Companies evaluating a critical business application like an ERP or CRM today often struggle to know how to make their choice.
The truth is that from a low-level feature and function perspective, there’s very little to differentiate between most of the business applications on the market today. While no company should ignore those features and functions, the emphasis should shift from the interface of the individual application to the platform or ecosystem it sits within.
Basically, this means shifting from looking at the features and functions of the individual application itself (which is more narrow in scope), into a view of the overall ecosystem and the other technologies within it that the business can leverage (which is a much more broad scope).
In this article, I’ll provide the important context for this broad scope consideration, and I’ll highlight some examples of new technologies within the Microsoft business stack that show the power of the ecosystem.
Digital Imperative: Beyond Digital Transformation
The Early Adopters
When looking holistically at technology, we’re shifting from what we call the digital transformation into what we now call the digital imperative. As we all know, COVID forced the market to adopt a baseline digital transformation evolution. We saw this in the form of skyrocketing use of collaborative applications like Teams and Zoom. The digital transformation is largely now a permanent one, but it wasn’t complete. Those businesses that saw the potential of what fully-adopted cloud solutions could do for their business began investing beyond the baseline usage of a web-based meeting application. So, those early adopters bought into the concept that every company is a technology company, regardless of whether they’re in traditional IT or not.
The Current Shift
The next group in the market is where we are today. As this group witnessed the early adopters’ decisions and paths, they’re now ready to move beyond that optional transformation. Their mindset changed and now they believe that they have to digitally transform at the business level—they have to make their organization a digital one—or they won’t survive. This is also the group of organizations that must do more with less since they can no longer push their workforce into working harder and longer. The labour market has shown in recent years that it needs a better work-life balance, so companies have to exponentialize their productivity to accommodate it. They’re driven to find different ways of applying technology to really amplify what you can do amidst these emerging constraints.
The Flexibility of the New Adaptive Card
One strong example of a solution that allows a broader look at the overall ecosystem rather than at a set of specific functionalities within Microsoft Dynamics 365 is the Adaptive Card. Adaptive Cards have been around for a few years, but historically they’ve been limited in terms of functionality. As they’ve matured and started to evolve, they’ve made themselves much more relevant, especially in the use of Dynamics applications. The use of these cards continues to expand, and Encore is investing further R&D into assessing how extensible they are within the solutions that we design.
Example of Adaptive Cards:
So, what is an Adaptive Card? Like the name implies, it’s a piece of code largely pulling on data from one business application and effectively adapting it to the application that it’s being hosted in. For example, this can be one line of code in one location that is represented in four different Microsoft applications, but the nature of how it’s presented has really adopted the framework of the application that’s presenting it. So, code is written only once, but now it’s applicable to whatever system needs the data. Bots, Teams, Windows Notifications, and Windows Timelines all use Adaptive Cards. The Microsoft Dynamics universe is starting to see that kind of shift as well.
How Adaptive Cards Apply in Microsoft Dynamics 365
The best way to illustrate their power in Microsoft Dynamics is through an example scenario.
As a salesperson using Dynamics 365 Sales, you can create a test opportunity for a company called TestCompany. Immediately, you would see that there are a few ways to begin collaborating. For instance, you can begin a Teams chat from within a new opportunity and that ability is available via Adaptive Cards.
Moving into the Teams application, an Adaptive Card will surface here, and it will also link directly back to the CRM (Sales) application. So, if the person you’re chatting with via Teams needs more information about an opportunity, they can simply click on the card within that platform. It will instantly take the colleague to that opportunity record, and they’re able add the additional information they needed.
Adaptive Cards drastically lessen the amount of integrations that are required. Let’s say a Dynamics 365 Sales user needs to input a piece of data that impacts the Dynamics ERP system that your company uses. The Dynamics ERP interaction can be effectively embedded within the framework of the sales application, so that the sales user experience is seamless. The users don’t know that they’re entering information that’s going into the ERP system. To them, it’s just one application and interface—Dynamics 365 Sales. This means that users don’t need to simultaneously open multiple applications and remember which data on which application needs to be to filled in.
