Top 10 Microsoft Trends to Look for in 2016

As we start off 2016, there are a number of Microsoft announcements, new products and services to look forward to in 2016 – here is the top list of exciting trends we see in 2016 from Microsoft.

1. Power BI Continues Expansion

Power BI was re-launched in 2015 and so far since the summer has had several updates.  The service is now on the same growth in maturity curve that Office 365 was a couple years ago with every month delivering new features, enhancements and announcements.

While still not at the same level as best of breed BI suites such as Tableau or Qlik, Microsoft is very serious about taking on this market and is making massive investments in product development.  Combined with the eco-system play that integrates Power BI with Azure and legacy on premise data sources (all running Microsoft’s products), Power BI will see continued expansion and maturity growth in 2016.

2. SharePoint 2016 Is Released

SharePoint 2016 is the latest version of Microsoft’s on premise collaboration system and will provide a deeper integration with Office 365 to ease the transition to the cloud.  SharePoint 2016 doesn’t have a lot of killer new features other than better hybrid integration but may be the excuse to move some organizations from SharePoint 2007 or 2010 to the latest version and to have a further conversation about what collaboration, intranets and document management mean for a modern organization.

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3. NAV 2016 Comes to the Cloud

NAV is Microsoft’s SMB ERP suite and is positioned between Great Plains and AX as the Swiss army knife of ERP systems.  NAV 2016 is being released soon and will be the key ERP system from Microsoft that is particularly suited to cloud deployments.  For example, it has support for Azure SQL so that you don’t have to run your own SQL cluster in Azure IAAS.  It also has deep integration with both Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online.

For those looking for a cloud ERP solution, NAV 2016 might be the key solution.

4. Bundling of Azure Services

One of the key challenges with dealing with Microsoft Azure is the sheer number of services available in various configurations.  Microsoft has recognized this and is starting to bundle services into packages that can be explained to executives as a suite.  For example, look for the Cortana Suite to be promoted heavily as an end to end data analytics service in 2016.

What is Cortana Analytics

Another example is the IoT Suite which is a bundling of IoT Hub, Machine Learning, Stream Analytics, Notification Hubs and Power BI. 

These suites align the hundreds of Azure services now into specific purpose built bundles to sell to executives looking for big data, IoT, etc.

5. Machine Learning Solutions for Business

Machine learning is an exciting set of technologies, processes and techniques that allows for prediction based on statistical models.  Microsoft released Azure-ML which provides a workbench in the cloud for running machine learning experiments and creating analysis models. 

Expect Microsoft to move up the value chain with machine learning and start providing more business friendly and targeted industry solutions.  They have already worked on algorithms for basic processes such as fraud detection, production recommendations, etc. – expect this to continue and expand in 2016. 

6. SQL Server 2016 Released with New Reporting Capabilities

Microsoft bought a company called DataZen in 2015, acquiring some mobile business intelligence technologies for providing dashboards.  This technology is now being integrated into the new SQL Server Reporting Services as part of SQL 2016. 

With Power BI evolving in the cloud, SQL Server 2016 will provide a much needed update to SQL Server Reporting Services including support for responsive HTML 5 reports, mobile dashboards and integration of Power BI into SSRS and vice versa.

7. CRM 2016 Released Integrating Recent Acquisitions

Microsoft acquired a number of companies in the CRM space in 2016 including FieldOne and ADX Studio.  Microsoft will release CRM 2016 that provides a number of new features and integrates these new acquisitions into the product.

With the FieldOne acquisition, Microsoft Dynamics CRM will now provide field service management capabilities into Dynamics CRM including scheduling of work orders, work force management, etc.

8. Microsoft’s Azure Big Data Services Mature

Microsoft released a number of big data services in 2015 including Azure Data Warehouse, Azure Data Lake, Spark on HDInsight and Azure Data Catalog in preview.  In addition, services such as Azure SQL and HDInsight have been upgraded significantly since their first release.  While the services are there, they don’t all quite integrate together and they have differing levels of maturity.

Expect further consolidation and investment in the Big Data services eco-system as Microsoft is investing heavily in this area.  Many of the services currently in preview will be released as general availability in 2016 and considered to be production ready.

9. Microsoft Goes RAD Again

Microsoft has been a pioneer with Rapid Application Development tools going back to the days of Visual Basic and Microsoft Access.  They have continued to try and provide a set of development tools for light weight development scenarios in various flavors including LightSwitch, InfoPath, Silverlight, SharePoint, CRM, etc.

