Well here we are in the week after Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) and I must admit that I’m still a little overwhelmed by the amount of new information that there is to digest about Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft’s cloud strategy. A number of announcements and public demonstrations were delivered regarding the new functionality that will be available in Dynamics CRM and I thought some of you might want to get a preview of what will be coming.
But I have a dilemma. There are so many improvements and new breakthroughs coming in Dynamics CRM 2011 that it’s difficult to know where to start. In fact, Microsoft tells us that it takes a full day to provide a rapid overview of new functions to their internal team. So we will only be able to scratch the surface here. Let’s start by breaking this into two big picture areas: (1) the most significant areas of improvement, and (2) other breakthrough functionality to look for.
By the way – if you’re interested in getting an early hands-on view of what’s available in Dynamics CRM 2011, then be sure to register for the Sneak Peek webinar here: www.successaccelerators.com
Significant Areas of Improvement
These are areas that may seem subtle from an end-user standpoint – but they will emerge as true “game changers” for businesses using Dynamics CRM. You may not see them get a lot of airtime in the initial months after Dynamics CRM 2011 is released – but check back 6-12 months later and you’ll notice a dramatic change in what people are doing with CRM, how they are using it and the value that they are getting from it.
Dynamics CRM 2011 in Microsoft Outlook
Are you surprised to see this one at the top of the list? One of the reasons that many of our clients select Dynamics CRM 4.0 is because of its tight integration with Microsoft Outlook. Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Dynamics CRM 2011 does an amazing job of making the CRM and Outlook experience truly seamless. Most of the demos that I watched were presented 100% inside of Microsoft Outlook and it was a completely seamless experience. Not only is the experience even simpler for users, but it also leverages built-in Outlook functions like flagging records, using categories and the preview pane.
One of the nicest features is tighter integration when sending Outlook emails. In previous versions of CRM, most users gravitated towards sending email from Outlook rather than CRM because Outlook provides a much better interface for sending emails. But if they wanted to insert a KB article, use an e-mail template or send a piece of sales literature, they had to send the e-mail from within CRM. Dynamics CRM 2011 incorporates CRM features directly into Outlook making it easier to use Outlook to send email. For example, you can select Knowledge Base articles or Sales Literature (including attachments!) and send them directly from within Outlook. This is great functionality – it leverages all the things I love about using Outlook for email while integrating all of data and functionality I need to pull out of CRM.
This may seem like it’s only an incremental improvement – but I believe it will be a game changer for users of Dynamics CRM. You will see even more businesses choose to go with Dynamics CRM because it will be easier to adopt and it will accelerate performance through the Outlook interface.
Fully Functional Cloud Version
With CRM 4.0, we frequently advised our clients with complex requirements to use the On Premise version of Dynamics CRM because of some limitations related to custom code and reporting with CRM Online. For the most part, those limitations will be eliminated with Dynamics CRM 2011. This will give businesses even more compelling reasons to transition their CRM software and their application development framework to the cloud using a combination of Dynamics CRM, SharePoint and Azure. Based on what we are learning about businesses transitioning their technology to the cloud, and based on what we’ve learned about Microsoft’s cloud strategy (click here to see the blog entry) – I believe that this will be another game changer. Expect a growing proportion of businesses to go directly to CRM Online rather than On Premise to lower costs, focus on their core business and get up and running faster.
CRM 4.0 presented a great tool set for developing new applications. But Dynamics CRM 2011 will usher in a new era of developing custom applications using the XRM Development Framework. While this change will not be visible on the surface, it represents a tectonic shift in what Dynamics CRM will be able to do for your business. My prediction: within 5 years, the majority of Dynamics CRM implementations will not be used for core CRM capabilities (sales, service and marketing) but will instead be used for custom line of business applications. Using this approach, businesses will reduce their need for internal (and external) developers, lower their costs and more rapidly automate business processes and outcompete their rivals.
Businesses that understand and leverage the new Outlook interface, the cloud, and the Solutions areas of CRM will become more agile – lowering costs and adapting to change faster than their competitors. It’s a great time to be alive and working with Dynamics CRM!
