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Microsoft Announces: Dynamics CRM Spring 14 update is coming

Just a couple of days ago, while many Dynamics CRM customers getting ready for Microsoft Convergence in Atlanta, Microsoft dropped a press release as well as a Bob Stutz blog post about some forthcoming functionality in the Dynamics CRM Spring release. Microsoft is making good on their more frequent release cadence for Dynamics CRM 2013.

Highlights include:

  • Increased focus on the marketing side of CRM, targeting the CMO (strong message in Bob’s blog post)
  • Marketing enhancements via the Dynamics Marketing product (next step after the Marketing Pilot acquisition last year)
  • Social listening capability native in Dynamics CRM, which will be at no additional cost to CRM Online customers similar to the strategy with InsideView Social Insights functinoality
  • Customer care improvements…separate from the recent Parature acquisition announcement

I’ll be curious to get a pulse on the reaction of folks at Convergence, but at face value this is going to be a great update.

Microsoft’s Acquisition of Parature Announced

Microsoft has announced as of January 30, 2014 that is has reached an agreement to acquire Parature to help strengthen the customer service and service portal capabilities in the Dynamics product family.

At the beginning of 2013, Microsoft and Parature announced an alliance to deliver solutions. While there hasn’t been a lot of chirping around that relationship, the offering must have had some good appeal to warrant an acquisition.

Bob Stutz, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, has a blog post to offer his thoughts that accompanies the press release.

Tough to say at this point exactly how much Parature they’ll be showing at Convergence here in a month, but there will certainly be a buzz about it.

Microsoft Goes Gangbusters with Team Blog Posts

I’ve been a long time subscriber to the MS CRM team blog and the last year and a half has been pretty quiet.

With the release of CRM 2013 last month that’s all changed! They’ve published over 20 posts covering various aspects of the new release ranging from general functionality to technical deep dives. The content is jam-packed with information and I’d venture a guess that there will be more coming. Keep your eyes on the CRM team blog out on MSDN.

With the holiday season coming up, I’m planning on spending some time to highlight some of the more useful items buried inside of these posts.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM logo

Eating our own dog food – Microsoft Cloud Services

I’ve been with Hitachi Solutions America for the last two years and we’ve been through rapid change and growth during that time.  As a professional services organization, we needed to re-situate our infrastructure to be more flexible for our remote teams and expanding global workforce.

Microsoft posted a video yesterday that highlights our success in consolidating on Microsoft Dynamics cloud solutions (Dynamics CRM Online, Office 365, SharePoint Online).  It’s been a team effort but the transition was pretty smooth (as smooth as any core IT change can be).  I tip my cap to all of the people who have helped get us where we are!

CRM 2013 Launch Event

Yesterday Microsoft hosted their official CRM 2013 launch event.  Very well orchestrated, it was a combination of live professional video, prerecorded footage, and Skype calls between satellite events and viewing parties.  

Screen shot of the live video.

Honestly it was one of the best productions I’ve seen by them in quite a few years.  I was reminded of the old Microsoft Extreme events around the turn of the century.  They’d broadcast video feeds live to movie theaters across the country to show previews of their upcoming products (one of those was Office 2003 to set the time frame).

The CRM 2013 launch event revived that concept and took it to the next level.  With Microsoft Studios in Redmond, the event at Convergence in Barcelona, and satellite events in NYC and Anaheim (at the CRM Extreme event, not related to MS Extreme referenced above).  Microsoft showcased their offices, partners, and most of all their Dynamics customers who are excited about the new release…and spent quite a bit of time reminding folks to use their #CRM2013 hash tag (which has had some decent usage over the last 24 hours).

Content

Microsoft kept the session very high level.  They didn’t do feature/function demos or hype the technical capabilities of the system.  Instead they focused on the experience–both for a CRM user as well as the customer.  The consistent theme that was emphasized was that CRM can help “Make Happy”.  While I’m not sure the slogan will resonate in any board meetings, the underlying message is critical and a key benefit of using the Dynamics CRM product.

Very excited for what’s to come!

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.