Microsoft is rolling out Dynamics CRM 2013 Online along global regions and today it arrived to North America. The newest Microsoft CRM release, previously code named ‘Orion’, delivers some key improvements from the prior Dynamics 2011 version. Here’s my take on the top 5 Dynamics CRM 2013 advancements, and a few important things that are still missing.
Dynamics CRM Improvements
A new and improved User Experience (UX). I’ve been evaluating this CRM release since late July as part of the TAP (Technology Adoption Program) and I’ve discovered the more I use it, the more I like it. While I recognize beauty is in the eye of the beholder and UX is difficult to objectively measure, there are nonetheless design and UX standards which contribute to an on-the-fly learning experience (no formal training required), more intuitive navigation and a more rewarding UX.
The user interface (UI) has incurred two big changes. First is the Yammer integration which now results in an effective enterprise social network. It's a great social addition, but unfortunately limits social engagement to internal collaboration. More on that later.
The second big change is the addition of Guided Processes, which operate by inserting a process flow control at the top of forms and are very effective in adding context to otherwise static records. Instead of just viewing any particular (account, contact, activity, opportunity, case, campaign, etc.) record in isolation, the process flow visualization shows the record history (how it got to its current state) and the record destination (what steps are next to achieve the desired outcome).
Process flows define and display Stages and Steps at the top of each form. Each Stage contains a series of steps. Each step is a field or activity where data is entered. Users advance to the next stage using a Next Stage button. Stage-gating requires that certain steps be completed before subsequent steps can begin.
Bringing a life cycle perspective and delivering information in context (including where it’s been and where it’s going) is much more insightful than static records, better streamlines processes and acts as a proactive guide to make information more actionable.
A strong User Experience is more than subjective beauty. Anybody that’s been in the CRM industry for more than a day recognizes that CRM adoption and utilization are both challenges and success criteria to achieving payback on your software investment. The UX goes a long way in aiding these critical success factors.
Expanded Mobility. The world’s mobile worker population will reach 1.3 billion, or 37% of the total workforce by 2015. To cater to this increasing demand, Dynamics 2013 now brings together Yammer, Skype and Lync along with multi-device mobile support for Windows 8/Surface and the iPad. Tablets are a big deal in the CRM world, so supporting the market leading tablet (iPad) with a native iOS solution and real ‘touch and gesture’ operation is a welcome addition. No additional fees for mobility is another welcome addition. There's still no offline mobile solution, but this functionality is targeted for the Vega release in Q3, 2014.
Business Process Automation. I’m a long-time advocate of business process automation (BPA) for the simple reasons that this technology increases staff productivity, decreases business cycle times and helps answer the difficult question of ‘how to do more with less’. BPA advances CRM from a system of record repository to a platform that routes the right information to the right people at the right time. Dynamics 2011 previously offered workflows for asynchronous BPA and Dialogues for scripted conversations and data capture. Microsoft CRM 2013 takes these capabilities further.
First, workflow is now real-time, so while triggers and asynchronous processes can still run in the background, system events and user requests can initiate real-time system responses and processes as well. Workflows are now referred to as either background or real-time workflows. Second, in addition to Dialogues, Microsoft has added Actions and Business Process Flows. Actions enhance workflow triggers beyond CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) to also include decision behaviors such as Approve, Reject, Route, Escalate and Schedule. Business Process Flows insert controls (i.e. required fields) on forms in order to enforce data compliance and gate or control process sequence. They ensure one step is complete before the next step is permitted.
Dynamics workflow permits dialogue inserts, calls to child workflows, conditional branching and works across entities. This functionality is both highly relevant for more advanced CRM processes and unique amongst Dynamics CRM competitors.
Business Rules. In my discussions with Microsoft and partners, I find the new Business Rules seldom get mentioned, which is unfortunate as this is some new and powerful functionality that I suspect will evolve to become something even bigger. Business Rules dynamically display forms and pages for more relevant and streamlined interaction. Based on user, behavior or action, a form or field behavior may dynamically change. For example, based on data input, a field may become required, or disappear or a new field will appear. And best of all these custom behaviors and dynamic user experiences can be configured without custom programming. Business Rules are part of the PBL (Portable Business Language) which is essentially a relatively simple (declarative) tool which lets business analysts or non-programmers customize the app. Business Rules essentially replace much (but not all) of the presentation layer java scripting that Dynamics consultants have been doing for years.
