Early in October, I was lucky enough to be among hundreds of developers, implementers and technical experts at Directions EMEA 2019 in Vienna, a major conference for Microsoft Dynamics 365 partners. As well as being an opportunity to hear about new releases and best practices directly from Microsoft, Directions acts a forum, allowing the whole Dynamics community to come together to network and collaborate.
Directions has been going since 2008, and though this was my first time there, I know for certain now that it’s going to be a regular feature in our calendar going forward. Not least because of all the electric scooters which delegates could hire to ride around Vienna on (I did around six miles on mine, seriously good fun), but because, with seven talks going on at once throughout each day, there really was something for everyone. If you’re part of the Dynamics world, it’s worth going, regardless of whether your background is technical, sales or marketing.
I discovered some crucial Business Central updates and made it to some really engaging sessions on Power BI and Dynamics Customer Engagement, among others. I networked, met other Dynamics partners and independent software providers, and saw one of our vendors, Cooper Parry, achieve yet more stage time and acclaim after being crowned Business Central Partner of the Year by Microsoft at Inspire in Las Vegas earlier in the year. Congratulations again, guys!
So, now I’ve had a chance to recover from three whirlwind days either scootering around Vienna, or wandering around with our partners taking selfies in front of Gothic-Baroque churches, here are my five key takeaways from Directions EMEA 2019.
Every session I went to and every person I spoke to, mentioned Partner to Partner. It’s a model that basically means you don’t have to have Dynamics capabilities to run Dynamics deployment projects. You can just partner with someone who does through Westcoast Cloud.
One really interesting session I went to discussed Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, specifically how it can integrate a Twitter-style newsfeed into your Dynamics environment. Whenever a person engages with you on social media, visits your website or uses your apps, you’ll get a notification from Dynamics. The data can then be plugged automatically into Power BI using Microsoft Flow, and used to generate reports. These key insights can help you to then build marketing campaigns, or to contact prospects directly.
Before things got fully up and running, organisers set up hidden cameras in key locations throughout the conference. Using Dynamics AI and facial recognition software from Azure Face, they were able to automatically determine the age and gender of attendees, and monitor their attendance at seminars. On the final day, they plugged Power BI into Dynamics AI, and got a good look at who their attendees were and how they engaged with conference activities.
In a simple but ingenious way, the organisers could see at the click of a button how frequently people left seminars early, and at precisely what time. This will help them when organising next year’s event, as they can determine if seminars are too long and what time people start to get bored. It also allowed them to ask more serious questions regarding workplace equality. For instance, are there enough women in tech? (no) Are there too many middle-aged white men in tech? (yes)
With this automated technology, we finally have the answers.
I had the chance to speak with many fellow delegates at the conference. What really struck me was just how strong Dynamics Partners are as a family. They’re a real community. Everyone seems to know everyone else. They see themselves as colleagues, not competitors, which means they’ve nurtured a really strong culture of knowledge sharing. Dynamics isn’t open-source software, but that’s almost what it feels like, with so many professionals all working together to help each other.
It’s often said that marketing is replacing sales as the primary lead producer, and after going to a few marketing seminars at Directions, I’m starting to believe that it might be true. Once upon a time, 80% of leads were produced by the sales team. Today, 60% of leads are produced by marketing. And with the smart, automated solutions available to marketers today, it’s not hard to see why. For instance, Dynamics for Marketing works by automating customer journeys, and using Microsoft Flow to trigger various actions based on events or certain criteria. It makes life much easier for marketers, and can be integrated with Dynamics for Marketing with existing solutions like Office 365 to easily create and nurture leads.
There you have it. My five key takeaways from Directions EMEA 2019. But this isn’t the end of the story. Dynamics is ever-changing. So is technology in general. On the horizon, I can see even more AI features, more VR features, more mixed reality. And at Westcoast Cloud, we like to be at the front of the queue when it comes to new technology and innovation.
So save me a scooter, Vienna. I’ll be back next year.