Orlando, Fla., March 19, 2003 Microsoft Business Solutions today kicks off its seventh annual North American customer event, Convergence 2003. With attendance surpassing 4,600 customers, partners and Microsoft Business Solutions team members, this year’s Convergence is the largest to date.
Convergence 2003 is designed to offer attendees an opportunity to preview new applications, watch Microsoft Business Solutions technology in action, learn how Microsoft Business Solutions products and services can better serve them, meet and network with other Microsoft Business Solutions customers and participate in workshops focused on the interconnected global marketplace.
In addition, participants can choose from 96 educational sessions designed to enhance software knowledge; 36 solution forums offering an inside look at the latest enhancements and customizations from Microsoft Business Solutions partners, independent software vendors and sponsors; the Convergence Expo, featuring more than 100 top Microsoft Business Solutions independent software vendors and alliance partners; and presentations by Microsoft Business Solutions executives, who will reflect on past accomplishments and articulate future plans and what they mean for customers.
This year’s keynote speakers include Jeff Raikes, Microsoft group vice president of Productivity and Business Services, and Doug Burgum, Microsoft senior vice president and president of Microsoft Business Solutions.
A Convergence 2003 highlight will be the Pinnacle Awards ceremony, which recognizes successful customers in several categories.
To get an insider’s view of all things Convergence, PressPass spoke with Jeff Young , vice president, North America Sales, Marketing and Service, Microsoft Business Solutions, who has attended every Convergence, and John Waterton , director of accounting systems with the Salvation Army’s U.S. Western territory, which covers 13 states and is headquartered in Long Beach, Calif. Waterton has attended every Convergence but one.
PressPass: What’s the importance of Convergence?
Young: The most significant thing is that it’s an opportunity to have in-depth interactions with our customers. We use Convergence to communicate what we’re doing with technology. Of equal importance, it’s a venue for gathering feedback and input from customers about enhancements they’d like to see us make to products and services that will help them be more successful. Our mission is to help our customers realize their potential, and Convergence is one of the best opportunities we have to do that. One of the busiest places at Convergence is the usability lab, where customers give us input about adding screens for various functions or adding certain capabilities, all of which is very tangible, very valuable feedback. We also appreciate the great partner support we get at Convergence. The partners bring their customers and help host. Partners help us build strong relationships with customers. Without partner support, we wouldn’t be successful.
PressPass: What’s the significance of Convergence for customers?
Waterton: Convergence gives you an enormous opportunity to see Microsoft Business Solutions up close. You get to meet the people and understand the vision. As you go through various workshops, it becomes a huge learning and networking opportunity. It’s also an opportunity to sit down with the best and the brightest in terms of technology development and support. We use Microsoft Business Solutions eEnterprise (we originally started with Dynamics) to do our financial accounting management for the entire Western U.S. region. At Convergence I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with some of the people who decide where Microsoft Business Solutions is going.
The usability labs are also very good. They’re an opportunity go in and check out beta versions of various products. You really get a chance to kick the tires. Microsoft Business Solutions is serious about customer input. It’s nice to see feedback you’ve given get implemented in the form of product enhancements.
PressPass: As Microsoft Business Solutions continues to grow and expand, how does the business group maintain a personal connection with its customers?
Young: As more customers choose Microsoft Business Solutions and more come to Convergence, we provide even more value in how we get groups of customers together. We’ve gone from having 200 attendees at Convergence to several thousand. The opportunity to have keynotes that spell out vision and strategy is still there and still an important part of the event. But now we have a chance to offer various breakout sessions where customers group off by industry or job types. It’s like building a community within a community. As our base of customers gets larger so does each vertical group. I can see a day when we have 20,000 attendees and then hold smaller events designated by industry. Sub-Convergences,’ if you will.
