This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Microsoft Ignite 2017 conference coverage

Dynamics 365 CRM can help drive the digital transformation process

At Ignite, Microsoft predicts the future -- and it's one that centers on Dynamics 365, artificial intelligence and digital transformation.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Companies of all sizes in all industries are currently in a state of transition: Either update those legacy systems or risk being left behind.

But successfully enacting a digital transformation process can be time-consuming, costly and difficult, depending on the workforce. Yet, as consumers demand personalized customer experiences and services, the companies that can adapt will continue to thrive.

"Personalization is becoming the de facto standardization," said Winston Hait, senior product marketing manager for Microsoft. Hait was speaking at a session on Dynamics 365 for retail at Microsoft Ignite. Dynamics 365 CRM had a substantial presence at the conference, with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella highlighting the potential for Dynamics 365 CRM moving forward.

Over the past year and a half, Microsoft has brought together its ERP and CRM systems into Dynamics 365, while also releasing industry-specific Dynamics software, including Dynamics 365 for retail, for talent, for service, and for finance and operations -- and with an eye toward more industry segregation.

"Retail used to be one of the solutions within Dynamics for finance and operations," Hait said. "But we began to break out the different workloads -- and this is just the beginning. We'll have a finance-specific [product], we'll have an operations [product] and a warehousing [product]."

And to help keep up with that modern digital transformation process, Dynamics 365 products will also see an artificial intelligence (AI) influence embedded into the software, according to Nadella.

"It's not about building individual tools, but creating that platform to drive digital transformation," Nadella said. "When you create such a rich data asset, what you enable is AI-first workloads."

Updating legacy systems

At one of the sessions focusing on the digital transformation process, there were representatives from four different companies -- two in the public sector, one in food services and one in finance -- all of which were going through some digital transformation process.

It's not about building individual tools, but creating that platform to drive digital transformation.
Satya NadellaCEO, Microsoft

"We're moving from a legacy-based Siebel system to a cloud-based Dynamics 365 platform," said Pierre Nejam, program director at New York City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. "We have some difficult customers -- New Yorkers -- and we're always trying to find better ways to do things."

Others, like Richard Wilson, head of single customer view and CRM product for Wesleyan, a financial services company based out of the United Kingdom, is tasked with updating decades of legacy systems.

"We've been around for 176 years," Wilson said, "and so has some of our technology."

For Wilson, the financial industry tends to adopt technology slower than other industries due to complex processes and strict regulations. But when modernizing its platform to benefit its customers, the company had to look outside the scope of financial services for its digital transformation process.

"Everyone's expectations are changing," Wilson said. "We have to stop comparing ourselves to other financial companies. You have to compare yourself to what everyone is doing."

Transformation 'is a permanent effort'

Digital transformations aren't a one-time IT project or objective that is ever really completed, according to Nejam.

"In a city like New York, transformation isn't something you do once or twice; you do it all the time," Nejam said. "It's a permanent effort."

This is why Microsoft has continuously updated and modernized its business applications products, offering hybrid Dynamics 365 options and cloud-based Office suite products.

"It's a matter of taking the customer relationships and changing the current business model and enhancing new technology," said Kathy Piontek, global Microsoft executive for IBM's global business services. "We hear that folks are drowning in data. There's an explosion of data, and we want to take it and leverage that data and use it to make decisions moving forward."

And while data and the mobility of cloud technology are key drivers in a digital transformation process, the focus, according to those going through the transformation, should remain on the customer.

"People have no patience for being behind or slowed down," said Mary Alice Callaway, vice president of sales and marketing for ABC/Interbake Foods LLC, which is a manufacturer of Girl Scout cookies. "There's really no choice on the business side for much longer."

'Not for the sake of change'

While a digital transformation process can sound like fun to the IT department and act as a potential source of job security as the new processes are put into place, there needs to be a purpose to the project, not doing it only for the sake of new technology.

"We're doing a transformation not for the sake of change, but to meet our needs," said John Harrison, director of information technology for New Jersey's Department of Community Affairs.

When approaching this project, Harrison said he had familiarity with Salesforce, but ultimately chose Dynamics 365 after comparing several CRM platforms.

"With Dynamics, we can keep modernizing," Harrison said. "It's an evergreen system and is constantly updated."

Dynamics 365 CRM pricing varies depending on the product bundle and whether your company is looking for a business or enterprise edition. More pricing information can be found at Microsoft's Dynamics 365 website.

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