This is a massive reduction in the complexity of potential integrations, and it decreases much of the technical debt that you would need to maintain over time. Currently, there’s no other ERP or CRM vendor in the market today that can construct this type of overall application out of the box aside from Microsoft.
The Foundation of the Dataverse
Above, we touched on the concept of technical debt, which is really the serviceability of maintaining things like integrations and being able to expand on your applications over time. But there’s also the concept of managing a data estate which is essentially all the data that your business owns and uses. Unifying these concepts can provide a staggering cost savings, all the while providing you with a fairly nimble solution in order for you to be able to evolve your business. This is the Dataverse.
Think of the Dataverse as the tool which effectively manages all things related to your data estate. A large estate requires a lot of maintenance, and the Dataverse is much like your data estate manager. It’s the ability to incorporate all things related to your data, whether that’s security or functional logic, and then to manipulate it and present it in a particular way. Obviously, storage is one of the main components of it, but it’s also the ability to then integrate that storage into the Dynamics world and other applications as well. In Microsoft Dynamics, the Dataverse is essentially the standardized schema for all Dynamics products.
Unifying Multiple Systems with One Source of Data
A Dynamics ERP system needs the concept of a customer; so would Dynamics 365 Customer Service, Marketing, Field Service, Project Operations, and any other core system. What Dataverse allows these applications to do is reference the Dataverse when looking up the customer’s name. This means that all the different applications are using the standardized, single source of data to reference that customer. So, if any of these applications need to use any of the other applications’ data components, they can simply reference the Dataverse rather than trying to integrate directly back and forth between those applications. It’s an extremely efficient way to be able to construct a solution within one application that has data and information coming from multiple other applications without performing complex integrations and creating multiple sets of the same record.
The Landscape of the Metaverse
Deciding on an application or a platform really goes beyond what you can do with it today, and it extends into where the platform is going tomorrow. It’s an investment in the future of your business, not just into what your business is doing today.
Before getting into the definitions, it’s important to share some context that will help you understand the stage for the Metaverse. Microsoft is partnering with Meta—Facebook—to bring Teams, Microsoft 365, and other apps into Meta Quest and Oculus Virtual Reality (VR) devices and vice versa. Teams is coming into Meta’s applications for workplace productivity tools as well. This creates the potential for a digital workplace that incorporates either a virtual reality or a mixed reality with business systems like traditional CRM, ERP, and e-retail solutions. (We use the term “e-retail”, not “e-commerce” in this context because it’s a different experience when you get into a virtual world, and because it also incorporates everyday productivity software like Teams and Excel.)
Uniting the Virtual and the Physical
The approach to physical space in general extends to what Microsoft calls the Metaverse. This includes how we bring together the digital world and the physical world. It defines the landscape in which the digital norms of doing business intersect with the physical world around us and how the two can be manipulated simultaneously. So, within the construct of the meeting environment, the interface in front of you shows you a whiteboard, a presentation screen, and other individuals at the meeting. There’s even a boardroom table and the laptop that you typically have in front of you at the boardroom table as well.
Watch this video demonstrating Microsoft’s VR capabilities with Dynamics 365:
Likewise, Teams is also embedded in Meta’s workrooms as well. You can interface with it in the Teams-based environment, or you can work solely within the VR world. This extends how much you can interface with at a given moment. For example, one or two monitors can extend to many, many monitors all over the place if you like.
The Depth of Dynamics 365 Guides
The next concept of virtual reality embedded within Dynamics and other Microsoft solutions is Dynamics 365 Guides. Dynamics 365 Guides allows businesses to overlay virtual, graphically integrated instructions on top of real-world objects. Most notably, this technology is used for quickly training new employees for complex equipment service work. Guides is now also integrated to Teams, which means that remote experts can provide real-time instruction to a lower-level technician effectively. The expert sees and digitally interacts with exactly what the lower-level technician sees and interacts with so they can solve more complicated problems without both workers being in the field.
Watch this video from Microsoft showing Dynamics 365 Guides:
Currently, Dynamics 365 Guides is mostly used at large organizations, but a recent announcement from Microsoft and Meta shows that they are working quickly on providing similar solutions that apply down market.
Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about your Microsoft applications or Dynamics 365 solution.
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