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Written by Ron Miller

Microsoft Dynamics 365 update is focused on harnessing data

Microsoft announced a major update to its Dynamics 365 product line today, which correlates to the growing amount of data in the enterprise, and how to collect and understand that data to produce better customer experiences.

This is, in fact, the goal of all vendors in this space including Salesforce and Adobe, who are also looking to help improve the customer experience. James Philips, who was promoted to president of Microsoft Business Applications just this week, says that Microsoft has also been keenly focused on harnessing the growing amount of data and helping make use of that inside the applications he is in charge of.

“To be frank every single thing that we’re doing at Microsoft, not just in business applications but across the entire Microsoft Cloud, is on the back of that vision that data is coming out of everything, and that those organizations that can collect that data, harmonize it and reason over it will be in a position to be proactive versus reactive,” Philips told TechCrunch.

New customer engagement tooling

For starters, the company is adding functionality to its customer data platform (CDP), a concept all major vendors (and a growing group of startups) have embraced. It pulls together all of the customer data from various systems into one place, making it easier to understand how the customer interacts with you with the goal of providing better experiences based on this knowledge. Microsoft’s CDP is called Customer Insights.

The company is adding some new connectors to help complete that picture of the customer. “We’re adding new first- and third-party data connections to Customer Insights that allow our customers to understand, for example audience memberships, brand affinities, demographic, psychographic and other characteristics of customers that are stored and then harnessed from Dynamics 365 Customer Insights,” Philips said.

All of this, might make you wonder how they can collect this level of data and maintain GDPR/CCPA kind of compliance. Philips says that the company has been working on this for some time. “We did work at the company level to build a system that allows us and our customers to search for and then delete information about customers in each product group within Microsoft including my organization,” he explained.

The company has also added new sales forecasting tools and Dynamics 365 Sales Engagement Center. The first allows companies to tap into all this data to better predict the customers who sales is engaged with that are most likely to turn into sales. The second gives inside sales teams tools like next best action. These are not revolutionary by any means in the CRM space, but do provide new capabilities for Microsoft customers.

New operations level tooling

The operations side is related to what happens after the sale when the company begins to collect money and report revenue. To that end, the company is introducing a new product called Dynamic 365 Finance Insights, which you can think of as Customer Insights, except for money.

“This product is designed to help our customers predict and accelerate their cash flow. It’s designed specifically to identify opportunities where to focus your energy, where you may have the best opportunity to either close accounts payables or receivables or the opportunity to understand where you may have cash shortfalls,” Philips said.

Finally the company is introducing Dynamics 365 Project Operations,which provides a way for project-based business like construction, consulting and law to track the needs of the business.

“Those organizations, who are trying to operate in a project-based way now have with Dynamics 365 Project Operations, what we believe is the most widely used project management capability in Microsoft Project being joined now with all of the back-end capabilities for selling, accounting and planning that Dynamic 365 offers, all built on the same Common Data Platform, so that you can marry your front-end operations and operational planning with your back-end resource planning, workforce planning and operational processes,” he explained.

All of these tools are designed to take advantage of the growing amount of data coming into organizations, and provide ways to run businesses in a more automated and intelligent fashion that removes some of the manual steps involved in running a company.

To be clear, Microsoft is not alone in offering this kind of intelligent functionality. It is part of a growing movement to bring intelligence to all aspects of enterprise software, regardless of vendor.

BluBracket scores $6.5M seed to help secure code in distributed environments

BluBracket, a new security startup from the folks who brought you Vera, came out of stealth today and announced a $6.5 million seed investment. Unusual Ventures led the round with participation by Point72 Ventures, SignalFire and Firebolt Ventures.

The company was launched by Ajay Aurora and Prakash Linga, who until last year were CEO and CTO respectively at Auroa, a security company that helps companies secure documents by having the security profile follow the document wherever it goes.

Aurora says he and Linga are entrepreneurs at heart and they were itching to start something new after more than five years at Vera . While both still sit on the Vera board, they decided to attack a new problem.

