If you haven’t worked with CRM Online using Office 365 Global Admin rights recently, you might have missed the new delivery mechanism that Microsoft has created for additional CRM functionality not included in a new Online org by default: preferred solutions. Unlike the traditional solution import mechanism under the CRM application’s Settings area, these preferred solutions are both installed as well as updated (upgraded) via a miniature “CRM app store” controlled by and reserved for Microsoft exclusively. To access these preferred solutions you need to go to the O365 Admin Portal, open the CRM Online Administration Center, choose an instance and click the edit icon next to “Solutions”. You’ll be presented with a list like this one:
OK, maybe not exactly like this one, unless you work in the United States. You see, these preferred solutions are also targeted to preferred customers, meaning in practice CRM Online customers who use a tenant located in North America. Let me point this preferred region out to you from the Office 365 and CRM Online datacenter map:
The current availability of the preferred solutions is as follows:
- Insights for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online: powered by InsideView, this service is free for CRM Online US customers only. Presumably due to the fact that their database wouldn’t have very good coverage of companies in other parts of the world. You could of course buy the service from InsideView directly if you really must have it.
- FantasySalesTeam: acquired by MS in August 2015, this gamification solution is built on the concept of fantasy sports that’s apparently a huge industry in the US but less familiar in most other regions. Sales people all around the world surely are a competitive species but no one turns the competition into entertainment quite like the Americans do. Expanded availability of the preview is coming any day now.
- Voice of the Customer: built in the UK and acquired by MS in March, the solution formerly known as Mojo Surveys has been launched in preview mode for US customers only. Ouch. Well, don’t worry, this feedback management solution will surely come to other geos quite quickly (or MS will need to deal with some customer feedback of their own…)
- Office 365 Groups: not acquired from anywhere but rather an original Redmond design, this solution became available already back in CRM 2015 Update 1 (v7.1) time frame as a preview globally (yay!)and is now available in full production support mode to all CRM Online customers.
- FieldOne Sky: only the sky’s the limit for this solution that’s available to CRM Online users with Professional licenses, no matter where your field service personnel may roam. Acquired in July 2015, FieldOne is running mostly on Microsoft’s XRM platform, but the mobile client still relies on Resco and allows only access to a subset of CRM default entities, so for broader mobile use you’ll still need to buy a separate Resco license.
Although not a CRM solution in technical terms, it’s also worth mentioning that the CRM App for Outlook which was released as US only preview last summer is now available to all CRM Online users who are on CRM 2016 version. I haven’t seen any upgrade time slots being scheduled for existing CRM Online customers yet, so currently mostly newly provisioned orgs can access the Settings – CRM App for Outlook menu to enable users for this lightweight successor to the “heavyweight” Outlook client of the past.
With all the goodies deployed in a CRM Online trial org in North America, this is how your CRM Nav Bar will look like with the new areas added for FieldOne Sky, Voice of the Customer and FantasySalesTeam:
Quite a lot going on there, don’t you think? We haven’t yet even installed the latest Microsoft XRM acquisition, Adxstudio, into our organization, nor done any customization for creating new entities to hold customer business process specific data and we’ve already got a whopping 4459 components in our CRM organization’s default solution, including 264 entities visible via the customization UI. Knowing that at the last time Shan McArthur counted them, Adxstudio Portals included 155 entitites when installing all the vertical solutions into a single CRM instance, we’ll be pushing beyond four hundred entities in a Dynamics CRM Online environment before deploying anything that’s custom or ISV produced.
This ain’t your grandpa’s customer database anymore, that’s for sure. Back in CRM 2011 days, which was only five short years ago, the world looked very different through the eyes of a Microsoft business consultant. Check out my 5 year blogging retrospective if you want to enjoy a more scenic trip down the memory lane, but for now let’s just focus on the expanding CRM schema. During a recent migration project I ran into a document from MS that included a comparison of the database complexity between Siebel and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. At that point, CRM 2011 was stated to have less than 200 database tables, whereas Siebel 8.1 was a monstrosity consisting of more than 2000 tables. We of course have to keep in mind that the actual table count is higher than the number of visible entities in Dynamics CRM, and that many of the system entities are not something that a user will ever encounter in the CRM UI. Anyway, the rate of growth in entity count for a Dynamics CRM environment with standard Microsoft functionality is quite impressive.
Does the entity count matter? Purely in itself, not really, as it’s just virtual table structures in a database management system that doesn’t have any feelings towards what’s “too little” or “too much” when it comes to the amount of bits. It is, however, an indicator of important changes that are taking place around the CRM platform:
- Microsoft is using Dynamics CRM as a platform for delivering new business applications, rather than maintaining many isolated apps with their own architecture
- Data from these various applications is managed inside a single CRM database, right next to the customer master record around which the business processes are modeled
As detailed in my earlier “XRM Strikes Back” post, I believe the success rate for this type of applications is going to be higher than when trying to build integrations and connectors between separate data silos. If we want to push CRM to the next level and really start to build systems that help companies achieve better Customer Engagement, then things aren’t about to become any simpler as the number of channels and amount of data types we need to work with keeps growing in exponential fashion. For some great insight on CRM’s role in the new CEM/CX jungle, go and read Paul Greenberg’s definition on how these three acronyms need to be positioned, as well as his list of 18 customer engagement technologies that companies need for supporting their CEM strategies. While they most definitely can’t all be built into one monolithic system, it’s equally obvious that we can’t know in advance what specific bits and pieces different organizations need when engaging in continuous interactions with their customer base. We therefore need the flexibility to configure and adjust these processes as the expectations for the engagement paths evolve, and achieving this agility requires not a set of products but a business process platform – like XRM, for example.
If the destiny of these central platforms is to expand in their coverage of channels and processes, it means we’ll need to develop the skills & strategies to cope with this change. Thinking about the example of preferred solutions now offered as optional components for any Dynamics CRM Online environment (and eventually on-premises, too), clearly not every customer organization is going to need all the components, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t gradually become a part of the package we think of as Dynamics CRM. Below is a list of the entities you have after installing the solutions (click for a larger version):
I bet this would make a great drinking game for CRM consultants: “Default or Custom?” You pick the name of an entity and the players must tell whether it comes as a part of CRM delivered by Microsoft or if it’s a custom created entity.
- “SLA?” – “Easy, that’s default!”
- “Question?” – “Umm, well, I think that survey solution might contain one…”
- “Resource Skill?” – “I’m flipping a coin here, let’s stick to default.”
- “Warehouse?” – “Hell no, this is CRM, not ERP! What? Default?!? You’ve gotta be sh***ing me! [drinks a shot]”
Continue until the bottle is empty, then launch Dynamics Marketing and crack open a new bottle of vodka… But seriously, there’s going to be a lot of work ahead of us to learn what might come as an OoB feature and how to align these with custom entities. For example, let’s assume an organization has integrated payment data from their financial system into their CRM account profiles. Then along comes FieldOne Sky and these new “Payment”, “Payment Details”, “Payment Method” and “Payment Term” entities appear in the CRM data model. What are you gonna do? I don’t have an answer nor recommendation for you at this point, but it just goes to show that we all better start educating ourselves on what these new preferred solutions have to offer.