BARCELONA: Microsoft has revealed a batch of updates and features for Office 365, Dynamics CRM and Skype for Business to bring its software products closer together.
The goal of the new features and integrations is to make users more productive and enable people to work together more effectively.
Microsoft announced the worldwide availability of Dynamics CRM, its customer relationship management (CRM) software, at the company's Convergence 2015 conference in Barcelona.
Dynamics CRM has already received tighter integration with Office and other Microsoft productivity tools, and received the notable addition of Microsoft's machine learning capabilities, commonly found in the Azure ML service.
This enables sales representatives and customer service agents to see recommendations served by the Azure machine learning models, such as products the customer might be interested in buying based on their data and interactions through the CRM system.
The idea is to enable users to quickly offer more personalised services and interactions with customers or clients without needing to sift through reams of data.
Microsoft also revealed that the Office 365 cloud-powered productivity suite has gained several new features.
The first is a series of security and compliance features that give administrators more control over who has access to data in Office 365. The Advanced eDiscovery tool adds machine learning and text analytics to Office 365 to reduce the cost and risk of managing large quantities during e-discovery in litigation or government investigations.
The second is what appears to be the tighter integration of Microsoft's Power BI data visualisation tool, and a new feature called Delve Analytics that takes the Office Graph-powered machine learning capability of the Delve app and adds it to Office 365.
Skype for Business
Microsoft's enterprise version of Skype now has several new features, including the ability to dial into meetings from a traditional phone and join people using Skype in its traditional video call format.
The cloud-powered private branch exchange (PBX) feature enables enterprises to cut out the need for separate PBX systems required to manage calls between local and external phone lines, while PSTN calling allows Office 365 users to opt for Microsoft-managed calling plans and phone numbers.
Finally, a new feature called Skype Meeting Broadcast allows the creation of meetings with up to 10,000 attendees who can join from any browser or device.
The updates were unveiled alongside Microsoft's introduction of its PowerApps service, a tool that allows the easy building of mobile apps with access to corporate data in enterprise applications.
Converging at Convergence
The product updates revealed in the opening keynote were nothing particularly ground-breaking, but they do indicate an evolution of the convergence of various platforms, software and services highlighted in another Convergence event in Atlanta earlier this year.
Effectively, the product evolutions are indicative of chief executive Satya Nadella's empowerment ethos being put into action.
Alexandros Stratis, enterprise applications research analyst at IDC, told V3 that the he sees Microsoft's building of its products as a good move and a clear strategy.
"With Office 365 it's definitely a step in the right direction because we see that collaborative documents and collaborative workflows are becoming more and more important in [enterprises]. It's changing the way people are doing their work so I think that's definitely a step in the right direction," he said.
However, Stratis was a little less convinced by the introduction of PowerApps, although he noted that it has its place in parts of the development world.
"The good thing about PowerApps is it has a lot of integrated capabilities good for early adopters because it's their idea combined with user experience and gives the opportunity to combine data that's already existing therefore making [app development] more nimble and streamlined," he said.
"What I want to see is how much of this is nice to have [against] must have. How many salespeople are going to make use of it?" he asked rhetorically.
Gerry Brown, senior analyst at Ovum, told V3 that Microsoft appears to be pursuing a strategy of adding useful additions to its software suite and pulling various services together to break down silos, rather than making a statement of intent as it did in March.
"I thought the things [Microsoft] was pushing forwards were more practical improvements for personal productivity rather than visionary pictures in terms of the future of the industry," he said.
"I think it was evolutionary from the Microsoft stack point of view without being visionary from a completely new perspective. I did think it was a product evolution story trying to add more to existing products, not a market-led story."
It could be argued that Microsoft's first day of the Barcelona leg of the Convergence conferences has been slightly underwhelming, but despite this stepping-stone approach to product evolution the company's strategy seems to be sound and plays to its strengths rather than forcing it to make large leaps of faith or questionable acquisitions and partnerships.
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