Recently, Microsoft has been releasing a number of tools for building applications without hard core development required.  These include:

  • Microsoft Power Apps
  • Azure App Service
  • Microsoft Office Sway

While Sway isn’t strictly a development platform, it provides interactive HTML 5 based content delivery using Office 365.  Power Apps provides a pseudo application development platform for creating applications based on Office 365 content and other cloud services.  The Azure App Service provides the ability to create logic apps that integrate data from various cloud services into business process workflows.

All of these tools are trying to accomplish the same objective – allow businesses to use the Microsoft tools and services with reduced complexity, faster time to market and less reliance on developers to build applications with basic requirements.

10 Organizations Lag Behind

With all these new services, the reality is that most organizations won’t adopt them in 2016.  There are lots of organizations who are still on SQL 2005, SharePoint 2010 or CRM 4.0.  Organizations will struggle to adopt these new services as the pace at which Microsoft is pushing out releases is now outstripping the ability for organizations to leverage these new technologies and deploy them successfully.

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Microsoft to Encourage CRM Adoption Through New Gamification Platform

Microsoft has acquired Incent Games, the developer of a gamification platform for encouraging CRM adoption and boosting sales productivity.

The product takes the traditional sales contest and redefines the process to engage sales reps in a more meaningful way that focus on the entire team instead of the top performers.  The platform allows you to define targets, generate leaderboards, create fantasy sales teams to encourage increased sales activity.

In the coming months, we will integrate and offer this service to our customers and will continue to support customers using FantasySalesTeam with other CRM solutions. The potential of applying this feature beyond the sales scenario to other fields and areas within a business is exciting as well. We will evaluate these other scenarios closely as we integrate and evolve FantasySalesTeam into the Dynamics ecosystem.

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New Server to Server Integration with CRM Online and SharePoint provides much more Limited Functionality

Dynamics CRM has supported integration with SharePoint for many years through the documents tab in Dynamics CRM.  The integration allows a CRM user to upload documents into SharePoint through CRM instead of having documents stored as attachments in the CRM database.

The original CRM integration was done using client side integration (e.g. an IFrame) and required deployment of a sandbox solution to the SharePoint farm to enable it. 

There is a new server side integration available with the latest update to CRM online.  You can switch to this integration by clicking on the “enable server based SharePoint integration” in the settings menu for document management.

Enable server-based SharePoint integration

The potential advantage to this approach is that the interface is no longer an IFrame and instead is native CRM functionality.  You no longer have to sign-in to SharePoint – CRM negotiates the authentication for you in the background.  There is also no need for installation of a sandbox solution (which are being deprecated) in your SharePoint environment.

However, before you activate this feature, be prepared for some significant loss in functionality.  See this article for specific details from Microsoft.

Once You Enable Server Based Integration, You’re Stuck With It

Once you enable server-based SharePoint integration, there is no method available to roll-back to the older method. 

No Support for SharePoint Commands

The client side integration with SharePoint surfaces a standard document library and provides direct access to standard SharePoint commands such as Alert Me, Download a Copy, Copy Shortcut, Send ShortCut, View Properties and Version History.  The server side integration does not support this functionality – you have to open up the provided link to SharePoint to access these commands.

Open SharePoint Team Site

No Support for Content Types and Extended Metadata Properties

One of the key concepts in SharePoint is applying metadata attributes to documents through content types.  Content types define types of documents and prescribe the optional or required metadata attributes to be supplied by the user when uploading or creating a document.

Here is an example document library that I configured with content types and a required metadata attribute for address.

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For the content type Contoso NDA, I have a required field Address that should be supplied in order for the document to be valid.  SharePoint enforces this when you upload a document to the document library.

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However, when you upload a document through CRM’s server side integration, there is no support for either content types or additional metadata attributes beyond Name and Title.

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The same document properties in CRM only show Name and Title and don’t allow you to switch content types at all.

If you upload a document through CRM’s user interface, it assign the document to the default content type for the library.  It will not show any extended properties, such as our required Address field.  When you try to check in the document, you’ll get the following error:

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If You’re Using Content Types and Metadata, Server Side Integration is Limited

If you’re using content types or metadata beyond just a bunch of documents thrown into a folder, the current server side integration is very limited.  Before you click on the button and enable server side integration with SharePoint, especially given that there is no way to revert your decision, you should review your information management needs for managing documents in SharePoint as the current server side integration will probably not meet your needs if you’re trying to support a proper taxonomy, document management life cycle, records management, etc. in SharePoint.

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