MS CRM 2011 – Outlook Client and Web Client Comparison

Though it may seem like a simple question, there’s not a lot of low-hanging fruit when trying to answer the question of “what’s different between the Dynamics CRM Web Client and Outlook Client?”

Web Client or Outlook Client

What’s the same, and what’s different?

First off, they both offer the same core functionality.  You can work with the same record types, Workflows/Dialogs function the same, the customized and role based forms are available in both, records can be created and shared, etc.

The Outlook Client is additive to the experience of the Web Client.  Some of the notable enhancements offered by Outlook include:

  • View CRM-Tracked Appointments and Non CRM-Tracked Appointments in the same place
  • Word Mail-Merge
  • Choose between the Outlook form and Web form
  • Ability to “pin” views (not Pinterest integration…Microsoft Office “Pushpin” functionality)
  • Add conditional formatting to views
  • Native spellcheck in E-mails
  • Offline Sync
  • Single-application user experience for email and CRM

Since the Outlook Client seems to do more, why would I bother with the Web Client?

The very first argument for the Web Client is speed.  Pure and simple.  Not so much the speed of “opening records and navigating between them” but rather the “I have ten minutes to take out my laptop and get a few things done.”  I’ve seen first-hand the frustrations of road warriors who simply want to open Outlook and look up a prospect’s address or phone number, who feel thwarted by the extra load times and resource-thievery of the Outlook Client.  For those who open Outlook and work out of their inbox for a decent chunk of time, the initial delay is well worth it.  For the road warrior, it is going to take longer to load up the full Outlook client (if it’s not already running).

Another argument is that there is no question of exactly when the information will get into CRM.  When you work in the Web Client, the information is immediately committed to the database.  The Outlook Client does a periodic sync, with a minimum of 15 minutes between syncs.  No that’s not awful, and Yes you can manually initiate a synchronization, but depending on the circumstance this can be a potential problem.

The Outlook Client only Synchronizes to one CRM Organization database at a time.  The Web Client doesn’t have this same limitation.  For anyone who has tried to regularly run the Outlook Client Configuration Wizard to regularly flip between the “Synchronizing” organization, rest assured that this is not a good standard practice.  While you can still navigate to records in other CRM Organizations, you don’t enjoy the same benefits as the Synchronizing organization.

Having users synchronize to a local machine (or virtual desktop) has a performance cost at both the Application and Data levels of CRM, as well as a network utilization cost.  The CRM application server and the SQL server take on extra overhead, especially when users are starting Outlook or preparing to Go Offline.  Depending on the size of the the user base and the beefiness of the underlying servers, this could be negligible, or then again it could be noticeable.

The Outlook Client has updates that must be managed.  Every time a CRM update rollup is released, there’s a corresponding Outlook Client update that is also required.  While this can be handled by Windows Update, it’s not a surefire thing that all users are going to be up to date, meaning one more thing to manage for the helpdesk.

If I’m used to the Outlook Client, but I’m in a position where only the Web Client is available, what should I be aware of?

First and foremost, don’t fret the basics: navigation and the overall feel of the application are the same.  You still have the site map (left-hand navigation), view selections, sorting & filtering of views,

If you’re used to the Outlook Client, you’re probably taking advantage of Pinned views.  In the Web Client, only one view is available at a time.  The first view you see when navigating to an entity is the (administrator-set) default view.  You will need to use the view selector dropdown to choose your view.  Alternatively, you can use the “Saved Views” in the Advanced Find window.

For email and other activities, there is not a “Track in CRM” button that you need to use.  If you can view the activity through the Web Client, it’s already been tracked in CRM.  This works great for new email threads that are initiated from CRM, as well as continuations of tracked email threads.  However, if you receive a new email that you want to track in CRM it’s going to be more work.  A few options include:

  1. Copy/paste the email text into an activity manually
  2. Summarize the interaction in one activity (mark as complete), then reply using a new thread that is tracked in CRM
  3. “Attach” the email to another Activity (or Contact or Account) record in CRM, then reply using a new thread that is tracked in CRM

The key here is to make sure that the next outbound interaction comes from CRM, so you can rely on your email tracking settings to pick up future emails.  Unfortunately, any reports that summarize email activities could potentially be missing the original email in the thread, depending on the method chosen.

If you’re not using the MS CRM email router as an organization, Outlook is required in order to physically send and receive CRM email.  Email send/receive capability in CRM relies on either the email router (set up centrally for the entire organization) or the Outlook Client.  For the latter case, the CRM Outlook Client must be actively running in order to handle email.

Lastly, if the user base exclusively uses the Outlook Client, they’re probably not familiar with the URL they should go to in order to use the Web Client.  This is an easy one to overlook from a planning standpoint, but it’s a good idea to make sure they know the URL (and preferably bookmark the URL so they don’t have to track it down later).

Final Thoughts?

It’s amazing how much businesses rely on Outlook today, yet some of the very major CRM players out there lack a solid Outlook functionality.  Not only does Dynamics CRM offer a slick client, there are some really cool things that can be done, especially with the conditional formatting stacked on top of the excel-style filtering of data.

If you have the means, take full advantage of what the Outlook Client has to offer.

Matthew C. Anderson
 

I'm an enthusiastic speaker, creator, and problem-solver.

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