Until recently, most businesses selected, implemented, and managed their customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems separately. CRM handled sales relationships, whereas ERP was charged with organizing back-office functions such as accounting, the supply chain, and human resources. It was not often easy to pass data between these two systems or to get them to talk to one another, and doing so often required costly integrations. That soloed arrangement may finally be fading in favor of a newer, unified model that gives businesses more flexibility and control in managing and enhancing their key business functions.
A Combined CRM–ERP Solution
Earlier this year, Microsoft combined its CRM and ERP solutions into a single offering based on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform called Microsoft Dynamics 365. The new solution consists of several modules that represent distinct business functions, and it supercharges them with several of Microsoft’s core products: Power BI analytics, the Cortina digital assistant, and Microsoft Office 365 integration. On the ERP side, an employee could use a field service app to access IoT data and remediate a problem before it becomes serious. On the CRM side, a sales rep could create an email with a price quote, drawing data directly from both the finance and sales modules without ever leaving Microsoft Outlook. The productivity improvements and opportunities for streamlining recurring business processes show considerable promise for businesses that have struggled to make the most of their soloed CRM and ERP systems.
Capitalizing on Integration with AI-Powered Insights
When formerly disparate platforms like CRM and ERP are joined, there’s a significant opportunity to capitalize on the benefit of the combined insights they offer. Relationship Insights for Dynamics 365, in preview as of this writing, represents Microsoft’s first step in this direction. It takes advantage of Azure artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to take a holistic look at both Dynamics 365 and Outlook data, providing analytics insights to reveal hidden sales opportunities and proactively guide reps toward concrete actions that can close deals and drive revenue. The suggestions it provides are context aware, so they are intended to be relevant to the work a sales rep is doing in real time. This new feature seems to be in line with an overall trend, particularly in the CRM market, toward providing users with out-of-the-box guidance that otherwise a data scientist would have to create—something few businesses can actually afford.
Heating Up the CRM Market
It’s interesting that Microsoft is pursuing this path in light of its fernery status with Sales force. The two technology firms, bitter rivals turned quasi-partners, are still fundamentally competitors regardless of the increased collaboration they’ve pursued in recent years. Dynamics 365 directly challenges Sales force, which hasn’t yet released a product that combines CRM and ERP. It also competes with Oracle and SAP, two top players in this space. It will be worth keeping a close eye on how the market responds, particularly as existing Dynamics 365 users acclimate to the new version and begin to share their feedback on how well it performs relative to the high expectations surrounding it.