Why Directions EMEA 2021 is an edition to remember

It's already been two weeks since we arrived in Milan to get ready for Directions EMEA 2021. We worked for weeks and perhaps months to prepare for the most important event of the year. This sounds like an awful lot of time for a three-day event, but it was totally worth it. Looking back at everything that happened to the world, our industry, and indeed our company for the last two years, there are a few conclusions that can be drawn, as I shall elaborate in this article.

Real-life events can not be replaced

Technology has reshaped the world and the pandemic has galvanized governments, corporations, departments, and individuals into action to modernize the workplace. As a result, for many of our partners, the last two years have been the busiest ever. Both our partners and we are signing up heaps of new customers and are hiring people to accommodate this surge.

In the meantime, office workers have grown accustomed to virtual meetings. During the first worldwide lockdown in 2020, our social media were flooded with screenshots of people enthusiastically having Zoom and Teams meetings. However, the initial euphoria to be able to (or better still, have to) work from home has subsided and disillusioned many; it's not all sunshine and rainbows, as it turns out. Digital nomads and remote workers have known for a while that there are sacrifices to be made. For example, the line between home and work vanishes almost completely. This blurry line can cause mental health problems such as stress, depression, and anxiety.

When improperly conducted, online meetings can be a terrific energy and morale drainer. People on mute, poor internet connectivity, bad microphones, barking dogs, these are just a few examples of what you can expect in a typical online meeting. Not that meetings in real life are better, but they can be a lot less annoying; at least there are fewer things that can go wrong from a technological point of view. And for certain kinds of meetings, there's a synergy that's difficult to recreate in the digital world.

This brings me neatly to conferences such as Directions EMEA. In 2020, the organizers of Directions EMEA did a great job organizing a virtual conference. But, through no fault of their own, we did not feel the same satisfaction as with the previous editions. Few people came to 'see us' at our virtual booth and we had very few interactions with the attendees. As a sponsor, this is what we are there for: reach out and connect with existing partners and potential new partners. Especially after the 2021 edition, it is safe to conclude that real-life events are still very much needed.

Partners learning about new capabilities in Dime.Scheduler

We had in-depth conversations with partners to discuss pending deals, what feedback existing customers have, what we should work on next, and more. We met new partners who wanted to learn more about Dime.Scheduler, and talked to other ISVs to discuss potential joint-ventures and integrations between our products. This dynamic is something that's currently not possible in the digital world. Brainstorming and ad-hoc, informal chats are hard to replicate digitally. It's also difficult to bump into people online, which is something that brought us more than one new partnership. So for the time being, we will keep on participating in real-life events such as Directions EMEA.

However, there is one issue that remains to be addressed. Without wanting to get political, large conferences have a severe impact on the environment, and we hope that organizers of such events will make an extra effort to minimize the carbon footprint. Attendees and sponsors should also look for ways to compensate for trips such as Directions EMEA. For example, the Dime.Scheduler team has been working from home since 2016, we modified our policy to go to the customer's office for demonstrations and other meetings as little as possible, and we even reduced our office space because the team rarely, if ever, commutes anymore. And of course, with our software, we try to help our customers reduce their ecological footprint with more efficient schedules. In 2022, we will launch more initiatives to reduce our and our customers' impact on the environment even more.

Customer buying behavior has changed

We were honored to join Anveo Group on stage during Directions EMEA 2021's day three keynote. Nils Peemöller, managing director at Anveo Group, dedicated his keynote to talk about changing customer buying behavior. He invited Jan Wild, COO at Boss Info, and Tom Taffin, managing partner at Dime Software, to talk about how this has affected their business models.

Tom Taffin speaking at Directions EMEA 2021's keynote panel discussion.

One of the things we notice as an ISV is that customers come well prepared when they get in touch with us directly, which they do increasingly. They no longer exclusively rely on VARs to look for solutions in the marketplace. In a world of instant gratification and self-service, customers demand, well, just more of everything: shorter lead times, lower prices, better performance, more functionalities, plug and play solutions backed by artificial intelligence, and more.

ISVs, therefore, will not only have to consider marketing that caters to partners but also to end customers. Customers should know what value they are getting from our solutions and what challenges they can help solve. To take Dime.Scheduler as an example, we changed the product's marketing strategy to brand it as a solution that has all the whistles and bells, rather than a platform for our partners to work on. The message we can now bring is crystal clear and customers get a much better feeling of what we can and cannot provide.

Both changes have led to a surge in direct contact between us, the ISV, and the end customer. Instead of partners bringing us customers, customers are bringing partners to us. Or as our managing partner Tom mentioned on stage, we've evolved to a free lead generator for partners.

This change has had a profound impact on our business. We find that it can be easier to engage end customers than partners - excluding the top 30% of our best-selling resellers, who regularly bring us new deals. Our software has a different value proposition for customers than for partners. We have incentive programs and offer a range of free and paid services to engage our partners, which seem to be catching on with dormant resellers and smaller partners ever since we made our strategic pivot in 2020. While indirect sales is a great and extremely scalable model, direct sales can be easier: customers find us and therefore are motivated to learn more about the product. With a sales and marketing strategy that supports both models, we can reach a much bigger market than before.

