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CRM 2011 UR 15 has arrived

This week Microsoft posted Update Rollup 15 for download.

The notable new functionality includes improvements to the CRM Outlook Client! This includes “process isolation” to split it out from the core Outlook process, an upgrade to SQL CE 4.0, and reduces performance issues with a large address book (among other things, it’s all in the KB)

Here’s the history of CRM 2011 update rollup version numbers and KB links.

Dynamics CRM Logo

4 things I hope the Dynamics CRM Orion release holds for the Outlook Client

With the relatively recent release of the “Polaris” release of Dynamics CRM Online, I couldn’t help but start to wonder what the new design direction might have in store for the Outlook Client.  I’m psyched about the spiffier look of CRM, I see it as an important baby step, but what’s not clear is what this means for the ever popular Outlook experience.

Orion

Photo Credit: DJMcCrady

The Microsoft CRM team highlights “…integration of key CRM information across Microsoft Office Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint” as part of the improved productivity experience in their published Statement of Direction.  We can assume that means a boatload of new functionality to Office/Dynamics CRM are part of the release plan…but what specifically will the Orion release mean for the Outlook experience?  Below are 4 things that would be great additions:

1. Less window switching

It’s pretty clear that this is a key aspect of the new design direction…and it will be ideal for this to follow through into the Outlook interface as well.

2. More flexible synchronization

Today there’s an automatic synchronization that happens on a periodic basis, comparing the local versions of records with the ones on the server.  This can be initiated manually as well by either “going offline” or using the File->synchronize option.  While that’s great, there are often times where users don’t remember that the appointment they just created in CRM hasn’t pushed to their local calendar yet (the one they created using the web form).  The Orion release timeframe would be a great opportunity to address this.

3. Less intimidating navigation for new users

For those who are familiar with the Outlook plug-in, it makes judicious use of the left-hand navigation in Outlook as well as the context-sensitive ribbon.  Even to an existing Office user, the sheer volume and variability in this setup can make the initial learning experience a bit challenging.  Seeing this carry through to Outlook would be a huge win.

4. More seamless record interaction experience

This is the most nebulous item on my list…but follow my explanation.  Let’s say you’re working with an Opportunity in CRM that you accessed via the Outlook interface.  When you want to collaborate with a team member, you end up sending them a hyperlink to the record which results in a pop-up window (which makes sense, it is a web app at its core).  But wouldn’t it be cool if instead that Opportunity record could take over the preview pane?  You could work with the record, then move on to the next email.

Orion in Outlook Mock-Up

Wouldn’t it be great to click on a link to an Opportunity record and have it show up in the reading pane?  In this example, the user clicked a link inside of an email, opening the Opportunity record that is displayed.

This Opportunity scenario is just one example of many, and perhaps I’ll expand on some other possibilities like this that I see in another blog post, but for now I’ll leave it at the tip of this iceberg.

To Conclude

Sure, there’s a ton more that they’re probably packing into the upcoming releases  but these are a few that I think most of them would line up well with the design direction of the product.  Keep in mind, these are hopes, not predictions.  A boy can dream… 🙂

Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks since convergence…

If you’re like me, you didn’t have the chance to attend Convergence in New Orleans last month.  While I may have missed this chance to see the Big Easy again, at least I can get some of the juicy conference details!  Interested in digesting some of this information yourself?  Read on!

Virtual Convergence – Microsoft

Convergence Logo

  • You can still watch the virtual replay of the keynote and general sessions
  • Sure, you have to give them an email address to register but let’s face it, if you’re reading this MS has probably sent you marketing materials before 🙂

Convergence 2013 Recap: Review by a CRM MVP – Christopher Cognetta, CRM MVP

  • Christopher posted a slide deck containing key information that was discussed at Convergence
  • Expect to see a mix of photos, MS content, and a good look at some of the (not-so-distant) future releases of CRM

The Next Dynamics CRM User Experience: Orion – Jukka Niiranen

  • Jukka has a series of screenshots and explanation about the Orion UX
  • This is a detailed blog post with lots of information packed into it

Forbes: Microsoft’s Cloud Computing Strategy and Roadmap Evident at Convergence 2013 – Louis Columbus

  • While this article was published shortly after Convergence kicked off, its focus is on the overall Dynamics strategy rather than detailing the event itself.  That said, it’s no less interesting and is definitely worth a read
  • They also give a mention to Scribe software, in a nod to the improvements to their service offering and their role in supporting Microsoft Dynamics

Information Week: Microsoft Gains Enterprise Clout With ERP, CRM – Doug Henschen

  • Don’t let the fluffy title fool you, this is a quick read that hits some good highlights
  • Of all of the articles here, this one paints the most different picture of Marketing Pilot

Customer Excellence Awards at Convergence 2013 – Matthew C. Anderson

  • Yeah, this is a link to my own blog…I need to brag about the awesome team that I work with 🙂
  • Hitachi Solutions clients were well represented with 10 finalists and 4 winners of Customer Excellence awards!!

