Review of the Latest Dynamics CRM Statement of Direction (May 2011)

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A week or so ago the latest Dynamics CRM Statement of Direction was released. While there have already been a few reviews of it done I thought I would add my voice to the piece and highlight the parts that jumped out.

If you are interested in reading the full thing, you can access it here:

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/crm/archive/2011/05/12/statement-of-direction-for-microsoft-dynamics-crm-2011.aspx

The first thing that struck me was the style of the document is quite different compared to, say, the September 2010 Statement of Direction (http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2010/11/dynamics-crm-statement-of-direction.html). While the September 2010 document was more of a white paper in its appearance, this one is definitely the product of marketing. This is not to say the content is not technical or specific (some commitments are very specific), but that the look and feel has been more carefully crafted than previous versions.

 

Ecosystems

The first part of the document trumpets the success of Dynamics CRM 2011 (and why not?) and then mentions a key phrase in reference to what Dynamics CRM enables organisations to do, specifically “encourage connections across an entire ecosystem of suppliers, partners and customers”. In this context ‘ecosystem’ is equivalent to the old ‘supply chain’ of operations management. It is a term I have been hearing a lot lately. It is usually mention in the context of mobile phone ‘ecosystems’ referring to the phone OS company, the mobile phone maker, the telco, the app developers and all the pieces that connect them. I am not sure whether this is Microsoft’s market-speak or a general consensus in the industry that the chains of the past are now looking more like chainmail mesh. I believe it is a term that is going to be used a lot more in the future as organisations look to leverage more than just the consumer to sell their products and services.

“Better Together”

This is also mentioned a bit further on in the context of the philosophies driving development. In the old days we would refer to this as ‘the stack’, that is, the use of Microsoft technologies together with a view of having them compliment each other and work together. This, in turn, has led to the situation where customers openly refer to themselves as ‘Microsoft Shops’. Products no longer stack, they are simply better together apparently Winking smile

Power of Choice

Microsoft are clear that they continue to differentiate between the software and where it is housed and will continue to support this differentiation. If you want to implement Dynamics CRM on your own servers (on-premise), Microsoft will continue to support this. Similarly for a third party’s servers (private cloud) or Microsoft’s data centres (cloud/SaaS). This obviously differs to, say, salesforce.com where the software and implementation choice are combined into the concept of the ‘true cloud’ when the software is run on their servers. All other implementation choices being considered the ‘false cloud’ (private cloud) or ‘software’ (on-premise). Given Dynamics CRM can be deployed any way a customer wants, the salesforce.com definition of software is a nonsense, but I digress.

The Disclaimer

Before launching into the trends driving their thinking and the more juicier, technical specifics, the document provides a disclaimer that essentially says, anything that came before it is false and this is the only true reflection of the vision Microsoft has for Dynamics CRM. Given the next Statement of Direction will likely have a similar disclaimer, a cynical person would suggest anything said in this document is only good for the next six months. The more optimistic of us would like to think the strategic thinkers of Microsoft are not so fickle and while elements may be tweaked the broad direction will remain unchanged.

Trend 1: Social Collaboration and Engagement

The document acknowledges the world of business is looking to be more social but is a little confused on how to do it. In terms of Dynamics CRM, the document is very specific. Dynamics CRM will be integrated more tightly with SharePoint, Lync (the new Office Communication Server) and Office to facilitate social collaboration with customers. They cite specific functionality such as micro-blogging (think Twitter or Facebook status updates), business activity feeds (think the Facebook wall) and social intelligence (think socialmention.com). This, again, smells of the OfficeTalk (http://www.officelabs.com/projects/officetalk/Pages/default.asp) skunkworks project I have mentioned before.

I have talked about the collaborative features of ‘the stack’ in the past (http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-is-this-chatter-about-social.html, http://leontribe.blogspot.com/2011/01/fun-salesforce-becomes-fud-salesforce.html). It seems Microsoft is intent on developing significant enhancements in this area, presumably to develop a product akin in functionality to salesforce.com’s Chatter or Yammer. This is great news. For all the things that can be said about Microsoft it cannot be denied that they know a good idea when they see it.