He says that the idea for BluBracket actually came out of conversations with Vera customers, who wanted something similar to Vera, except to protect code.”About 18-24 months ago, we started hearing from our customers, who were saying, ‘Hey you guys secure documents and files. What’s becoming really important for us is to be able to share code. Do you guys secure source code?’”

That was not a problem Vera was suited to solve, but it was a light bulb moment for Aurora and Linga, who saw an opportunity and decided to seize it. Recognizing the way development teams operated has changed, they started BluBracket and developed a pair of products to handle the unique set of problems associated with a distributed set of developers working out of a Git repository — whether that’s GitHub, GitLab or BitBucket.

The first product is BluBracket CodeInsight, which is an auditing tool, available starting today. This tool gives companies full visibility into who has withdrawn the code from the Git repository. “Once they have a repo, and then developers clone it, we can help them understand what clones exist on what devices, what third parties have their code, and even be able to search open source projects for code that might have been pushed into open source. So we’re creating what’s called a we call it a blueprint of where an enterprise code is,” Aurora explained.

The second tool, BluBracket CodeSecure, which won’t be available until later in the year, is how you secure that code including the ability to classify code by level importance. Code tagged with the highest level of importance will have special status and companies can attach rules to it like that it can’t be distributed to an open source folder without explicit permission.

They believe the combination of these tools will enable companies to maintain control over the code, even in a distributed system. Aurora says they have taken care to make sure that the system provides the needed security layer without affecting the operation of the continuous delivery pipeline.

“When you’re compiling or when you’re going from development to staging to production, in those cases because the code is sitting in Git, and the code itself has not been modified, BluBracket won’t break the chain,” he explained. If you tried to distribute special code outside the system, you might get a message that this requires authorization, depending on how the tags have been configured.

This is very early days for BluBracket, but the company takes its first steps as a startup this week as it emerges from stealth at the RSA security conference in San Francisco. It will be participating in the RSA Sandbox competition for early security startups at the conference, as well.

Ordway lands $10M Series A to bridge gap between sales and finance

Ordway, a Washington, DC startup, is building a platform to deal with all of the stuff that happens after you make sale. It starts with the order and goes all the way to revenue, however that revenue manifests itself — as a one time payment or a recurring subscription. Today the company announced a $10 million Series A.

CRV led the round with participation from Clocktower Ventures and existing investors Lerer Hippeau and Revolution Rise of the Rest fund. The company has now raised a total of $12.5 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Sameer Gulati, founder and CEO at Ordway, says the company wanted to build a flexible tool to sit between the CRM and financial systems of a company. “So in that sense, we do everything for post-sales from billing automation, payment collection, revenue recognition, analytics, all the way to cash. We have a streamlined workflow for managing order to revenue,” Gulati told TechCrunch.

It sounds a lot like the Quote-to-Cash space where companies like Apttus (acquired by Thoma Bravo in 2018) or SteelBrick (acquired by Salesforce in 2015) tried to stake a claim, but Gulati says while his company’s solution handles the quote-to-cash workflow, it can do much more than that.

“We absolutely can handle the workflow from quote to billing to payments to revenue, for sure. But the reason Ordway has a niche is because we are a lot more configurable and a lot more flexible to accommodate any workflow out there,” he said.

He says his company’s solution connects to the CRM system on one side and the financial systems on the other. They are compatible with all the major CRM tools including Salesforce and Dynamics 365. And they support a range of financial tools like NetSuite or QuickBooks.

“In fact, we can work with any back-end small system to a large scale ERP system, but our value add is automating the movement of data into the ERP. So we are the operational framework between sales and traditional ERP. We will handle everything in between,” he said.

As for the funding, Gulati has the kind of plans you would expect with a Series A investment. “The core goal is definitely to accelerate all aspects of our business from sales and marketing to product and engineering, and most importantly, customer success. Basically, in a sense we are doubling down on making sure our customers are successful in solving their core sales to finance business challenges,” he said.

The company launched in 2018 and has 25 employees today. Gulati says his company’s goal is to grow 4X in the next 12 months and grow employees at a similar rate.