Talk with your CRM Administrator Soon: Are your CRM 2011 plug-ins ready for this year’s scheduled application updates?

The MS Modern Style Account form

The MS Modern Style Account form

2013 is a big year for CRM Online and CRM 2011 On-Premise.  Microsoft has an amped-up roadmap with a ton of great functionality on tap.  Some of this has already hit with the December Update for MS Online customers.  One of the most notable is the UI refresh, which brings the “MS Modern Style” that is hitting oh-so-many MS apps.   The visual update is fantastic as it takes great strides to free users from having so many windows open when using the application.  This is fantastic news both on the desktop as well as on mobile devices.  Business leadership (and most users) will expect to receive these benefits soon after they’re rolled out.

So, what’s the catch?

Well, I don’t really want to call it a catch, but this certainly introduces some additional considerations as you look forward with your CRM deployment.  These considerations could have an impact on the user experience and ultimately impact productivity and usability if not addressed prior to upgrading.  There are new wrinkles when it comes to form layout, in-form scripting, and plug-ins.  Today, plug-ins are in my crosshairs.

Historically in MSCRM, users would have to click a Save button when they’ve worked with a record (Save, Save and Close, etc.).  The MS Modern Style form brings the web 2.0 concept of automatically saving a record that is being edited.  From a user’s perspective, that’s mostly good (though an undo button would be nice).  The specific mechanism triggering this save is a timer, which saves saves changes to the CRM database every 30 or so seconds if there have been changes.

Right there, that’s a little interesting.  It’s time-based, not event based.  Sure there’s still a Save button you can click, but if I take 90 seconds to update a record, 2-3 saves will have taken place during that time.  So, let’s consider a plug-in that fires when a record is updated.  In the soon-to-be-old-world, it would have executed one time (when I clicked save).  In the soon-to-be-new-world, it will have executed 2-3 times (or maybe even 4 if I ended up clicking the save button manually when I was done).

This can get you thinking of a handful of questions about existing plug-in design…

  • Are your plug-ins resource intensive?  What if they’re running at 2x the frequency as today (or 3x…4x)?
  • Do any of your plug-ins trigger a chain of events?
  • Do any of your plug-ins rely on the fact that today they only execute when you’re finished working with the record?
  • Do any of your plug-ins rely on something that’s been done to the record via client-side scripting?
  • Do any of your plug-ins do a validation that requires certain groups of fields to all be updated (think address city/state/zip code validation)?

So what do the answers to these questions mean?  They give a picture to how much of an impact some of the 2013 updates may have on your users.  Generally speaking, these aren’t likely to stop the business in its tracks.  That said, it would be unfortunate to introduce performance and user experience issues that cloud the positive impact of the fantastic new functionality users are getting this year.

In a quiet nod to this, the CRM Team Blog recently posted a couple of items.  One detailing the specifics of the save behavior (along with a note that it can impact the items called out above), another about plug-in design.  The posts are quite technical, so if you’re not feeling geeky today you can instead read the following commentary:

The CRM SDK describes plug-ins as “custom business logic (code) that you can integrate with [Dynamics CRM] to modify or augment the standard behavior of the platform”.    This means plug-ins are beyond the platform that MS is responsible for (Read: it’s your problem if it’s not working right).  MS felt like it’s important to post information about plug-in design in parallel with the news about product updates.  Change is a-coming, and it may not play nice with your existing customizations.

Talk with your CRM Administrator about the plug-ins you’re using and assess the type of impact these updates will have.  Most of these issues can be addressed…but remember: plug-ins are written in .NET, which means you’ll need a developer, which means you’ll need regression testing, which ultimately means you’ll need cycles from multiple teams of people.

Now is the time to get the conversation going.

