Microsoft Ignite Announces AI and Bots to Boot

This is our third post covering announcements from Microsoft Ignite in as many days, but there is a lot to talk about following this conference!

Building off much of what Microsoft unveiled at the Inspire conference in July, the company announced new products and innovations that span Azure, Bing, Office 365, Dynamics 365, Windows 10 S, Microsoft Teams, artificial intelligence (AI), security and threat protection, plus a host of developer announcements around SQL Sever 2017 and beyond.

Yes, we said AI. And bots to boot. This isn’t a science fiction movie plot – it’s a reality for businesses, made possible by Microsoft.

New Dynamics 365 AI solutions, such as chatbots and virtual agents, are designed to augment existing customer support and sales processes with intelligent assistant technology and natural language processing (NLP). These agents are already in production within Microsoft Support operations and in pilot with customers – HP and Macy’s are already using the new chatbot to help handle customer queries so that people can get their responses faster. The virtual agents can also integrate with third-party chat apps through the Microsoft Bot Framework, letting them live in apps such as Facebook Messenger, Kik, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Slack.

Microsoft also announced a preview of updates to Azure Machine Learning: Azure CosmosDB and Azure Functions. These offer developers and data scientists a new set of AI model management tools leveraging open-source frameworks. The Azure CosmosDB database service and server-less Azure Functions offering lets developers write a few lines of code that can tie ML into Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, database changes, and more.

Use AI to solve business problems

Vision
Image-processing algorithms to smartly identify, caption and moderate your pictures.

Speech
Convert spoken audio into text, use voice for verification, or add speaker recognition to your app.

Knowledge
Map complex information and data in order to solve tasks such as intelligent recommendations and semantic search.

Search
Add Bing Search APIs to your apps and harness the ability to comb billions of webpages, images, videos, and news with a single API call.

Language
Allow your apps to process natural language with pre-built scripts, evaluate sentiment and learn how to recognize what users want.

What does all of this mean for Dynamics 365 users? Better customer service for one. Imagine having AI and chatbots continually trolling the Internet for you to determine if, and how, your customers or prospects are talking about you. You would have the ability to proactively solve customer service problems before they become a PR nightmare.

Let us know if we can answer any questions about these or other announcements from Inspire.

Best regards,

Robbie Morrison
Chief Solution Strategist, SBS Group

About Robbie
Robbie Morrison has spent nearly 20 years helping customers build and deploy elegant technology and business solutions.  From start-ups to enterprise-class organizations worldwide, his knowledge of the Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem and Robbie-2017products helps SBS Group customers maximize ROI on technology investments.

Today, Robbie serves SBS Group customers in his role as Chief Solution Strategist where he provides thought leadership and manages the development of B2B solutions.  Robbie received his MBA from the University of Georgia, Terry College of Business.
https://www.linkedin.com/in/robbiemorrison

 

10 Questions Companies Forget to Ask During an ERP Sales Cycle: Part 2

Welcome back! Last week, we talked about the first five questions that companies forget to ask during an ERP sales cycle. This week, we will talk about questions 6-10.

6. How will you, as the ERP provider, help support and foster the change the new software will bring to my organization?

A successful ERP implementation can help your organization streamline workflow and cut costs, but a poorly planned and implemented ERP rollout can severely cost your organization, in terms of lost productivity and delays. Make sure that you properly vet your ERP vendors, and talk to their service people who will be executing the rollout. Conference room pilots and service plans are important.

7. Is every cloud solution the same thing?

The answer to this question is no. There is private cloud, public cloud, hybrid, single tenant, multi-tenant, etc. Microsoft offers a huge amount of services, far richer than any other cloud services vendor. SBS Group works with our customers to customize cloud solutions for your particular needs and wants: private, public or a hybrid approach integrating existing clouds and on-prem.