The VAR business model has changed too

VARs in the Microsoft Dynamics channel have had to endure seismic changes for the last five years or so. Microsoft has been innovating at near-light speed; it began with sunsetting Microsoft Dynamics NAV, only to introduce Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central shortly after and a cloud-based version that would be integrated into the Office 365 suite. Along with PowerApps, Teams, connectivity to Azure services and whatnot, the flood gates have opened to truly astonishingly complex solutions. Data silos are being broken down and data moves around to deliver a smooth and uniform user experience.

Technological changes are only part of the reason why VARs are almost drowning in work. The pandemic made companies realize they needed to modernize the workplace to let people work from home, and it brought new business to our partners. They've been taking on so many projects that it's hard to keep up. With the talent pool dried up (it was never flooded, to begin with), we are noticing a bottleneck as project kick-offs are delayed, sometimes even more than a year.

With their packed schedule, both new and existing partners have changed their approach slightly. As far as Dime Software is concerned, we have been encouraging it and we are glad to be involved more often, and earlier in the (sales) process. Partners gladly use free services such as demonstrations and they increasingly let us do installation and upgrade projects, as well as custom development in NAV, BC, and CRM. This has several advantages because it saves the partner heaps of time and since we know the product inside out, the success rate goes up, making everybody more satisfied in the end. And a side effect is that we get a better sense of what's going on, which is something we lacked in the past.

Hendrik Bulens, managing partner at Dime Software, handing over the giveaway to Pieter Kok, technical consult at Bluace.

This is just a teaser for what is to come in the future. The role of VARs and ISVs will continue to change, and with the cloud finally breaking through in the channel, the playing field will level out and competition will be fierce as there will be fewer factors to consider when the entire tech stack is in the cloud. Let's take Dime.Scheduler again as an example. We're currently working on a multi-tenant and cloud-based version of the product, which, once it's up and running, will reduce the lead time to just a few minutes rather than hours. Because we'll be in charge of the hosting, customers will just have to make a few clicks to connect our software to their back-office system. As our application is built on top of popular web technologies, we'll be able to provide seamless connections to systems other than the ones we already support, i.e. the Microsoft Dynamics product suite. But this obviously applies to other planning software companies too, who can penetrate the market much easier than just a few years ago. This forces us to keep on investing and innovating. It's a similar story for the VARs, who will have to keep finding ways to differentiate themselves from the competition.

All of the aforementioned changes will inevitably alter the relationship between ISVs and VARs. Instead of being providers of software, we'll work side by side more often to ensure the successful completion of the solution designed by the VAR. From what we've seen the last year, we are looking forward to this change because it's simply a win-win-win situation.

Dime Software has taken off

Another conclusion we can draw from the conference is that we have taken a turn for the better for the company and our products. Since April 2020, we no longer distribute products from third parties, thus focusing exclusively on the development and distribution of products that we manage ourselves. This pivot has yielded some great results for Dime.Scheduler, giving us extra room for investments.

The facts and figures, but most of all the kind words we've received from our partners during Directions EMEA 2021 have given us a boost to keep on going and make great scheduling add-ons for the Microsoft Dynamics product suite, and beyond.

We've seen heaps of sessions and many announcements during the conference, and we too have made a few announcements about what is to come in Dime.Scheduler in 2022:

  • Appointment containers will allow users to bundle appointments and plan them as a group.
  • The mobile app can be used to consult individual schedules, as well as the entire schedule of the organization. It will also contain resource tracking capabilities.
  • The PowerApps connector will provide similar capabilities as the Dime.Scheduler connector for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central in that you will be able to send and receive data to and from Dime.Scheduler through the low-code platform.

Coming up in Dime.Scheduler in 2022

This is to be expected in the short term, but there's more coming up and we wish we could skip to 2022 or 2023 already because we are working on Dime.Scheduler as a Service, the working title for a multi-tenant Dime.Scheduler in the cloud. And if that wasn't enough already, we are working on a brand new product: an AI-backed planning optimization solution that will serve as a stand-alone application but will also work with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central and it will have a seamless connection with Dime.Scheduler. This will anchor us even further in the position as the market leader for planning software in the Microsoft Dynamics channel.

These world premieres were very well received by our partners. This confirmation makes us feel confident about the company's future. The strategic pivot has worked out and with the confidence of our partners, we will do everything in our power to speed up the development of our products and add more manpower to assist them every step of the way.

Directions EMEA 2021 was a success

Despite all these interesting insights and new developments, one emotion dominates all the others: it is good to be back. Even though the pandemic is still raging in much of the world, it almost felt like things were back to normal. Kudos to the organizers of the event for making it happen in the first place, and for initiating a few new programs. We support the Women in Dynamics initiative and applaud the organizer's efforts to minimize waste. In spite of all the technological abilities to meet, real-life events will remain irreplaceable for the foreseeable future. We should celebrate that Directions EMEA 2021 happened at all and that it, given the circumstances, was an edition to remember.

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About the author

Hendrik Bulens is Managing Partner at Dime Software and leads the Dime.Scheduler product team. His many years of experience as a consultant and passion for business and technology have helped shape Dime.Scheduler into what it is today and define where it is headed.

Hendrik Bulens
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