Microsoft also announced a number of new items that are breakthroughs in the core CRM functionality. These are items that most businesses will likely view as the bigger improvements initially because they are highly visible new areas of functionality. There are dozens of new capabilities, I’ve outlined some of my favorites below.
Workflows will now also include “dialogs.” Think of these as “real time” workflows that can prompt users through a series of custom forms and activities. Dialogs can serve up custom forms (such as how to interview a job candidate, solve a service issue, or conduct a telephone survey). They can interact with workflows so a dialog can kickoff a workflow that updates records in CRM or creates another follow up activity (which could be used to trigger another dialog). This functionality will solve a number of business challenges that used to require custom development. Maybe more importantly, CRM will now use .NET 4.0 including the more updated workflow process – so you can extend your workflows significantly beyond the built-in CRM 2011 capabilities and then import them into CRM (since they use standard a XAML file).
In the image to the right, it’s difficult to see, but you can see some of the differences that using dialogs will make available in the workflow design process.
Custom Activity Types
In Dynamics CRM, you have a lot of different activity types to choose from (phone calls, emails, tasks, appointments, campaign responses, letters, etc). Now in CRM 2011, you can create your own custom activity types. One example of a custom activity type might be an SMS message – so you can track text messages. Another might be a social media interaction. Yet another could be a lead qualification activity. Because activities can link to records in so many ways and can also be visible as Outlook tasks, custom activities will be powerful tools you can use to improve business processes and the visibility of customer interactions across your organization.
This will likely be the favorite new function for many business users. In the past, creating custom dashboards for CRM meant integration with SQL Reporting Services or maybe SharePoint. CRM Online provided some basic dashboarding options – but they were limited. Well not only did Microsoft create a powerful and easy-to-use dashboard designer, they made it so flexible that dashboard can be easily integrated directly into your views or your data entry forms. In the “old days” dashboards were considered to be something that you view at the “top” of an application (such as “sales dashboard”). Those are still available, but now you can have a dashboard for each view in CRM (my neglected accounts, my current pipeline, my activities, team activities, etc), and for each record (service incidents and satisfaction for this account for example). Once you make the jump to CRM 2011, expect to be able to quickly understand and react to changing customer needs.
The the left is some “eye candy” that I was able to snap during the WPC conference public demonstrations. My apologies for the low quality images. We’ll post better images here once we can make them available. UPDATE: Better quality images have now been posted -- enjoy!
Role-Based Forms and Views, and Field Level Security
When setting up CRM, it seemed that we have always been asked, “can I set it up so that each person sees a different view of opportunities [or some other list type] when they open CRM?” Until CRM 2011, this used to require some custom development or add-ons. Now users can be presented not only with whatever view they choose as their favorite, but forms can also be customized by user role. This includes not only the fields on a form, but even the related lists in the left-hand part of the form. So, for example, if you have a campaign of type “event,” you might see related lists of: speakers, sponsors, venues. But a campaign of type “new store opening” might not display any of those lists. It seems small – but it goes a long way towards making the application easier to use for everyone. Also related to this is field level security – the ability to control visibility and read/write permissions on specific fields based on the role of a user.
SharePoint 2010 Integration with CRM 2011
We had integrated SharePoint 2007 with CRM 4.0 in the past, but CRM 2011 includes SharePoint integration out-of-the-box. There is no reason why every business that is using CRM 2011 shouldn't be using SharePoint with it (a free version of SharePoint comes with windows server, so this doesn't have to involve additional costs to build collaboration and document management into CRM). Below is a screenshot of some of the SharePoint integration.
That’s just a starting point. We’re looking forward to exploring all of the new features available in Dynamics CRM 2011 very soon. We’ll be kicking this off with a Sneak Peek webinar in September – be sure to sign up here: www.successaccelerators.com. If there’s a feature in CRM 2011 that you’d like to learn more about, mention it as a comment to this blog and we will do our best to cover it at the webinar.