IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Microsoft Builds AI and IoT Into Dynamics 365 Solutions for Retailers

A wave of both new and updated solutions is designed to give retail businesses real-time, decision-driving intelligence about products and customers. By Rich Freeman

Microsoft has added products and features powered by artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to its Dynamics 365 business application suite in an effort to help retailers and the companies that supply them derive deeper, more powerful insights from their growing stockpiles of product and consumer data.

“Data’s coming from everywhere,” says Alysa Taylor, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for business applications and global industry. “Being able to take that data and actually action that data is something that customers struggle with.”

“IoT intelligence” functionality added to Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management solution is among many product enhancements and rollouts aimed at helping businesses tackle that challenge. Drawing on sensor data from factories and warehouses, as well as machine learning technology, the new capabilities help suppliers reduce downtime, increase throughput, and minimize waste, according to Dina Apostolou, global director of product marketing for Dynamics 365.

“The new IoT intelligence is enabling manufacturers to not only optimize supply chains but proactively prevent delays and ensure that only the highest quality of products will leave the facility and make it to market,” she says.

Microsoft is augmenting its Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent for Customer Service system as well to help retailers add customer service bots to their websites more easily. New authoring and publishing enhancements powered by Azure Bot Service, the company says, enable users to test and collect feedback on virtual agents internally before putting them into production. New reporting functionality, meanwhile, lets businesses measure customer satisfaction with bots, as well as the number of hours those bots trim from issue resolution times, after deployment.

“We’ll have dashboarding capabilities that allow a supervisor to drill into specific customer satisfaction metrics,” Apostolou says.

An all-new addition to the Dynamics 365 portfolio named Dynamics 365 Commerce combines back office, in-store, call center, and website data to help retail businesses make customer-specific purchasing recommendations. “That’s what consumers are looking for, the type of personalization where they really feel known by the brand and the company,” says Lorraine Bardeen, general manager for Dynamics 365 mixed reality business applications.

Dynamics 365 Connected Store, another new system intended for use at retail outlets, is designed to improve consumer satisfaction and loyalty by providing real-time, predictive insights based on input from video cameras and IoT sensors. Retailers, Microsoft says, can use the system to see which parts of a retail environment are most popular at specific times of day, which parts are least utilized, and which inventory items are their hottest sellers. Utilizing Microsoft’s Azure IoT Central service, users can also monitor temperature and humidity levels in refrigerators and storage areas to prevent products from spoiling.

“It provides a holistic view of what’s happening in stores, and the insights to take action,” says Bardeen of the new solution.

Two other Dynamics 365 additions are designed to arm retailers with further decision-making insights. First, Microsoft has added support for business-to-business relationships to Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, its AI-powered customer profiling and personalization platform. Previously focused exclusively on consumers, the system now lets users track leads and interactions for organizations as well.

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