Earlier this year, I wrote an article about my experience developing add-ons for Microsoft Dynamics CRM and how much I enjoyed it. But one of my most consistent complaints about the Microsoft add-on ecosystem is that there hasn’t been a central repository with which to distribute them. As I wrote at the time, this has put Microsoft at a distinct disadvantage to Salesforce, one of its largest competitors:
[S]earching for and promoting add-ons for Dynamics is an inefficient process, with most add-on seekers having to try multiple searches in Google before they stumble across the correct one. By making this process so difficult, Microsoft may be hurting its reputation within the developer community and giving its competitors an edge.
While I doubt anyone at Microsoft read my post, it certainly has been listening to similar complaints within its partner and user communities, because earlier this summer it announced the launch of AppSource, an app store that will span across all of its Dynamics 365 products.
This is great news, not only for developers like me, but also for the Dynamics users who download those add-ons. Here’s why:
Why it’s great for Dynamics users
It’s fairly rare for a Dynamics customer to use the product without the need for any configurations, and as my colleague Kristen Knox wrote recently, advanced customization gets expensive very quickly because it requires the work of highly-technical coders. Add-ons offer the opportunity for users to save money because they don’t have to hire developers to build out the same exact functionality. But up until now, it’s been difficult for those users to find the best add-ons. Doing so required searching on Google, and if you came across multiple add-ons with the same functionality, it was difficult to ascertain which was the best without trying each first.
The AppSource will serve as a central repository that will not only make it easier for users to search out add-ons (through advanced filtering), but they can do so with the knowledge that Microsoft has personally vetted each app beforehand. One of the add-ons produced by my company Cobalt, Intelligent Query, is going through the process right now of Microsoft validating it and making sure that it is sound before it is actually published.
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And finally, because of Microsoft’s all-in approach with the cloud, all of the add-ons that appear on the AppSource will integrate with Dynamics Online directly. It used to be that many add-ons and utilities you downloaded directly to your computer, which, creates a subpar experience and limits your use of the add-on. Direct integration is better and more effective.
Why it’s great for developers
Because Microsoft personally vets each submission, the process rewards developers that have taken the time to do their due diligence and strived to build the best product available. This level of quality control means we no longer have to compete with slapped-together add-ons that are rarely updated or maintained.
And by serving as a central repository, it’s easier to get our add-ons in front of users and potential customers. At Cobalt, we use our free add-ons as a lead acquisition tool to generate customers for our CRM consulting services. But the discovery process has been always somewhat difficult, forcing us to rely mostly on SEO as a marketing tool.
And even when users downloaded our free add-ons in the past, it wasn’t entirely uncommon for them to use fake email addresses (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org), meaning we wouldn’t be able to further market to them. With AppSource, users must be logged in, which means that any lead generated will be 100 percent authentic.
As it’s becoming and more and more evident, Microsoft is getting serious about its enterprise software offerings — everything from CRM to business intelligence to cloud hostings. The AppSource and Dynamics 365 is its latest salvo in its effort to defeat the likes of the Salesforces and Oracles of the world, and now it’s one step closer to achieving that goal.
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