Waterton: The event still has a very personal feeling to it and is very informative. The keynote that Bill Gates gave last year, for example, was particularly good. I was really impressed with the fact that he did a live demo of technology on the stage himself and that he opened it up to questions at the end. Someone asked if he’d ever imagined that we’d be where we are now when he started Microsoft more than 25 years ago. He said that his vision for a totally connected community was about halfway complete and that the other half of that vision would be realized in the next five to seven years. I was totally impressed that someone could take such a long-range view of things. If you think about where technology was 25 years ago it’s really amazing. And of course Doug Burgum’s speeches are always interesting. You never know quite where he’s going, but he always gets there. He’s a brilliant man, a great history buff and very entertaining.
PressPass: What role does an event like Convergence play in Microsoft Business Solutions’ vision of delivering interconnected solutions?
Young: When we talk about interconnected solutions a couple of things play directly into the concept of Convergence. A huge component of interconnected solutions is having the personal connection that occurs when we connect our mission to our customers, and our customers have the opportunity to connect with one another. I find it very gratifying when people tell me that they met at Convergence and stayed in touch throughout the year.
Waterton: That definitely happens at Convergence. I’ve connected with technical experts from Microsoft Business Solutions who have been quite helpful long after Convergence. I’ve also met lots of Microsoft Business Solutions customers, especially those from the non-profit world. Also, for the Salvation Army, three of the four U.S. territories are now using Microsoft Business Solutions, so we spend an afternoon at Convergence and usually have a vendor come in and present an idea, module or program that we think will be beneficial to all of us.
Young: The second key way that Convergence maps to our vision of interconnected solutions is that the technology connects customers to their vendors, their employees and their customers. We use Convergence as a place to showcase new products and services and to test out ideas and strategies. Last year, for example, we launched the vision of Microsoft Business Network (the product’s working code name) by sharing scenarios with customers in labs and giving them the opportunity to provide input about what they’d like to see in the product, Microsoft Business Network, due out in three months, so this year we’ll definitely share updates at Convergence.
PressPass: You’ve both attended Convergence for many years now. How has the event evolved?
Waterton: It’s definitely larger, and there’s more technology. Not surprisingly, the Expo has grown over the years along with the conference. The Expo is a great place to connect with vendors who develop add-on modules and find out how they’re applicable to the technology you’re using.
Young: It has a broader range than it did originally. The footprint of business applications has really grown, and Convergence has followed suit. We offer more specialized components, and our ability to connect them for our customers has expanded considerably. Using our solutions, mid-market companies have been able to grow very effectively over the years, which has contributed to the growth of the event. Also, larger corporate cultures have also come to rely on Microsoft Business Solutions for the same applications. Our product is broader and scales more effectively than when we started Convergence, but larger customers appreciate the same ease of implementation and lower total cost of ownership that any company would.
PressPass: What are some of your favorite aspects of Convergence?
Waterton: One definite highlight is The Pinnacle Awards, which recognizes customers who have been particularly successful using Microsoft Business Solutions technology and services. It’s the event where you wear the nicest thing you’ve got in your suitcase. It’s always a very nice dinner and a good program. And the awards themselves are also very exciting, especially if you’re a recipient, which we were the second year we attended. The people are great also. Microsoft Business Solutions brings a lot of their people to Convergence. They’re solid, kind people who are genuinely dedicated to the company, the products and the customers. And of course, being in Florida, there’s the sunshine.
Young: Overall, it’s a great opportunity to connect with customers. Beyond that we also have a lot of fun. For the Pinnacle Awards, people send in nominations that tell the inspiring stories of how Microsoft Business Solutions is improving the way they do business.
PressPass: What’s special about this year’s Convergence?
Young: The size of it is one thing we’re really excited about. It’s far and away a record in terms of numbers, which is really gratifying given the fact that lots of industry events are being scaled back due to the challenging economy. The other thing is that our application footprint has increased significantly this year. With the release of Microsoft Business Solutions CRM and the added Microsoft Business SolutionsNavision and Microsoft Business SolutionsAxapta product lines, we’ll have more people. Our goals of lowering total cost of ownership while improving business processes are more important than ever before. I believe our expanded technology offering has also added to our ability to get together with our customers and help them improve business success. Convergence is a real opportunity to draw business value there’s real return there.