Is your application suddenly trending on Twitter? Microsoft Azure has a free autoscale feature that can help you during unexpected traffic spikes, by automatically scaling up or down to meet demand, while simultaneously minimizing costs.

cloud-service-typesTop benefits of cloud computing

Cloud computing is a big shift from the traditional way businesses think about IT resources. What is it about cloud computing? Why is cloud computing so popular? Here are 6 common reasons organizations are turning to cloud computing services:

1. Cost
Cloud computing eliminates the capital expense of buying hardware and software and setting up and running on-site datacenters—the racks of servers, the round-the-clock electricity for power and cooling, the IT experts for managing the infrastructure. It adds up fast.

2. Speed
Most cloud computing services are provided self service and on demand, so even vast amounts of computing resources can be provisioned in minutes, typically with just a few mouse clicks, giving businesses a lot of flexibility and taking the pressure off capacity planning.

3. Global scale
The benefits of cloud computing services include the ability to scale elastically. In cloud speak, that means delivering the right amount of IT resources—for example, more or less computing power, storage, bandwidth—right when its needed, and from the right geographic location.

4. Productivity
On-site datacenters typically require a lot of “racking and stacking”—hardware set up, software patching, and other time-consuming IT management chores. Cloud computing removes the need for many of these tasks, so IT teams can spend time on achieving more important business goals.

5. Performance
The biggest cloud computing services run on a worldwide network of secure datacenters, which are regularly upgraded to the latest generation of fast and efficient computing hardware. This offers several benefits over a single corporate datacenter, including reduced network latency for applications and greater economies of scale.

6. Reliability
Cloud computing makes data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity easier and less expensive, because data can be mirrored at multiple redundant sites on the cloud provider’s network.

8. Can you help me understand that a little better?

This question is so important. Make sure that you don’t leave a sales cycle without all of your questions answered. This will help you make the best decision for your organization. Your ERP system is only as good as the data that is in it. So, if you want your ERP implementation to succeed, it is imperative that proper programming and procedural parameters are put in place right from the start to minimize the likelihood of errors. We can help you with this, and we want to make sure that all of your questions are answered.

9. Is it important to decommission my legacy applications?

The answer is a resounding yes. If you do not actively work to decommission applications during the implementation, the result is an ERP system with all of the original legacy applications hanging off of it. Another piece of software that you are paying maintenance and support on, paying for hardware and upgrades, and paying for interfaces back into the core ERP. The point of implementing a new ERP system is to streamline workflow and reduce costs and waste, not increase fees.

10. What does a digital transformation really mean?

There’s a lot of talk about digital transformations these days. According to a recent CIO article, what many CIOs describe as a digital transformation actually isn’t. Mobile apps, AI-based chatbots, analytics and other digital services are often used to augment existing services. Gartner analyst Hung LeHong, whose job includes sussing out whether companies are conducting a “digital business transformation” or a “digital business optimization,” said “In a nutshell, we reserve digital business transformation for companies pursuing net new revenue streams, products and services and business models.” “This can include the creation of new digital business units or digital acquisitions. Sometimes the new business models can lead to ventures in adjacent markets or new industries.”

Microsoft defines a digital transformation as: to grow, evolve, and transform every part of your business to better meet the changing market and needs of your customers. We like to think that’s it.

Let us help you with answering these 10 important questions today. Let me know if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Joe Gulino
Director, Enterprise Sales, SBS Group

About Joe
Joe Gulino has spent 30 years growing and running mid-sized ERP and CRM consulting organizations. Recently, he has focused his career on helping large and mid-sized services companies select, procure and implement ERP and CRM solutions. He has experience in several industries including manufacturing, distribution and professional services.
joegulino
Today, Joe serves SBS Group customers in his role as Director of Enterprise Sales where he helps customers solve business problems using Microsoft Dynamics 365 technology. Joe holds a B.A. in Business Administration and Computer Science from Rosary College, and is based in Naperville, Illinois.
https://www.linkedin.com/in/joe-gulino-0a0ba72/

The Microsoft Cloud for Professional Services – Focus on Mobility

mobility professional services

The professional services workplace is not what it used to be, and it’s certainly no longer a particular place. With an increasing industry focus on globalization, the workforce has followed suit, resulting in professional service organization (PSO) staff spending less time at their desks and more time in front of their clients.

