In advance of the eagerly awaited Microsoft Dynamics AX version 4.0 release in 2006, Microsoft's Business Solutions group has unveiled another addition to the extended Dynamics AX enterprise software family. The company and its partners have turned their attention to salesforce mobility, taking advantage of new Exchange Server features.
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The Dynamics Mobile Sales Assistant is further evidence that Microsoft is gearing up to hit the market with a splash with its Dynamics AX product in 2006-2007. Mobile Sales Assistant could evolve to be attractive as a standard Windows-based mobility alternative to hosted products from salesforce.com, SAP or Oracle.
There is a trend emerging in Europe that could be set to invigorate the enterprise applications market in the next two to three years.
Every other day I seem to come across companies that have resolved to evaluate Dynamics AX (formerly Axapta) as a potential legacy enterprise resource planning replacement strategy or regional (spoke) system under a large enterprise (hub) deployment.
Dynamics AX is recognised for its architectural prowess. It is structured well and is easily expanded. It is also receiving enormous attention from Microsoft's research and development team, so the functionality of the core product is maturing rapidly. It should also take advantage of the upcoming enhancement to the Windows environment.
European suppliers and service providers are also showing great interest in the product. As an indicator, two-thirds of the service providers in Russia count the product alongside SAP and Oracle in terms of importance and potential to support their growth plans. Some even position it as having greater potential. It is clearly Microsoft's flagship application for medium to large businesses in Europe.
The newest development, announced by Microsoft's Danish headquarters, home of the Microsoft Dynamics AX development team, is a salesforce mobility product. It is being piloted at Danish snack manufacturer Kims.
Kims, coincidentally the same company that implemented Microsoft's first radio frequency identification system, has already seen benefits. It claims to be the first Danish company with a 100% mobile salesforce, providing real-time point of sale data in the field, including customer-related analytics to aid cross-selling and account management.
The product has freed 15% of back-office order handling resources, with projected 30 days per year savings in functions such as printing, packaging and materials distribution.
It also means that the salesforce can be proactive, thanks to push e-mail technology. This is available as part of Exchange Server 2003, Service Pack 2.
Kims estimates that increased stock visibility will make it easier for the salesforce to control the order process, which could lead to a 50% reduction in lost goods. Staff will also be able to alter and consolidate dynamically orders that are already being packed, reducing delivery frequency and cost.
This is not the first of its kind on the market, but it does have the potential to be far reaching. Microsoft is already considering how the same Windows Mobile 5.0-based technology could be used in areas such as field service, on the manufacturing shop floor, or in a retail environment. It could be invaluable to a salesperson wandering around a retail store and needing real-time information about supplies, pricing, quality and promotions.
But the potential is even greater. Although Microsoft stresses that the Mobile Sales Assistant has been developed to use its own applications, other suppliers might not feel the same way.
Because the products are built independently of the back-office system, other suppliers may see the opportunity to offer vertical industry/process products over salesforce automation systems from companies such as salesforce.com, SAP or Oracle.
The Mobile Sales Assistant is only Windows-based. Companies requiring Blackberry support would need to look to firms such as Vettro. In addition, this is only a pilot. Packaging it for the various markets and technology partners will take time, so it is unlikely that it will be available for another year.
It is not yet clear how it might complement or conflict with activities across Microsoft or outside the Microsoft Dynamics group. It is, however, further evidence of the mounting value proposition being compiled by the Microsoft Dynamics team.
Microsoft's Dynamic AX team developed its salesforce mobility product in conjunction with a series of partners:
- Symbol developed a "sales executive-proof" handheld device, specifically for pilot customer Kims. According to Microsoft, the most common reason for PDAs being damaged is being run over by a car. Apparently salespeople are prone to leave them on the roof of their vehicle when they drive off.
- Handstep, small Danish developer, created the Windows-based software system.
- TDC Mobil (Danish Telecom), worked on data transfer and security encryption.
- Knudsen Consulting created firewall security enhancements.
- Tectura acted as an implementation partner.
Nigel Montgomery is director of European research at analyst firm AMR