Long gone are the days when you’d be looking to change your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system every five or so years. These days, it’s all about finding a platform that can grow alongside your business – just like Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management.
We caught up with Microsoft’s Finance and Supply Chain Management Product Marketing Manager, Adam Stewart, to talk about why Microsoft is a strong contender in the ERP space and what the future looks like for their ERP offerings.
First, here’s Adam introducing himself and talking a little bit about his role at Microsoft:
What should organisations be thinking about when considering a move to a new ERP system?
There’s a lot of factors to consider here, but what’s top of mind and business critical right now, I would say is: what’s important to you in your industry today and tomorrow? Across many industries we’re witnessing unprecedented change, which drives the need for speed and agility. Change is unique to each industry, so each business will face its own unique use cases for how they want to use these business-critical systems.
It’s really becoming clear that the traditional separation of ERP and customer relationship management (CRM) is starting to go away as the front and back start to blur into one. For example, a facilities management company might have a maintenance technician completing a day’s assignment using what might traditionally be a front office solution, like Dynamics 365 Field Service but now, with end-to-end business solutions, they could go into what would traditionally be a back office procurement or finance system and maybe check up on inventory for a replacement part, place an order for that part or even generate a quote for a customer based on live pricing.
It’s these business-specific use cases that almost create a checklist of factors that are most important when looking for an ERP solution. What I would say is the most important factors are those that are outside of the ERP system itself. What does an end-to-end process look like for your business in your industry? Really evaluate an ERP solution that can connect into that. You want to try and drive a holistic vision, rather than a siloed implementation, so think about the role your ERP solution plays in your business, rather than having the system as the sole focus.
Why should organisations be seriously considering Microsoft as an ERP provider?
It’s important to know that Microsoft has legacy in the ERP space. We’ve previously offered on-premise solutions such as AX and Navision, but we’re modernised now with cloud solutions that extend beyond traditional capability.
I think businesses should be considering Microsoft in this space for all the reasons that they already know Microsoft: we’re one of the most trusted technology companies in the world. We’re a leader in modern workplace solutions and every day, people are using Office, Outlook and now Teams. So, really, businesses shouldn’t be thinking of Microsoft as an ERP vendor – they should think of Microsoft as an end-to-end technology partner. And that’s how we deliver our solutions, everything is built using Azure to underpin our technology with security and scalability and we’re connecting into tools that businesses already use on a day-to-day basis.
We’re trusted by the world’s leading businesses – 97 per cent of Fortune 500 businesses are using a Microsoft Business Applications solution – so, if we’re thinking about true digital transformation, Microsoft needs to be in the conversation.
What makes Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management different from other offerings in the market?
The number one differentiator is Microsoft itself and the complete technology stack we offer. Even if you purchase Dynamics 365 in isolation, it’s not delivered as standalone. We build these solutions on top of Microsoft Azure to lead with the highest levels of security and compliance and to give customers the confidence of scalability.
These solutions will expand and be with them through their own growth plans and we bring truly native integration into tools already being used, like Outlook and Power BI, to service insights to employees in the tools they’re already using.
We offer endless extensibility through the Power Platform, which is also speeding up the time to value – solutions can be built and deployed from the get-go. It’s that complete vision, that complete stack, that really does differentiate us from the rest of the market.
Choosing the right ERP cloud system can be tricky. Do you have any advice for organisations currently facing the decision?
It’s tough, right? Sometimes it’s like open heart surgery trying to change one of these business-critical systems, but it deserves some time and effort and we found there’s actually a nine times higher return from projects that consider the desirability of a solution rather than the viability and feasibility alone.
At Microsoft, one of the ways we deliver this is by working closely with partners like Tisski to take customers through what we call our Catalyst journey and through the IDEA framework to support that discovery. There’s four stages we suggest customers go through. First of all, to inspire them on what’s possible – what are those use cases and the possibilities from the platforms? Secondly, it’s to help design a solution that matches those needs. Thirdly, it’s to empower the customer to understand the full transformation value and get buy-in across the organisation, because this is no longer siloed to specific business departments. Finally, the achieve stage, to bring it all to life in a final delivery and post-sales support.
Microsoft supports partners like Tisski to deliver exceptional value to customers through things such an Envisioning Workshops, business value assessments and demos, so my advice is to commit the time and effort to that journey. It’s no longer a moment in time fix – it’s a complete transformation and you need to think about what that future roadmap over five, ten years can look like to get a return from a solution that’s desirable rather than just feasible at this moment in time.
What is evergreen ERP? Why is it important for those considering a cloud-first ERP system, like Finance and Supply Chain Management?
Historically, software solutions were sold as perpetual licences with maintenance fees, but with markets changing at speed, Microsoft understood that solutions also needed to be agile, to change and adapt with markets. Our solutions now are evergreen, which means customers always have the latest and greatest versions available to them.
You can go online and see information about our bi-annual release waves that bring larger functionality and improvements, so we put our money where our mouth is by backing up this future product set.
This is important because it means you aren’t just making an investment for today anymore; you’re making an investment in the future of that technology vendor. By choosing Dynamics 365, is shows you understand the future value and the continuous development that Microsoft will bring.
Businesses can no longer afford to go through the five-year cycles of replacing back-end systems – it’s too expensive with time and money. What’s important now is starting a journey on a platform that stays with you as you evolve over time.
What’s the one thing an organisation should ask their ERP vendor before giving the green light on an ERP project?
I think almost be brave and ask for your dream scenarios and your dream use cases. A lot of the time I see the barrier for customers is understanding the art of the possible for what can be done with today’s technology. Unique business cases can be solved through extensibility of the core platform or through things like the Power Platform by bringing brand new functionality. Take your dream use cases and ask to try and make it possible and think across the whole organisation, rather than focusing on a single department.
Also, ask what future benefit will look like to make sure your growth plans align with those of your technology vendor.
What do you see as the future for Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management?
I think the future will continue to blur the lines between ERP and CRM, and Finance and Supply Chain Management will continue to play a pivotal role in those end-to-end business transformations.
It’s not going to be a ‘rip and replace’ finance project, it’s going to be a component to a bigger conversation around what role does it play in transformation for a retailer looking to bring modern stores and digital experiences or a manufacturer expanding across warehouses and connecting into intelligent order management, for example. It’ll remain the bedrock to a wider conversation.
I’m really excited to see how customers are going to expand on Dynamics 365 with the Power Platform. It’s a low-code platform that will pose an opportunity for customers to discover brand new value in functionality and realise that in a much faster timeframe. We’re going to see new innovations and I really look forward to seeing how that impacts customers around the UK.