Microsoft Injects New AI Features Into Dynamics 365

Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled several new artificial intelligence capabilities across Dynamics 365 applications and a new solution to help project-centric services organizations transform their operations.

The AI enhancements include first- and third-party data connections in Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, Microsoft’s customer data platform (CDP).

“The work in AI and CDP is new and a key part of Microsoft taking their products to an AI-driven approach,” noted Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

The company also unveiled new manual and predictive forecasting capabilities for Dynamics 365 Sales and Dynamic 365 Sales Insights.

“Integration with the CDP is important, but more important will be the ability to automate transactions and apply AI to drive the next best action,” Wang told CRM Buyer. “We’re seeing a need to deliver on ambient experiences which are subtle, next best actions.”

Microsoft is also making Customer Insights available to government agencies that previously could not access this feature for their cloud computing environments.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations, which connects cross-functional project teams, will be generally available on Oct. 1.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance Insights, slated for preview in May, will bring AI into an organization’s finance processes, automating or eliminating repetitive, time-consuming, and low-value daily activities so organizations can understand and act on their cash position and take proactive actions to improve it.

“Having a clear view from sales, service, and finance for the marketer looking to drive growth through customer engagements that are both creative and contextual is pure gold,” observed Liz Miller, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Making customer intelligence part of the workflow “helps to remove some of what makes bridging the gaps set up by data silos so hard,” she told CRM Buyer.

Beefing Up Customer Insights

Dynamics 365 Customer Insights’ new first- and third-party data connections add proprietary audience intelligence and data from third-party data sources to customer profiles that can be updated and activated in real time.

Integrating Microsoft Forms Pro will bring in the customer’s voice across channels so enterprises can act on insights based on customers’ changing behavior and perceptions.

Customer Insights can be used with Azure Synapse Analytics, which combines customer data with enterprise and streaming data, to improve data completeness, run high-speed analytical processing, and build custom machine learning models. Those models can predict customer needs and provide guidance on the next best action to reduce churn and maximize revenue opportunities.

“This shows Microsoft bringing the power of its whole portfolio to business applications with Azure Synapse Analytics and Forms Pro,” remarked Rebecca Wettemann, principal at Valoir.

“Synapse Analytics is SQL Data Warehouse, so companies — and Microsoft partners — with SQL skills and resources will be well positioned to take advantage of its speed and scale,” she told CRM Buyer.

Enterprises can use prebuilt APIs to act upon these insights in real time across multiple destinations to enable Website personalization, dynamic marketing campaigns, effective ad targeting, and dealing with clients on-site, said James Phillips, president of Microsoft Business Applications.

“Microsoft’s tools by nature are comparatively easy to learn and use, and this should be consistent with those expectations,” noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

However, “You break down silos with journeys and process, not integration of APIs,” Constellation’s Wang pointed out. “End-to-end flows that power decisions provide a solution.”

Tools for the Sales Team

Dynamics 365 extracts patterns from CRM data, current and historical leads, won or lost opportunities, contacts, accounts, customer interactions, and other data sources, and projects these patterns into the future to provide predictive forecasting for Dynamics 365 Sales and Dynamic 365 Sales Insights.

These insights can be accessed without the need for data scientists or tech experts.

“The prediction and forecasting is only as good as the data, so training data will be key to success,” Wang observed. “You need more high-quality data sources in order to build precision decision models.”

A new engagement center provides sellers with their own AI-prioritized work queue — based on built-in predictive scoring from Dynamics 365 Sales Insights — that uses new, configurable sales cadences. Other embedded AI capabilities offer a path to a warm introduction and guidance from the assistant.

When considering AI, said Wang, almost every organization asks four questions:

  • When do I trust human judgment?
  • When do I augment human judgment with machines?
  • When do I augment a machine with a human?
  • When do I trust machine automation?

“Microsoft’s announcements bring us one step closer to this autonomous reality,” he remarked.

For Project Operations

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Project Operations is built on Microsoft’s unified business cloud and leverages its expertise in front- and back-office processes and project management.

It aims to break down data silos and to optimize operations from prospect to cash.

“Project Operations is where Microsoft’s breadth capabilities, from finance collaborations to project management, will really shine,” Valoir’s Wettemann noted. “It’s another example of Microsoft bringing its portfolio game to the business apps space. The value of end-to-end visibility and collaboration is broadly applicable.”

That said, “These are data and process flow tools, but silos are often more behavioral and political rather than technical,” Enderle told CRM Buyer. “So, while these tools will certainly help, to get the full benefit, managers will have to continue to train people to break these data silos.”

Finance Insights

Finance Insights will bring AI into an organization’s finance processes, automating or eliminating repetitive, time-consuming, and low-value daily activities so organizations can focus on working with their cash position.

“Dynamic Finance Insights can really help companies move the needle where it matters, not just by automating manual tasks but by leveraging AI to rapidly understand finance data and act on it together to manage cash,” Wettemann observed.

The Big Picture

The announcements “represent an important strategic move for Microsoft, trying to beat the bigger players — Salesforce, Oracle, SAP — by having a better-integrated portfolio, though the proof is yet to come,” said Nicole France, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Microsoft is also “competing with smaller, younger competitors such as Zoho, Freshworks, and Zendesk, who have been building integrated capabilities that span marketing, sales, service and sometimes more, with consistent, straightforward interfaces for users,” she told CRM Buyer.

However, things like customer data integration “are not simply a technology or application integration challenge,” France noted. They require consistent definitions and improved processes as well.

Good Microsoft technical skills are out there, and many enterprises already have significant internal Microsoft teams, she said, but “the big question is whether those organizations have tight links between technology experts and business experts.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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