Cost Effective. Cost is a factor is any CRM software selection project. Cloud delivery and subscription pricing have changed the cost model from CapEx to OpEx and made cost more predictable. Good options for sure, but don’t always result in lower TCO (total cost of ownership). Not all CRM users require the same access and privileges with CRM software. There are heavy users and light users. TCO dramatically rises when every user is charged a monthly subscription fee equal to the price of the most expensive user. Microsoft CRM 2013 breaks that constraint and permits customers to mix and match subscription fees based on each users individual need. This more flexible licensing will most certainly lower TCO for customers.
So What’s Missing From Dynamics CRM 2013?
In a single word, "social". Microsoft still doesn’t understand the strategic importance or mechanics of social CRM or social strategy. With the Yammer acquisition, they’ve acquired what is arguably the best enterprise social network (aka internal social network) in the enterprise software industry, and they’ve done a good job integrating it with Dynamics CRM. However, for companies seeking tools to engage external prospects, customers and communities, and aid their social selling, social marketing, social service and overall strategy to become social enterprises, Microsoft is without strategy and light on tools.
The NetBreeze acquisition may yield some external social capabilities when eventually integrated with both CRM and ERP, however, there’s been sparse information available about that product since the March 2013 acquisition. Further, a social listening tool without automated social engagement capabilities is like standing outside the pub; you can hear the fun inside, but you can’t be a part of it.
Microsoft’s most direct CRM competitor, Salesforce.com, is a social maven and more importantly uses this strength to sell a heck of a lot of CRM software. In fact, it’s there #1 sales message and its extremely well received. I’m hopeful that Microsoft will view social strategies and social CRM not just as limited point solutions, but as serious compliments to customer engagement strategies. I hope they also recognize that social strategy and the supporting tools are high on the C-suites agenda and offer the potential to sell a whole lot more CRM software.
The other missing piece is marketing automation.
Microsoft’s acquisition of MarketingPilot in October 2012 is interesting for a few reasons. On the plus side, it looks to deliver a powerful, cross-channel marketing resource management (MRM) system that will definitely add value to enterprise customers. However, businesses typically don’t invest in MRM until they have large and often decentralized marketing operations. MarketingPilot is less likely to be adopted by marketing departments of less than 15 marketing resources.
On the flip side, MarketingPilot’s current integration to Dynamics CRM (using the Connector) is extremely limited and the product doesn’t really accommodate the most requested CMO function of all – marketing automation – or the ability to track, acquire, score, nurture and transfer sales leads. We’ve all heard the Gartner forecast that CMO’s will spend more on technology than CIOs by 2017 but I don’t think we all know what they intend to purchase. Fortunately, you only need to talk to a few CMO’s to discover their top mandate is to acquire more leads for the sales force and to do that, they need marketing automation technology.
The Dynamics CRM 2013 on-premise solution is slated for later this month. Increased mobility, including support for Android, is also around the corner. Microsoft is on a quarterly cadence to deliver new enhancements for marketing (Mira release in Q1, 2014), customer service (Leo in Q2, 2014) and even more mobility (Vega in Q3, 2014). It’s an impressive release schedule and promises to deliver features and solutions which are truly in demand by the market.
Microsoft has never been an innovator in the business software market, but the company has adopted a fast follower strategy that works well given its size and target market. This most recent Dynamics CRM 2013 release leverages key enterprise software lessons such as User Experience, mobility, internal social collaboration and the overarching consumerization of (business) IT to deliver what is arguably the best CRM software solution for a large population of customers seeking to improve their customer relationship management strategy.
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This most recent Dynamics CRM release leverages key enterprise software lessons such as User Experience, mobility, internal social collaboration and the overarching consumerization of IT to deliver what is arguably the best CRM software solution for a large population of customers seeking to improve their customer relationship management strategy.