Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Review of the latest Dynamics CRM Statement of Direction

Microsoft have released their latest Statement of Direction

http://blogs.msdn.com/crm/archive/2009/09/21/updated-microsoft-dynamics-crm-statement-of-direction-is-now-available.aspx

While this is hardly 'hot off the press', I haven't seen much in the way of review of the content and what it tells us about what is likely to happen in version 4.0 and the elusive version 5.0.

Timeframes for release of version 5.0 ("V.Next")

Back in the August 2008, the proposed release time was "late 2009, early 2010" (https://partner.microsoft.com/US/productssolutions/dynamics/40086846), this has now moved to 2010. The rumour is towards the end of 2010 and, if history is anything to go by, December 2010 (v3 was released in December 2005 and v4 was released in December 2007). I'm guessing Christmas break is an excellent motivator for getting software out of the door.

Mobility

The document makes mention of the free Mobile Express add-on for Dynamics CRM, which is now a standard part of the product and will be part of the rollups from six onwards. For those that want to do things like create new activities in CRM from a mobile device, the document also refers to the TenDigits alliance and the MobileAccess product which now supports Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices (http://www.tendigits.com/mobileaccess.html). This is great, I knew about the alliance but not that they had finally changed the product to support Blackberry and Windows Mobile, nice work!

Accelerators

The big news here are the additional sales methodology accelerators that are coming out (Miller Heiman, SPI and TAS). SPI is already out and, as many have discovered is not open source like the other accelerators. It is free to try though.

The document also mentions the second wave of accelerators (Social, Portal and Partner management). All are slated for released Q3 2009. While there is plenty of information in the wild about the Social accelerator, there is very little on the others. SOD comes through with screenshots of the partner management tool, which is essentially for channel partner management.



You can assign opportunities to partners and even have them bid for jobs, if we believe the screenshots.

eService is being improved to allow customers to download documents from CRM, a nice touch. Event Management is being improved to support custom attributes.

Outlook Client
The Outlook client is being upgraded to support Outlook 2010. Synchronization of contacts and activities is apparently being improved (I wonder if they'll fix the address book http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2008/12/dynamic-crms-address-book-is-broken.html)

This should be out by the end of the year.

GP integration
Back in the days of version 3, there was a connector which allowed invoices and the like to be automatically sent to Dynamics GP. When CRM version 4 came out, a new version of the connector didn't...until now...almost. A connector between Dynamics CRM 4.0 RU5 and Dynamics GP 10 SP4 is slated for release by the end of the year. Two years is one big wait for this so let's hope its worth it.

No word on the other ERP products in the Dynamics stable (NAV, AX, SL) other than this esoteric sentence:

"The system is based on a transformation engine and uses specific adapters to identify source and destination systems".

For a connector specifically built for CRM and GP, an architecture supporting adaptors and automatic system identification seems a bit of an overkill. Could this be Microsoft's Scribe-killer?

Dynamics CRM Online
A question that used to be frequently asked at CRM meetings was "When is CRM Online coming to insert country outside of the USA and Canada here". Few people bother asking over here in Australia any more as local hosting providers have filled the gap. However, Microsoft are extending the reach of CRM Online beyond the borders of the North American continent and apparently going to be 'available in all major international markets mid-2010'. Let the price wars begin...

The SLA for CRM Online has been changed with an uptime guarantee of '3 nines', that is, 99.9% of the time. For the mathematicians, that's 8-9 hours downtime a year.

There is also the lead capture facility for CRM Online which basically sets up a web page for you and feeds the leads directly into Dynamics CRM.

Finally, the next service update of CRM Online (due in November) will give mobile access to CRM Online.

Features of Version 5 ("V.Next")
No big surprises that Microsoft are still holding their cards close to their chest on this one. A few morsels thrown out include:
  • Increased use of 'the ribbon'
  • Reduction in mouse-clicks and form opening to achieve common tasks
  • Users get to define their default views
  • Improvements in the KnowledgeBase Article editor and the ability to attach documents
  • Specifics were vague but the team concept in CRM seems to be getting a bit of a working over in the new version. There are already whispers of team-ownership of records in version 5 so this should be an interesting area to watch
  • 'Fixing' of email communications i.e. allowing attachments to outbound emails in areas other than workflow
  • Recurring activity support
  • Creation of a decent package management system for bundling customisations of the product which they describe as working like the Add/Remove programs feature of Windows
  • Restructuring to allow for plugins/custom workflows to run on the host server securely. Something very useful for hosting environments where, currently, a plugin has the potential to reach across all hosted organisations
  • Authentication through Windows Identity Foundation (WIF)
  • Auditing 'out of the box'
  • Improvements to the use of WWF (workflow)
  • Global and hierarchical picklists
  • Improved Visual Studio integration (could it be we get something more than a notepad clone for creating jscript?)