Demands have increased on project teams to provide more immediate and meaningful contact with customers and information. This means that project teams are moving away from the concept of the traditional office and working either on-site at customer locations or on the road. In both cases, connectivity to systems, tools, and accurate and collaborative project information is critical.  We see requirements in a number of areas.

Comprehensive Access to Firm Resources – Many service delivery organizations want more support for mobility, and demand for compliant access to all tools and technology is growing especially among millennial employees.  Firms are also seeking offline project-related data entry if they don’t already have it.

Accessibility to Business Intelligence – Project and engagement managers are demanding the ability to analyze data, search for content, receive alerts or simply consult metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) on mobile devices. Location is no longer a constraint on information or even action, particularly in the case of real-time information delivery.  Benefits include real-time visibility, 24/7 availability of critical data and effective alerts and messaging.

Usability – The independent nature of many professional services staff members drives demand for device independence and user-customizable applications that can be personalized to consume information as needed by users through intelligent delivery of information based on profile and preferences (location, position, etc.)

Collaboration – Effective collaboration means combining mobile app functionality with simple services like text messaging as well as more complex collaboration tools such as internal or public collaboration applications. This enables the sharing of rich content (e.g., voice, images, and text), the ability to enable comments and share text messages along with and about data, and the ability to leverage pre-existing security to ensure reliable and secure information communication.

mobility

The Microsoft Cloud provides the mobile capabilities that professional services need.

Office 365 provides familiar Office tools enabling staff to create, edit and share documents from traditional laptops or any iOS, Android™, or Windows device with anyone in real time.  Online services like Skype for Business, SharePoint Online and the new “Teams” app further support collaboration and communication.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is Microsoft’s new approach to end-to-end intelligent business applications in the cloud. Dynamics 365 unifies ERP and CRM into one cloud service with new purpose-built apps to manage all your core business functions including Sales, Customer Service, Finance, Field Service, Operations, Marketing and Project Service Automation.  With native integration to Office 365, universal browser access, and mobile apps for iOS, Android™, or Windows devices, employees can have secure access to all the information, services and resources they need wherever work takes them.

Services are hosted at Microsoft data centers, offering the most comprehensive set of certifications and attestations of any cloud service provider to ensure organizations comply with national, regional, and industry-specific requirements governing the collection and use of individuals’ data.

With over 800 professional services customers across the US and Canada, SBS Group is the leader in Microsoft solutions for professional services and project-based businesses.  If you are interested in learning more about the Microsoft Cloud for Professional Services, please email us info@sbsgroupusa.com or call 732.476.5900.


Register for our upcoming Professional Services Webcast!

The Microsoft Cloud for Professional Services Firms
Wednesday, January 11th
12 – 1 PM ET

register for webcast

NAV Directions Update: NAV 2015 Available on 10/1!

SBS Group’s NAV team is heading back from the NAV Directions conference in San Diego, CA after taking a sneak peek at the new version of Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2015. Our team will have the new version within the next few days in order to bring you some great demos of new features and functionality of NAV 2015, which will become generally available on October 1st.

nav2015-roadmap

Eggert Olafsson, SBS Group’s NAV Practice Director, attended the meeting and was very excited to share new details.

There are some great new features revealed that will certainly improve and strengthen the Dynamics NAV offering and make it even better than before. How about this; users can now design their documents like sales invoices using Microsoft Office Word, import them into Dynamics NAV with nice formatting, colors, graphics and more.

Help “popups” for functions when you scroll over them, optional simplified user interface for tablet users for productivity to name a few. Simplicity is the buzz word for Dynamics NAV 2015 and we are very excited about it.

