The past six months have not been the steadiest of courses for Microsoft and their CRM product. Microsoft announced grand and exciting plans, as discussed last month. Dynamics CRM partners and MVPs were frothy at the mouth with the new things coming and many could not believe Microsoft had transitioned from their traditional three-year cadence to a six-monthly one and still managed to deliver such bounty.
As it turned out it was too good to be true and at the eleventh hour Microsoft pulled some of the more exciting features delaying them for six months.
After regrouping, Microsoft have released their new and improved roadmap for the upcoming December 2012 Service Update (called ‘Polaris’) and the one after this to come mid-year 2013 (called ‘Orion). I thought it would be a good time to see what they have planned for these two releases.
The November 2012 Statement of Direction
If you want to read the latest roadmap and read about Polaris, you can do it here. There is even a promotional video showing Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM / Windows 8 vision. These are my take-outs from the Statement of Direction.
To make it absolutely clear that Microsoft has a set of guiding values and principles, they called out their CRM ‘Charter’.
I personally like it. There is nothing concrete here e.g. when specific functionality will be delivered and this is as it should be. These are simply the values which Microsoft are calling out as their criteria for including or excluding features in the product.
For example, the ‘Ubiquitous’ values make it clear that Microsoft will not go down a path of ‘lock in’ with Internet Explorer or design CRM to only work with a keyboard. If the use of Kinect as an interface becomes popular, this value also embraces that as a choice. If the business world starts using RaspberryPi devices, Microsoft has a clear charter to build CRM for these as well.
In terms of exclusion, the ‘Productive’ values make it clear the plan is to bring further integration between Dynamics CRM and ‘the stack’ (other Microsoft products). This means that products like Lync and SharePoint will become more intimately entwined and, while there will be ‘hooks’ available for alternatives, this will not be an area of strong investment.
Investment Areas (Polaris)
Both the Statement of Direction and Release Preview guide talk at the areas of investment for the upcoming releases. These are broken down into:
- Applications (sporting a picture of a Windows Phone with ‘apps’ icons)
- Experiences (showing someone operating their Windows Phone and slate)
- Platforms (showing an oil rig platform. Seriously, what?!?)
The Polaris summary graphic gives the highlights:
Here are some of the major call-outs:
- Configurable sales and service processes: Think Solution Selling or at least a Microsoft version of it
- A UX to match the process changes
- Yammer integration: While the Record Wall was nice, now we have a true Chatter contender. Security management will be interesting
- Multi-browser support: IE, Chrome and Firefox on Windows, Firefox and Safari on Macintosh
- iPad support (although they are saying only for the sales process)
- Skype built in: I imagine this will be click to call, like the free Skype add-in for Dynamics CRM 2011, but will not pop up boxes for incoming calls. I hope I am proven wrong
- New bulk data API: This means we should be able to get imports at rates higher than 50 records/second. That is fantastic news for projects with big data sets to import
- Custom workflow assemblies for CRM Online: Bringing it in line with On-Premise deployments
Investment Areas (Orion)
Thanks to the CRM User Group (CRMUG) and new CRM MVP recruit Chris Cognetta we have the Orion summary graphic:
Given Chris assures me this has been presented at CRMUG, it should not be in violation of my MVP NDA but, if it is, I am sure Microsoft will let me know and I will take it down.
Interesting items mentioned here are:
- Exchange server synchronisation: This used to be in v1.0/1.2 but was abandoned all those years ago. It looks like it is back
- OWA and MOWA support: So many times I get asked if CRM works with the Outlook Web App (OWA) and have to say no. In six months this may not be the case
- Integrated marketing management: Given Microsoft just acquired MarketingPilot, which appears to be quite a comprehensive little package, this could be what they are referring to here. If so Core Motives, Click Dimensions and Exact Target must be very nervous
Other Stuff Hinted At
Things mentioned in the Statement of Direction but not explicitly called out for the Polaris or Orion release are:
- A new ‘agent desktop experience’ for Service: I am wondering if this is an overhaul of the old Customer Care Accelerator
- Centralised administration for CRM and Office 365: Unfortunately this is unlikely to be case in the short term for Australia due to third line reseller entanglements
- Lync integration: Likely to be similar to the Skype in that is will be call out but not inbound pop-up enabled for CRM (again, happy to be proven wrong)
One thing which interests me is the clear shift from creating a ‘process platform’ to a sales/service tool with configuration capabilities. From a marketing perspective this makes sense as it is much easier to show a tangible sales process than a set of configurable tools to match any work process. Whether the xRM capability of the platform will be compromised by this is yet to be seen.
On a more positive note, to be honest, this is the first time in a while I have confidence that Microsoft have a clear direction dictated internally and not by the competition. Microsoft are defining a clear path, separating them from the competition, rather than saying “Us too!”. Microsoft are not pleading their cloud credentials or trying to tell us how social they are. They are simply stating the values driving them and the features they are bringing to their product to support these values. I applaud the new approach and wait eagerly for Santa Ballmer to deliver his goodies.