Microsoft expands business apps with simplified CRM and more

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Microsoft today unveiled a massive set of updates aimed at improving its business applications, including its Dynamics 365 suite and Power BI analytics service.

The new products and features are designed to make the technology giant more competitive against the likes of Salesforce, Tableau, Oracle, SAP, and others. While Microsoft’s business applications haven’t always been important to the tech giant, it has focused over the past few years on making them increasingly competitive and central to its business.

To start, Microsoft announced a new Dynamics 365 for Sales Professional service that’s supposed to provide a lighter-weight customer relationship management (CRM) system for smaller businesses that don’t need the full power of Dynamics 365 for Sales.

Dynamics 365 for Marketing, which was introduced in beta last year, will become generally available and provides marketing automation capabilities for customers so they can better plan the impact of their campaigns.

James Phillips, VP in charge of the Business Applications Group, said the company still values its partnership with Adobe, which offers its own Marketing Cloud suite. In his view, enterprises that need powerful marketing automation capabilities will be better served by Microsoft’s partner. But customers were asking for a simple, business-to-business marketing software offering, and Microsoft wanted to fill that need.

Microsoft also unveiled a new Common Data Service for Analytics, which is designed to provide a consistent platform for data analysis with a single schema. The service, combined with Microsoft’s Power Query technology, allows companies to pull in data from multiple sources and put it all in one consistent form. That’s a first step that will help enable the forthcoming Power BI Insights apps, which will provide customers with pre-built intelligent dashboards based on the data they provide Microsoft’s analytics service.

The first two apps, which are expected to launch this spring, are Power BI for Sales Insights, and Power BI for Service Insights. For example, Sales Insights will provide salespeople with information about how they are performing, along with a score for how their customer relationships are going. Those capabilities seem similar to Sales Cloud Einstein features Salesforce has made available to its customers.

In addition to Power BI, customers can pipe information from the Common Data Service for Analytics into Microsoft Azure for further processing through services like Azure Machine learning or Azure Databricks. Microsoft will also make it possible for third parties to extend the CDS for Analytics schema and build additional applications on top of it.

Ingesting data into the Common Data Service for Analytics does require some initial setup if customers are importing information from sources that don’t conform to its schema. However, once they’ve set up rules in Power Query, the system’s ingestion will continue unabated.

Microsoft has even more in the works for its business applications. Phillips told VentureBeat that the company is working on enhancing customers’ business apps with its proprietary data to make them more valuable.