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Microsoft recruits partners to focus on verticals with Dynamics AX

Channel StrategyInfrastructureMobility

ATLANTAMicrosoft‘s partners community got an encouraging signal they remain an integral part of the business model at this year’s Convergence conference, as the Redmond-based software giant trumpeted the success of a customer that built out a custom mobile application thanks to Microsoft Gold partner Avanade Inc.

Put forward by Microsoft during the opening keynote at Convergence and awarded in Microsoft’s Customer Excellence recognition program, Delta Air Lines showcased how its using custom apps on Nokia Lumia devices running Windows Phone 8. Currently Delta’s flight attendants are taking in-flight food orders using Lumia 820 phones, but will soon be upgrading to larger-screen Lumia 1520 devices.

Avanade and Microsoft Corp. took a joint sales approach with Delta to land the deal, says Doug Kennedy, vice-president of enterprise partner and sales for Microsoft. Avanade also had a pre-existing relationship working with Delta as a client and facilitated the project from there.

“They believe there’s lots of other opportunities in the airline industry that they can unlock with that solution,” he says.

Microsoft is relying on its partner network to turn Dynamics AX into a suitable solution for the vertical industries, Kennedy says. Partners should be paying attention to Microsoft’s new releases for the first quarter and asking themselves what they need to know to appeal to their targeted vertical.

“We’re not building the last mile of vertical code,” he says. “There’s a huge amount of functionality still missing by vertical and we’re never going to go there.”

The apps and services framework for Microsoft Dynamics AX will let customers take their own custom-built mobile apps – inside or outside the company firewall – and connect them to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) backend. Microsoft’s cloud platform, Windows Azure, sits in the middle between the mobile app and Dynamics AX to facilitate the communication. A white paper is offered to developers interested in creating the connection in their app.

Further support for businesses looking to deploy custom mobile apps comes in the form of beta-mode Project Siena, a code-free platform for business managers to use to create apps that pulls from multiple databases in the Microsoft stack, including Excel files, RSS feeds, SharePoint, and Azure Mobile services.

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Delta flight attendants demonstrate a custom mobile app built on Dynamics AX backend at Convergence 2014.

Using the smartphones, or “phablets” as smartphones that exceed six-inches in screen size are sometimes called, flight attendants can also sell seat upgrades available on the flight, says Darrell Haskin, the director of IT for Delta. While Delta uses SAP for its corporate ERP system, it will be relying on Dynamics AX for its retail operations. It adopted Microsoft’s software about 18 months ago.

“Although we sell seats to passengers, we never really considered ourselves to be in the retail space until recently,” he says.

Delta-Nokia-smartphones

On the left, the Nokia Lumia 820 running Delta’s custom retail app. On the right is the new Lumia 1520.

The mobile devices used by Delta’s workers are connected thanks to Ku-band satellite Internet provided by Gogo Inc. A secure WiFi network means the credit card payments, accepted via a phone attachment, can now be checked in realtime instead of after a flight touches down.

“We weren’t telling customers we weren’t doing that. So we’d just swipe the card and you’d get your treat, and only later would we find out if that was a good card or not,” he says. “So there was a lot of loss that way.”

Delta can accept credit card payments using a smartphone attachment during flights.

Delta can accept credit card payments using a smartphone attachment during flights.

Microsoft is showing its customers that its easy to build out mobile solutions on its Azure cloud platform, says Ray Wang, the founder of Constellation Research. If you’ve got .Net developers in house, then you can already build on Azure. That should send the message that for an ERP system, the implementation pain on Dynamics AX is minimal.

Microsoft’s Dynamics team is taking a dual prong approach on partner strategy, he says. It’s using global system integrators to expand reach and delivery to various verticals, and ISVs to enhance the platform and dive even deeper into vertical niches.

“Lifecycle management is not something a customer is going to do on their own, they’re still going to need a partner,” Wang says. “It’s still a partner driven culture.”

Microsoft is also updating its other Dynamics products later this year, GP and NAV. GP is expected to see a release this quarter to include identity management, workflow, and self-service apps. NAV will see an update in Q4 of 2014.