Trend 2: Deriving Rapid Value From Business Applications

This one is a little vague or, at least, I cannot tease out too many nuggets from it. They talk about

  • Sales and marketing insights and the creation of proposals and presentations. These are areas in Dynamics CRM where there is functionality but room for improvement. Perhaps they are looking to develop Zap-like functionality combining BI with proposal generation (http://zaptechnology.com.au/).
  • Improved service management through areas such as better service planning and multi-channel engagement. Again, Dynamics CRM has some functionality in this area but there is always room for improvement. Service planning in Dynamics CRM has not really been touched since it made an appearance back in version 3.0 so perhaps this is getting a makeover. The talk of social collaboration certainly dovetails into the idea of incorporating social media channels into customer service.
  • Enhanced evaluation and provisioning of solutions from the marketplace. Given the marketplace is, at this stage, an advertising platform for the add-on solutions available but not strictly a delivery mechanism for such solutions, I expect this will change in the near future.
  • Reduced effort to deploy. This is an unusual one as they talk about making it easier to tailor Dynamics CRM. Microsoft obviously have something in mind here but I do not know what it is. Perhaps the delivery mechanism for the marketplace will also lend itself to easier configuration of Dynamics CRM
  • Emphasis on business adoption. This one is a bit of marketing but says nothing in terms of what is coming up

Trend 3: Optimizing Business Decision-Making

Here they give a bit more detail on the BI tools they are looking to deliver. Specifically, the ability for users to create business reports and analysis, data visualisation (which is already pretty good in Dynamics CRM 2011) and data analysis capabilities for trend analysis. This, again, sounds similar to the Zap solution.

Trend 4: Consumerization of Business Applications

To translate, in this case, they mean making the software accessible, regardless of the device being used and whether the user is offline or online. Out of the box mobility has always been limited. There is the mobile express component but this does not have the full functionality of the standard clients.

This section is very interesting. Firstly they talk about the devices they want Dynamics CRM to be compatible with:

  • PC
  • Laptop
  • Tablet
  • Phone

They then get into specifics of the functionality they are looking to achieve:

  • functions of the product will adjust based on where the product is being accessed (in the office, on the road etc.)
  • cross device compatibility e.g. iPad, Android slates, PC tablets etc.
  • MULTI-BROWSER SUPPORT!!! By using HTML5, Microsoft are planning to create a rich client that will work practically anywhere. This is great. For those of you that follow my tweets (http://www.twitter.com/leontribe) you may remember I promised to harass Microsoft to the ends of the Earth until they had a Safari-compatible browser if I made the top 100 Most Influential Dynamics People list. I made #97 (http://www.dynamicsworld.co.uk/top-100/) and it looks like our Apple-shop friends will soon be able to easily access the product. Nice work Microsoft.

Trend 5: Extended Solution Opportunities and Ecosystems

This section talks about how Microsoft are looking to streamline the supply chain (ecosystem). Other than improving the Marketplace experience, specifics are limited. What was interesting was their statement that they are looking to enable enterprise organisations to get CRM Online. Microsoft are clearly stating they consider this a product appropriate for larger organisations (which they have done for a while but not always as directly as this). Using their tried and true strategy they are stretching up; starting with a product for the small to medium market and now playing with large companies in the cloud.

Moving to a Rapid Release Model

This is a big deal. On premise releases used to come out every two or three years. Now that CRM Online and CRM 2011 have the same code base, this is no longer practical. Therefore CRM 2011 has shortened their cycle to ONCE EVERY SIX MONTHS. The upshot of this is we will no longer see the ‘big bang’ of additional functionality we saw, for example, going from CRM 4.0 to CRM 2011. However, it will mean a constant stream of additional capabilities coming into the product.

On top of the twice-yearly updates, Microsoft will also be providing optional add-ons via the Marketplace. My guess is this is the new version of the old accelerators but, hopefully, more complete. The accelerators were great but they were, almost without exception, ‘a good start’. These add-ons sound more like complete solutions. An example might be CRM-Online fax service integration. Useful, but not for everyone.

I have my concerns about this massive shift in the release cycle given it is such a significant change. I am also concerned the ‘fixed-costs’ of putting out a release will mean time for actual innovation will be compromised, limiting the value delivered with each release. Time will tell.

Conclusions

Despite the polished veneer of the paper, this is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive and specific Statement of Direction to date. While some of the things in the paper were mentioned at the recent MVP summit, many were not and you, in reading it, are hearing a lot of this at the same time as us NDA-covered MVPs. I think it is fair to say that everything we learned at Summit, you now know via this Statement of Direction. These really are exciting times, especially for consumers.

The parts I am personally excited about are the social collaboration tools, the multi-form factor support and the multi-browser support. If you want to make a Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner shuffle nervously, ask them about running Dynamics CRM on an Apple computer. This will soon be a thing of the past.

If Microsoft get all of this right, it will be huge. If they get it wrong it will be disastrous. Given there is not much choice being otherwise, I am optimistic Winking smile

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