Dynamics CRM Online: iPad Support

After years of anticipation, the first official browser support for Safari on the iPad has come to CRM Online customers. This is a huge step forward for Dynamics mobile support, and more importantly an important milestone in keeping relevancy with the changing needs of the workforce.
CRM On the iPad!
Recent updates to the CRM Online technology are  a key  enabler with the December service update from MS, which brought customers the “New Style” forms. Specifically, the New Style forms drive activity without relying on pop-up windows. This is a must on a mobile device, as there’s not an alt-tab to rely on or consistent ability to show two windows side-by-side: It all has to be on a single page.

The downside to this, of course, is that it requires an administrator to opt-in to the new user experience and means only a selection of the entities currently leverage the New Style form. This is going to begin a game of tug-of-war for some organizations, as there are more considerations beyond iPad support that come along with opting-in to the new forms. A big example here is in-form Scripting support (JScript) which is not supported in the New Style forms. (yet?)

Much more detail can be found at the CRM Team Blog, where they recently posted details regarding iPad support.

On-prem folks still have some waiting to do, with this initial release set for the Orion release later in 2013. Still, this is a great step forward and a slick looking alternative to buying a separate app to view CRM.

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Convergence 2013

Oh how I wish I was going to Convergence this year.  Time for a little shameless bragging 🙂

Heads held high, the Hitachi Solutions CRM team has two clients that are 2013 Customer Excellence Award winners in the Productivity category (Sales Force Automation and Customer Care categories), and the broader Dynamics team has four total winners and many more finalists!  We’re also a Platinum sponsor and I’m extremely proud of the presence we have planned for the event (I’ve seen the booth layout…so cool!).

Congratulations to the 2013 Customer Excellence Award Winners!

Way to go team!

For those of you who will be at Convergence, make sure to stop by the Hitachi Solutions “Café Du Monde” (booth #2013) to learn more about the other exciting things our team does.

P.S. I may have forgotten to mention the complimentary coffee and beignets at our booth…

Dynamics CRM Mobile Offerings

With the January CRM update from Microsoft, there are now more mobile access options for Dynamics CRM than ever.  While this is great news when it comes to flexibility, it adds a wrinkle when it comes to making a decision on which method to use.  Fortunately, there’s an upcoming webinar that will explain many of the available options.  See the details below:

Please register for Microsoft Dynamics CRM – Mobile Productivity Overview on Feb 27, 2013 11:00 AM CST at:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4002311733266928640

Microsoft is making large investments to expand and enhance Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s mobile productivity capabilities.

Join us to see a broad overview of mobile CRM productivity capabilities and options. We will also demonstrate leading edge mobile solutions for CRM Clients.

Don’t miss this exclusive opportunity to see the latest and greatest features and functionality in Microsoft CRM.

Register now – attendance is limited.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Full Disclosure: This webinar is hosted by my employer, Hitachi Solutions

Excessive IE Add-ons PSA

I’ve seen an uptick in the number of Internet Explorer 7&8 Add-on related support issues for Dynamics CRM.  Not sure what’s causing the spike, but I’m getting the word out so you can take some preventative measures. 🙂  Issues can surface in many ways, including:

  • Record windows not opening at all
  • Record windows opening but only partially loading
  • Wonky behavior when trying to change text in fields
  • Goofy pop-ups and error messages when saving a record
  • Unexpected impacts on the user experience (script oddities)
  • General slow responsiveness of the application

If your web browser looks like this….

Internet Explorer window with countless toolbars

Eep! [image via reddit]

…you will want to start removing (or at least disabling) these.

Microsoft has a detailed FAQ that covers details on how to deal with these, and how they may have gotten there in the first place.

Learning the basics about Microsoft Dynamics CRM

For those of you who are just starting to evaluate CRM options, Michelle Groen of Hitachi Solutions will be holding a free introduction demonstration webinar next week.  It’s scheduled for  February 6th, 2013 from 2-3pm EST and will be covering the following information:

  • Outlook – Converting an email
  • Dashboards – Drill down, Exporting to Excel
  • Marketing – Lead Qualification
  • Sales – Opportunities, Workflows
  • Service – Case Management, KB’s, Dialogs

This is a great way to get a feel for the application and inspiration for what it can do to help transform your business.

If you’re interested, please register (the last one exceeded capacity and only pre-registrants could get in) using:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3143168740836452352

Enjoy!

Full Disclosure: I am employed by Hitachi Solutions.