There will be no shortage of solutions for NAV customers, with many SBS partners planning to improve their productivity tools in the NAV area, along with Office 365, Mobility, and Cloud solutions. There is a clear direction, focusing heavily on mobile and cloud solutions with multiple hosting options to fit the varying needs of consumers. The conference has our NAV team excited to bring these new opportunities to our customers.

If you would like more information on NAV Directions or NAV 2015 you can contact us here.

 

 

The Eight Necessities in Distribution Software – An Inside Look

SBS Group has been providing software solutions for nearly 30 years and the distribution industry has been a major area of focus throughout our history. After sorting through questions and concerns from distributors over the past few years, we were able to identify 8 features that distributors find critical in a software solution. These data includes organizations of all sizes throughout the United States, and primarily cover the consumer goods and retail distribution industries.

8. E-mail Marketing (14% cited as major concern)

As more organizations take the approach to cross-train employees, software solutions are adding more and more interdepartmental features to ensure all needs are met. Experienced distributors want more control over their marketing campaigns and insights towards where marketing dollars are being spent.

7. Specific User Rights (21%)

With the wide-ranging features throughout modern ERP distribution systems, certain employees only need access to a specific tool or view in the system. Cutting down on the unnecessary clutter, and keeping sensitive information out of the reach of the entire organization are increasingly popular requirements. Specific user rights allow each employee authorization over their responsibilities and nothing more.

6. Customization (29%)

Customization is key to running an ERP system. There are dozens of features and add-ons to make a system work better for your organization. One of the most difficult challenges for distributors is the high cost of implementing and consistently maintaining a customized solution. Distributors are taking advantage of competitive pricing from Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) that focus specifically on their product, which leads to more reliable support.

5. Reporting (36%)

No organization can stay away from “big data”. Business Intelligence and data mining are increasingly popular demands in the distribution industry. Organizing and analyzing information is a time consuming task, with distributors calling for easily transferable data and reporting functionality. The top reporting priorities for distributors are inventory trends, financial statements, and logistics.

4. Real Time Visibility/Mobility (43%)

Although less than half of the distribution organizes specifically requested an improvement in real time visibility and mobility, this was one of the primary concerns of smaller organizations that relied on Excel sheets or QuickBooks. As distribution organizations grew and began to reach the “next level” we found that more and more of these organizations were no longer getting their information at a quick enough pace. With warehouses growing and orders constantly in transport, it quickly became crucial to spot any irregularities in real time, including out in the field.

3. Inventory Tracking/Management (57%)

More than half of our customers cited significant problems with the lack of inventory management, specifically tracking items and orders. The major complaint is that inventory is not precise where the “count is always off” and if there is any breakdown in the communication process, employees have a difficult time tracing inventory back to orders. Current technology provides distributors of all sizes with affordable access to accurate inventory, warehouse, and transportation tracking systems.

2. Automation (79%)

The feature at the heart of a distributor’s ERP system is automation. Manually processing orders or taking stock of inventory are problems that distributors should not have to face. Nearly 80% of our surveyed distributors are making the move to an automated solution for their employees, warehouse orders, financial statements and customer data. With the additional of automated workflow, the right people are notified when stock is running low, customers need a renewal, or a shipment is delayed – all without any manual input.

1. Centralized Application (93%)

Organizations using multiple, independent tools find themselves jumping from screen to screen and manually inputting/interpreting data. Having a centralized system with the ability to easily integrate additional solutions was the top priority of distributors. The ~7% that did not cite needing a centralized application as a major concern did not yet have any ERP software in place.

As technology continues to grow, distributors focus on adopting at a big-picture level, seeking significant improvements. Tools that support supplementary features, such marketing and reporting, are important but not as crucial as implementing a centralized, fully automated tracking system. The purchasing trend seems to be moving toward simplicity and reducing the number of steps it takes to complete previously tedious processes.

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