Dynamics users ready to network, solve problems

With few product announcements expected, attendees of Microsoft's Converge conference channel their energies into social-networking experiments instead

Next week's Microsoft Convergence conference in New Orleans will likely be light on new product announcements but heavy on talk about how the vendor's ERP and CRM software can help companies adapt to change and save money in challenging economic times.

Dynamics users say those topics are certainly compelling for them -- but the answers they seek may come from each other, not the keynote stage.

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"I don't expect any earth-shattering [news] from Microsoft this year, which is fine by me," said Dynamics NAV user Kim Dallefeld, chairman of the NAV User Group and IT director of GSM, LLC of Grand Prairie, Texas, which sells cameras and other equipment for hunters.

"People are really wanting to find other people and hear about the issues they've dealt with," she said. "Sometimes that's how you really find your cost savings. You're kicking it around with someone else, rather than your service provider. It's just nice to run it by somebody else and know you're not on the clock and paying a fee."

A number of Dynamics users groups will be experimenting with a range of social-networking tools at this year's show, said Mike Smith, chairman of the Dynamics GP User Group and CIO of Intelident Solutions, which runs a chain of dental clinics.

The effort will employ Twitter feeds and live blogging, with the goal being to provide a wellspring of best practices, helpful hints other information that can be used later by attendees or those who couldn't make it.

Web 2.0 technologies like Twitter have "become table stakes" among members' everyday lives and so it made sense to introduce it in the context of the user groups and Convergence, he said.

Users like Smith will find ample opportunity to network during the 400 sessions planned for the event.

Scores are devoted to each Dynamics product line, as well as Office and related technologies like SharePoint and Office Communications Server. Others focus on BI and Microsoft's BizTalk Server enterprise service bus.

But Convergence's main speeches and presentations will be heavier on topical matters than hard news, said Craig Dewar, director of marketing, Dynamics.

"There will be some product announcements, but mainly we're focusing on helping customers get more value out of what they're already own," he said.

Customers are no doubt already trying to rein in costs, a reality reflected by the show's expected attendance. About 7,000 people are set to arrive in New Orleans for Convergence, down from Microsoft's original project of 8,500, he said.

CRM customers who make it to the event will hear Microsoft officials lay out guidance and best practices for five different scenarios, such as "better customer service," he said.

The main keynote address by Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president of business solutions at Microsoft, will be themed around "dynamic business," Dewar said. "Essentially, the only constant for business is change."

Tatarinov will illustrate how companies can "turn change into opportunity," showing a series of videos about a customer, the American Red Cross.

And a Thursday keynote by Kevin Schofield, general manager in Microsoft Research, will showcase forward-looking technologies in development at Microsoft and how they might end up in business applications over time, according to Dewar, who didn't provide specifics: "I expect that to be incredibly well-received."

Convergence-related events start Monday and run through Friday, with Tatarinov's keynote scheduled for Tuesday morning.

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