Microsoft Convergence is being held in New Orleans this week. If you are lucky enough to get out of the cold weather, NOLA this time of year can be wonderful. I stayed in Boston hunkered down in the late winter mix of sunny days, occasional snow and cold nights. I took a briefing from Bill Patterson, Group Product Manager for Microsoft Dynamics CRM about the announcements related to CRM.
You can read the press release on-line so I won’t repeat it all here. There were a couple of things that caught my attention including a new SLA and what the company is calling accelerators and there were eight in all.
The SLA, or service level agreement, was long over due and a security blanket that larger companies need—every company needs—to have confidence that the on-demand system will perform. Microsoft says it measures its performance against the SLA on a monthly basis and gives a free month of service if it fails to meet its goal. The goal in this case is 99.9% up time, which is realistic. Do the math and look at the difference between three and four or five nines. The only thing I know of that is so reliable (or better) is my heart.
The other idea that impressed me was the accelerators. Microsoft has built a set of applications that users can download as they like to enhance the functionality and relevance of their CRM instance. BI sounds like a no brainer but not for everyone so it is a prime example of an accelerator. Get it if you need it. The same holds for an event management accelerator and an e-service portal. Good ideas for the most part.
As good as that sounds, the flip side is that these applications have a depressing effect on innovation on the Microsoft platform by independent third parties. In this model, Microsoft could conceivably continue innovating in the small application niches leaving little room for third parties.
That might be fine for Microsoft because it has a partner program full of OEMs and VARs—partners that sell and install the product. It’s a very traditional business model but it ignores the changes in the market brought on by on-demand technology. A whole class of partner—companies that build added value products but who may not resell—is potentially excluded with this approach. But it is precisely this class of partner that can best innovate in the small niches around the product.
I can’t fault Microsoft for doing this, it’s in their DNA and they are far from alone. Salesforce.com is another company that offers many applications around the margin of CRM but the difference is that Salesforce makes some room for ISV partners who often offer a better mousetrap in the niche area. For example, Salesforce offers bulk email distribution but limits the units per day. When a customer outgrows that base level capability there are many qualified ISVs to help out.
As the market continues to move to solutions that are simpler to own and operate, it makes sense to give partners something else to do. Innovating, rather than installing, makes sense in that context.