I am back home from Convergence and still trying to digest the wealth of information that was shared!
Of course one of the most anticipated parts of the Microsoft Convergence 2012 event in Houston was learning about the future of Dynamics CRM … what new features and functions does Microsoft plan to add? I must say that Microsoft did a better job than normal in providing a vision of what the future may hold. The very short summary is that over the course of the next 12 months, you will see Dynamics CRM become more: anytime, any device, any business – than ever before. In this article we’ll take a deeper look into exactly what that means and how to expect this to translate into changes in the platform over the next several releases.
Microsoft has been talking about the next release of CRM for quite some time – it bears the sexy name “Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Q2 2012 Service Update.” It’s hard to hide the excitement as a name like that rolls of the tongue! Prior to Convergence, Microsoft already hosted a number of events to discuss this release – expected to be available by July 1, 2012. The highlights are below for those of you who have not yet heard the details.
Dynamics CRM 2011 on Any Browser: Microsoft is promising to deliver CRM via the most popular browsers as a part of this release including: Internet Explorer (of course), Firefox, Chrome and Safari. So what’s all the fuss about? In many companies there are users that are using Apple computers. These have often been individuals in the marketing department who deliver important skill sets that require access to CRM, or business executives who won’t give up their Macbooks. In both cases the only option was to either have multiple different computers, or install a PC emulator on the Mac. Neither situation was ideal. Now these users can access CRM directly within their Mac. This will also enable users of tablets (such as iPads) with compatible browsers to access CRM. Outlook integration, however, is still available only in the PC/Windows environment.
Dynamics CRM 2011 on Any Device: With this new release Microsoft is rolling out expanded mobile capabilities – including a version of CRM for iPad, iPhone, Android and Windows Phone devices. With the iPad invading corporations everywhere, this is a welcome move on Microsoft’s part. These new mobile versions of CRM had already been developed by CWR Mobility, an organization that partners with Microsoft. CWR already had a mobile version of CRM for all of the above devices, and Microsoft is simply making this mobile version more readily available to businesses using CRM 2011 than before. This is very good news because it means that this is not a “version 1.0” release of the mobile software – Microsoft is leveraging software that has been available for many years. There is an additional fee for this capability (about $30.00 per user per month – each user can have up to 3 devices). Feel free to contact us if you’d like to have Mobile CRM setup to work for your organization.
More Social Capabilities: In this upcoming release, Microsoft is taking the social capabilities within CRM 2011 to the next level. Activity Feeds will be expanded to include filters based on: entity (for example, you can filter all updates to show only Contacts, Accounts, Opportunities, etc), based on posts about you (it is, after all, all about you) or about your direct reports (who have gotten the idea into their head that it’s all about them). If you haven’t already started to use Activity Feeds, then you should consider getting started right away. Learn more: click here.
Faster CRM 2011 Online: Dynamics CRM 2011 presents very rich forms to the user. But those rich forms come at a price – all of the logic and design elements for those forms have to be downloaded from over the web. In some cases this can result in making the application slower than what users would prefer. Microsoft has been addressing this by tuning CRM 2011 Online to improve performance. With the Q2 2012 update they will also be introducing Rapid View Forms. These are read-only version of forms that can be rendered much more quickly than standard editable forms.
But Wait … There’s More: Want more details about all the goodies in the Q2 2012 Service Update? It’s available in the attached PDF (click the Adobe Acrobat logo to start the download).
Even more exciting was the news about the following update, which will come a bit later this year. Although there is nothing as formal about this release as there is for the Q2 release, I sat in on a number of sessions where the vision for this update was discussed (and sometimes demonstrated). Please take what is provided below with a large grain of salt – some of these items are me “reading between the lines” and others may slip to future releases.
Windows 8 + Dynamics CRM: I was very surprised to see how much work it looks like Microsoft is putting in to rewriting the CRM user interface to work with Windows 8. I’ve included one of about 20 pictures I was able to snap in a session titled, “CRM Goes Metro”. Metro is the new user interface design that Microsoft is rolling out across Windows Phone, Xbox and Windows 8. It looks much better than I expected. For those of you who use the Windows Phone, you’re already familiar with the buttons that function as “smart tiles” – giving you information (such as the weather) without even having to open the application. CRM may have smart tiles that tell you the number of leads you have, past due opportunities, or high priority cases. What was most impressive to me was the way that CRM is being laid out to be much less data-entry intensive for users, while walking them through processes (in the same way, for example, that LinkedIN walks you through making sure that your profile is complete). If Microsoft can deliver something as nice as what I saw in these sessions, then it will change the game.
A quick note to developers who may want to keep up with Windows 8 and CRM, Microsoft suggests the following tools and knowledge sources:
Social Integration: Microsoft plans to continue to expand what they’re doing with social integration. I saw impressive demos of updating contact information directly from LinkedIN (some of this functionality is expected to be available in the Marketplace within just a few weeks, but the most impressive demo was done with Windows 8 and won’t be available until late this year). Although I did not see this demoed, it also sounds as if Microsoft plans to develop integration directly to social networks so, for example, if someone tweets something negative about your organization, you can convert that into a case and work to resolve the issues with the customer.
Tablet and Mobile Behave Like Outlook: This is something that was only talked about briefly, but in at least one session I heard a mention of integrating directly with mobile Outlook and mobile phones so that emails and phone calls can be tracked directly from mobile devices without having to have the Outlook client installed. This would be a huge leap forward for highly mobile users, or users who are accessing CRM from a Mac or another non-Microsoft platform.
CRM as the System of Engagement: There were a number of demonstrations showing how the mobile capabilities (both with Windows 8 tablets as well as with other form factors such as phones and iPads) could be used in a very efficient manner while interacting directly with customers. One example that I thought was particularly exciting was for a retailer. When the customer walked into the store, they could optionally check in with their mobile device; when they did so, the employees at the store were immediately alerted and the customer profile was made available with both recent and recommended purchases displayed on screen.
There are a number of very exciting developments right on the horizon. What’s coming by July looks evolutionary, but what’s coming after that looks revolutionary. Let’s hope that Microsoft can pull it off and take CRM to a whole new level that quickly!
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