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Chuck Schaeffer Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2017 — What Matters Most in the New Release

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Microsoft released Dynamics CRM 2017 today. However, with the new release comes a new name of Dynamics 365 Enterprise customer engagment apps. From my review and perspective, the most significant new features include customer Insights generated from Azure machine learning, a new visual workflow design tool, improved enterprise business intelligence capabilities, more telemetry for health and performance monitoring, and inline editable grids.

Dynamics 365 for Customer and Relationship Insights are services which aggregate customer data from the CRM software and external sources such as social media in order to draw inferences which influence relationship health scores.

These apps use connectors to social media data streams, integration with other apps such as Exchange and ERP systems, algorithms from the Cortana Intelligence suite, Azure machine learning and Power BI to harvest, correlate and display analytics and KPIs.

Dynamics 365 Insights

The Relationship Insights view in the above diagram uses relative sizing and color coded circles to show the health of customer relationships based in part on the volume, recency and interaction of email exchanges. Insights are extensible to deliver more customer-specific guidance, suggestions or next best actions. For example, if an email from a customer mentions a competitor name, the system may trigger an alert, create an activity or modify the sale opportunity.

The new visual workflow design tool replaces a table and row workflow interface which worked okay, but often confused business analysts and administrators. The new tool uses a drag and drop designer on a visual canvas. This tool was previously part of Microsoft Dynamics Marketing (MDM) and has now been extended to the CRM suite. Interestingly, Microsoft discontinued Microsoft Dynamics Marketing earlier this month.

Dynamics CRM Workflow Designer

The workflow designer is extensible using Portable Business Logic (PBL) and also includes some new inline contextual user tips and even some process measurements such as elapsed time between steps. The new workflow tool is a nice step up, however, still does not accommodate the need for routing and approval processing.

There are some new data warehousing and enterprise Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities. Data can be more easily replicated to external data stores – be it on-premise or to an Azure SQL data warehouse – for online analytical processing or Power BI viewing. This approach incurs some minimal latency but protects the CRM system runtime performance and scalability.

Dynamics CRM Data Stores

Additional Dynamics CRM features include the following:

  • Process Guides have a new designer and permit improved child branching, embedded tasks and workflow automation.
  • The Field Service software includes a Connected Field Services function (with Internet of Things integration), Resource Scheduling Optimization (for mass scheduling using an algorithm), map updates and a Field Service Mobile app (however this app doesn't support offline operation as does the rest of the CRM software.)
  • The Project Service Automation now integrates with MS Project and Dynamics 365 for Operations (previously Dynamics AX).
  • Social engagement has been extended to include automatic tags, sentiment analysis for Chinese and Japanese languages, and social listening for Instagram.
  • Mobile CRM has a stepped-up user interface that now includes stacked components (for tablets) and more native device support. An offline data API offers access to the mobile offline database.
  • Power BI (finally) works within CRM and supports drill-through to forms and grids. It also includes some new content packs and multi-language packs.
  • Gamification has an upgraded user interface, Azure AD identity integration and new mobile support. To date, gamification has not gained much traction and I don't suspect these new features are significant enough to change that.
  • A new generic scheduling engine can consider any concept of demand, such as work orders (with SLAs), cases and sales activities, and apply a scheduling algorithm to improve resource capacity. This provides a central view for project, field and internal bookings, and is extensible to include objects from any CRM entities and custom entities.
  • A Relationship Assistant offers proactive insights such as news and what's going on with a customer. Like the Customer Insights and Relationship Insights services, the Assistant is built on machine learning and Cortana intelligence algorithms.
  • There is a new email context extraction function. This is essentially a bridge between the users' email productivity world (where they spend their time and interact with customers) and the core customer system of record.
  • Search has been improved. It now uses Azure Search, examines any field or entity, searches documents stored in CRM and displays a single comprehensive list along with facets (which are search results segmented by entity, such as accounts, opportunities and cases).
  • The Learning Path tool now supports editing help content. This can deliver contextual instruction using sidebars, guided tasks and videos.
  • A new backup and restore function allows the online database to be copied to Azure storage, and downloaded to an on-premise location. Prior to this function, customers had to call Microsoft and request this service. This could be helpful for data analysis, or to apply a database profiler for testing or performance analysis.
  • New inline grid editing of records is now available in the web client and mobile app for both home grids and sub-grids.
  • This new version includes more telemetry. Microsoft has instrumented more of the code for online system health and performance monitoring. This also aids error resolution as users just need to report the time of the error, and no longer need to describe how to reproduce the error.
  • There are three new platform tools designed to work with CRM. Flow (a business process engine), PowerApps (a visual mobile app builder intended to be used by BA's and power users) and a Common Data Model (intended for shared services among multiple applications). These apps are in early stages.

Microsoft Momentum Continues

With this Microsoft CRM software release, the company has achieved 48 quarters of consecutive double digit growth and 2X year over year growth for CRM Online seats. 80 percent of new CRM buyers now choose CRM Online. The CRM software growth strategy appears to be two-fold – offer a strong CRM suite which continues the existing growth momentum and better embed CRM with ERP as part of Dynamics 365 for a tighter enterprise-wide business software solution. End

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With this Microsoft CRM software release, the company has achieved 48 quarters of consecutive double digit growth and 2X year over year growth for CRM Online seats.


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