsoft to agree on a strategy without having to throw the headache of licensing into the mix. Every so often Microsoft release a new ‘Licensing and Pricing guide’ for Dynamics and it must be a tough read for those who are coming to the Dynamics 365 afresh. If you are sufficiently bored, try doing a PDF compare of the current (July 2017) and previous (October 2016) licensing guides – see if you can understand some of the subtleties around sentences changes between both.
I have poured over the detail of the licensing guide in the past, trying to decipher it and to stay on the right side of both a) adhering to the letter of the law and b) adhering to the spirit of the law with the use of some magic fairy dust. There are a few grey areas in there that could do with getting cleared up, such as the ‘replicates’ clause that I blogged about.
However, rather than chirping away unconstructively, based on my conversations with customers, partners and my own crazy ideas, here are 4 things I would like to see in any revised Microsoft approach.
1. Pick n Mix Record Licensing
We need less strict record segmentation across current product SKUs, or more flexible SKUs.
Consider this : An organisation has a fairly complex and custom XRM based solution in place using Dynamics 2016. It may use a ‘thin’ case record for recording a subject title only and uses the lead record for recording some slim contact from leads. All users in the organisation may need to update these records. When upgrading to Dynamics 365, this customer must purchase a Customer Engagement Plan 1 license, which is a steep price hike when they don’t plan to use 95% of the functionality it provides. Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow users to select some record types from across different SKUs and pay accordingly?
For example, could I buy a Customer Service SKU and be allowed to supplement it with the lead record from the Sales licence, or even vice versa? Might I be allowed to pick and choose a list of records I want to use?
2. Enforced Licensing over Honour/Trust based licensing.
To date, record based licensing has not been enforced technically. If you purchase a team member license, you can perform exactly the same functionality within the core Dynamics 365 application as you can with a Customer Service or Sales licence, even though the cost of Customer Service or Sales license is much more. I have seen some Dynamics system administrators so wary of a licence audit showing up inadvertent usage that they painstakingly create security roles that match the guidelines in the Dynamics Licensing Guide PDF. I have seen others who are not so careful! In conjunction with a looser licensing model, I wouldn’t have a problem with things being enforced more inside the platform, as long as the licensing model made sense.
3. A Core XRM Platform for Developers.
Xrm as a marketing term has fallen by the wayside recently. At the public preview briefings, one of the things that was asked for in the Q&A session was a pure XRM platform. By this, I mean a Dynamics 365/CRM organisation that contains no entities or sitemap – no contact, no account, completely decoupled from the CRM data model (ok, maybe the settings entities!). Microsoft admitted internally that they already have a build like this. Releasing a base such as this would provide a real opportunity for partners to start developing IP. Like the elastic services that Azure gives us, couldn’t Microsoft give us XRM as a service?
4. A Real App Store
Appsource is a great place to put sample apps as a hook to getting customers interested in your business, experience or approach, but building your own licensing system to restrict access to those solutions and apps is too much like hard work and too far off the beaten track from most of our day jobs. In conjunction with point 3, let’s have a way we can bundle up a managed solution, pick a price, let Microsoft collect the revenue and give us 80% back. Let’s turn more services only companies into product companies and let Microsoft profit too.
If you like, please submit your crazy license fantasies below for a laugh, or better still, officially confuse Microsoft at https://ideas.dynamics.com.