Dynamics 365 is the latest Microsoft offering moving to the company’s continuous release cycle with semiannual upgrades. The company last week said it will roll out new releases of its cloud-based business applications every October and April, starting this fall.
Microsoft began shifting many of its core on-premises software and cloud solutions to semiannual release cycle upgrades over the past year including Windows 10, Office 365 and Windows Server, among others.
Adding Dynamics 365, while not unexpected, is the latest effort by the company to make a larger dent in the line-of-business applications market. In doing so, Microsoft is challenging some major players including Salesforce.com, Oracle and Sage.
While Microsoft has offered cloud versions of its on-premises Dynamics CRM, ERP and other business applications for several years, the company revamped them into a common online portfolio with the release of Dynamics 365 nearly two years ago.
Since stepping up its focus on making Dynamics a formidable competitor, the new Dynamics 365 has been winning more business against Salesforce and others, especially with the April release of Business Central, the cloud-transformed version of Dynamics NAV, said Jeffrey Goldstein, founder and managing director of Queue Associates, a Microsoft Gold Dynamics Partner based in New York.
“In the past, people were not sure about the cloud; now they are coming to us and saying, 'We only want the cloud, not on premises,'” said Goldstein, who is also the U.S. chapter president of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP). "If we didn’t have a cloud solution, that would be an issue.”
Until recently, competing with the likes of Salesforce for CRM customers was a challenge, partners historically have bemoaned. It has become easier since Microsoft committed to Dynamics 365 and has included it as an option to the Microsoft 365 bundle.
“Microsoft has made a lot of strides with the products in the last two to three years and have really caught up to Salesforce,” Goldstein said. Queue now often wins bids against Salesforce, NetSuite and Sage, Goldstein said, especially now that customers can bundle it with Office 365.
The semiannual upgrade cycle is also important because it will keep all Dynamics 365 customers on the same version, Mo Osborne, Microsoft’s corporate VP and COO of business applications engineering, wrote in a blog. The new service update cycle will provide “improved performance and stability across Dynamics 365 applications, providing users access to new features faster, and offering administrators smoother and more predictable upgrades,” Osborne said.
Microsoft will turn off new features that introduce significant user experience changes by default, she added.
Besides the two semiannual updates, Osborne noted that Microsoft will continue to deploy updates that improve reliability and performance throughout the year. Starting with the most recent upgrade in April, Microsoft began publishing release notes, summarizing the new features and when they were scheduled for release. Microsoft will issue the release notes for the October upgrade July 23 at its Business Applications Summit in Washington, D.C.
As part of the new continuous release cycle, Microsoft is allowing partners and customers to test the new features in advance.
“Our ISV partners can take advantage of this to innovate early to be better prepared for general availability,” Osborne noted.
Effective with next spring’s update, Microsoft also is letting partners and customers validate major updates in a sandboxed environment in advance of the release so they can become familiar with new features before the release. Microsoft said customers with earlier versions of its various Dynamics online offerings should plan for the following deadlines:CRM online (customer engagement, service and sales) version 8.2 should plan to update to the newest release by Jan. 31, 2019. Finance & Operations online, versions 7.0, 7.1, 7.2 and 8.0, should update to the latest version by March 31, 2019. The only exceptions are those with unfulfilled extension requests by Microsoft. Support for version 7.3 will be available until April 30, 2020. Business Central and Dynamics 365 for Talent: No changes since these customers are already on a continuous update cycle.