Interesting times ahead and it seems enough 'new shiny things' to keep us going until we see something more substantial on version 5.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why Loyalty Programs Might be a Necessary Evil

At the start of this year I wrote a blog post on why loyalty programs offer little benefit to businesses (http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2009/01/why-loyalty-programs-suck.html).

This is still true, however, last night I saw a presentation by Don Peppers. Don is something of a known figure in the CRM arena. In this case I mean CRM in a marketing sense i.e. getting to know your customer better and interacting with them appropriately as opposed to CRM software. He doesn't have a wiki page to point to but you can see what he is about at his Twitter page (http://twitter.com/DonPeppers)

Anyhow, his talk was primarily talking about loyalty programs and while he agreed they do not offer sustainable competitive advantage in themselves, he did provide a reason to have a loyalty program I had not previously considered.

If I'm in retail I have one big problem in getting to know my customer. While I know what goods leave the store and I know what money I receive for them, I have no idea who bought a specific item and why. This is a problem if I'm going to better understand the kinds of customers I have and how I can better anticipate their needs.

In comes the loyalty program. By handing over my personal details and swiping it when I buy my goods, the retailer now bridges the missing link. They know who I am and what I've bought. They can now build up a historical profile of purchases, repeat purchases, link it to my demographic data etc. etc.

Here is the thing, if the only purpose of a loyalty program is to link a customer to their purchases and to review their behaviour to better understand them, is there an alternative which may not be as costly but could also deliver sustainable competitive advantage within itself?

In my 'What is CRM?' post, I talk of the ultimate grocery store (http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-is-crm.html) that knows your shopping list and puts the shopping in your car before you've even entered the store. Let's take it a step further. Here in Australia, the two major supermarkets offer home delivery. Unfortunately, they charge for the service, the range of goods is not as wide as in-store, the quality of the fresh produce is not as good as in store and in some cases they charge a premium of 10-20% on top of the in-store price. There is not much incentive to use home shopping.

However, if I register for home delivery, I provide all the details I provide for a loyalty card and the store can link it to my purchasing habits. They also have my physical address, not my postal address. No need for another card in my wallet, no need for the retailer to keep track of points and keeping money on their books to cover their value and no need to reinvent the wheel.

Delivery could be set up so that every week/fortnight/month the same goods are delivered to your house and the money automatically deducted from your bank account. It works for newspapers and public utilities, why not for groceries? Why can't groceries become another utility?

I raised this question in the talk and the response was essentially "not everyone wants home delivery". Really? People prefer to leave the house to crawl around a supermarket for 1-2 hours suffering screaming children (theirs or someone else's) and to haul a stack of shopping in and out of their car?

I asked my wife, who is in marketing. Her response was "not everyone is online, nannas wouldn't use it". Really? The elderly would prefer to haul a shopping trolley and shopping around rather than have it come to their house like the milkman used to? Sure, not everyone is online but the store could provide terminals where people could set up their shopping lists and deliveries. They could even have friendly staff to help those unfamiliar or unable to operate a computer.

What about the cost? Well the first response is how does the cost compare to a loyalty program? Even if a loyalty program is cheaper, there are considerations of improved inventory management from knowing the monthly purchasing requirements of your customers and knowing precisely which goods they want (if someone walks into your store and make a purchase, you do not know what they wanted, only what they bought from what was available). Arguably stores would not need to be as large or hold as much stock as they would only be catering to 'incidental shoppers' with the bulk shoppers taking the easy option. This provides savings in wages, rental and general store running costs.

A delivery service may not be the answer, but it should not be assumed that a loyalty program is the best fit for all businesses. Ultimately, the answer should be as close as possible to a system that captures the information a business needs, provides perceived benefit to the customer and is sustainable.