Saturday, October 22, 2011

CRM Things To Come: The Release Preview Guide For Q4 2011

This came out a few weeks ago but is worth a going over because there is a fair amount of stuff coming. For those that have not seen it, here is the link. This is Microsoft’s vision for Dynamics CRM as at August 2011.

The Executive Summary

It is good to see they are still going with the ‘familiar, intelligent and connected’ line. As CRM becomes more social and collaborative these will become more and more relevant. They also introduce the idea of ‘waves’ which seems to be the term they will be using for the major updates. The only other observation is a linguistic one. The summary uses the word “you’ll”. They could have used ‘you will’ but went with the less formal version. The piece wants you to be a friend, not a cold analyst (I rarely contract in my blog because I want to pretend I am, at least, a little bit formal).

Background

They mention this is the fifth major release. By my reckoning it is the fourth (v1.2, v3.0, v4.0 and v2011). There was v1.0 as well so maybe they are including this one.

Improved Agility

Here they again confirm the twice yearly cycle for major releases. If you are thinking that every six months you will get the same kind of bang we got when CRM 2011 came out you will be disappointed but, hopefully, there will be a few goodies to look forward to each time.

Key New Capabilities

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There is a lot of love for online here. Stuff either works online only or for both online and on-premise. No features for on-premise only. In terms of what all this means we have the next few sections.

Unified Office 365 Experience

While Microsoft lay it on thick with how awesome Dynamics CRM and Office 365 are together, the fact is these two products will be getting closer and closer together as time goes on. The Q4 release is the start of this. Sign up for one and you will be able to get the other. Rather than get two charges it will be one or, at least, that is how I am interpreting ‘Unified Provisioning’ and ‘Unified Billing’. The administration bit I think refers to Microsoft’s internal administration simplifying as the products come together.

Enterprise Cloud

Identity Federation

Today, you can log onto CRM Online any way you like as long as it is with a Live ID. This is a little annoying, especially if, like me, you have a Live ID for IM, Live ID for forums and then Live IDs for CRM logins. Q4 will allow people to use Active Directory, much like Lync does today. No more Live ID logins (hooray!)

Enhanced Data Recovery

I am a little underwhelmed by this one. They will be doing backups in the same region as the data centre. What I want is the ability for CRM Online customers to do their own backups. I do not really see this adding value but just achieving expectation.

Feature Enhancements

Enhancements to Dialogs

Dialogs have the shortcoming that, while you can input values into a dialog, the types of values you can enter are limited. This will be addressed in the Q4 update, meaning that lookups and dates can now be entered as input. Again, not so much raising the bar but achieving a baseline level of functionality.

The ability to generate dynamic hyperlinks is great. One of the common uses of workflows is for ‘reminder’ or ‘escalation’ notifications. The problem is that while you could tell someone about a new record or a record that has not progressed, you could not give them a link to click on to get them to that record. They still had to open up CRM, navigate, go to quick search etc. Being able to generate a dynamic hyperlink fixes this for dialogs and, hopefully, for workflows. I am not sure what is meant by “hyperlinks that guide users to…content in…external applications but I am intrigued.

Additional Business Intelligence Capabilities

We are getting multi-series charts! The new charting capability of CRM 2011 can already produce multi-series charts but you have to export the chart, hack the XML and then re-import. With the Q4 update it will be possible to configure such charts directly through the application; no more XML hacking. The sky is the limit with CRM Charting because the underlying tools are so feature-rich. I imagine each major release will give us a little more each time.

Extended De-duplication Rule Processing

Another shortcoming removed from the product. To understand the problem, try de-duplicating a contact on an e-mail address. You will see that any contact with a blank e-mail field is labelled a duplicate with any other contact without an e-mail address. The new enhancements fix this. If only they would also give us SOUNDEX matching…

Social Investments – Wave 1

While many of the improvements up until now have been ‘fixes’ in the sense that they bring functionality to the table that a general user would expect to begin with, the social investments are the meat in the Q4 update sandwich.

Microsoft introduces its social model of three communities:

  • Internal: communities within the organisation e.g. a company Yammer group
  • External Managed: communities involving the organisation and external parties in an environment controlled by the organisation e.g. a corporate Facebook page
  • External Unmanaged: communities in an environment not controlled by the organisation e.g.a fan page

Microsoft also suggest Dynamics CRM is the hub at the centre of these communities.

Activity Feeds

Essentially Chatter for Dynamics CRM. The way they describe it I am guessing the ‘Activity Feed’ is another entity with a special summary page akin to a Facebook wall called ‘Your Wall’.

Mobile Activity Feeds

Similar to the mobile express client (only hopefully a bit more graphically rich), Windows Phone 7 users will be able to check their wall via their phone and perform related actions. While I understand Microsoft want to leverage ‘the stack’, I think it is fair to say that there are at least a couple of CRM customers who use phones with different OSes in them. Maybe the mobile activity feed will make it to the iPhone and iPad some time in the future.

Leon’s Conclusions

There are some good ‘fixes’ in here. I am especially happy about the ability to generate links in dialogs and, hopefully, workflows. Also, the improvements to graphs is great and is very practical.

In terms of the social stuff, it is a good start and, while not necessarily a healthy slab of steak, it is a good quality piece of ham in the CRM sandwich. This is because I can see how the internal needs are considered in the activity feed but it is not clear to me how it addresses external managed and unmanaged requirements. Hopefully, the Microsoft team have seen Parrot and can take some tips from this for the external components.

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