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Reinventing the wheel rarely produces a perfectly round object. This is also the case with Microsoft’s attempt to enhance the basic operation of downloading a file from a website.
If you have Software Assurance for Microsoft CRM, then you will probably also have the rights to use Microsoft Dynamics Customer Source. I know, figuring out how to even gain access there in the first place can be a challenge, but luckily our tech guys had already done the hard part in my company. So, assuming you’re in, you’ll notice that the friendly people at Microsoft have put most of their training course materials on the site, ready to be downloaded. While the course ware designed for classroom training may not ideal for self learning, they are still a great resource for looking up CRM administration related details as you go.
Instead of the usual download procedure, MS has decided to force everyone to acquire the materials through a download manager application called Microsoft File Transfer Manager. It’s a tool for providing some controls over the file downloads from Akamai servers, like resuming a broken download. The main question is, why do I need to bother? The downloads are typically a few megabytes in size, nothing I would need to worry about on a company network, since it’s year 2008 and we’re not on 56k modem anymore.
Compared to the usual “do you want to save the file” prompt, the user now has to run an ActiveX add-on for IE, peform a bewildering amount of clicks and watch a number of pop-up screens to achieve a simple download. The add-on which I just reluctantly installed on my computer is asking for a language update installation only 10 seconds later.
There is not a single positive feature about this forced process that I can think of, it only masks a simple download operation into something that needs a whole lot of arbitrary “managing”. Kind of reminds me of Microsoft CRM at times. I guess that’s why they’ve chosen the Dynamics users to be the guinea pigs.
In my working team we’ve only recently started to use Microsoft CRM 3.0 for organizing our own work. The CRM system has been already rolled out to 200 users globally, but these databases have been reserved solely for end customer data. Now we finally have a separate CRM environment to manage our team’s internal customer data, projects and tasks, hence the “dog food experiment”. I’ll blog here some of my experiences as a newbie user, like this mystery with appointments.
This monday I opened up my Outlook calendar and was greeted with a surprisingly empty schedule for the upcoming week. Hmm, didn’t I have plenty of meetings booked for every day, as usual? Going back to my Outlook’s “Recover Deleted Items”, I was actually able to restore a fair amount of ucpoming appointments. But who put them in the bin?
Upon opening CRM’s My Activities view, I still saw the missing appointments in the list. Looking back, I realized each of the appointments I had to recover from Outlook’s trash bin had been tracked into CRM by myself. Why on earth were they simultaneously removed from Outlook?
Well, it turns out that there was a contact record in CRM that matches my default outgoing email address with it’s .com domain. My actual CRM user account used an email address with .fi at the end. So, CRM was not able to find any CRM user resources in the list of appointment attendees and promptly synched my Outlook calendar, thus removing the appointments (since I wasn’t participating them). I did remain as the owner of the appointment and was of course one of the contacts listed as attendees. Come to think of it, Microsoft CRM did provide some error screen to me about scheduling issues when pushing the track button, but who reads those?
Makes you realize how an email address alias can make things confusing for many parties. Also makes you remember not to blindly trust what the system tells you and instead always make a mental note in addition to the virtual one.
Matt Witteman, an MS CRM MVP, posted a nice wish list of 14 improvements that he would like to see in the product. Out of all these, I agree with almost all of them and would take them up on my list as well, except for the first one, which is the request to have more frequent releases of new MS CRM product versions. And that really contradicts with the whole point of asking for feature improvements.
When you are working with a product that has a release cycle of 2 years, there are a couple of things that happen. Number 1, you implement workarounds or acquire add-ons to circumvent some of the features that you are most sorely lacking in the current release. Number 2, you commit yourself to the platform that has been given to you and invest in long, tedious and expensive integration projects that promise to deliver value in the long run.
Imagine that this same platform would suddenly turn into a “perpetual beta” kind of product which continuously insists on updating itself with nice little features and quick polishing. You would end up living in a world of constant fear that a change in the next minor version will either render some of your previous efforts obsolete, or more importantly, break an integration that the whole business has learned to rely on.
I’d very much like to have it both ways, but when it comes to choosing one or the other, I’m actually pretty happy with the way things are for Microsoft CRM. Yes, my company is still on CRM 3.0. Yes, we have a huge number of critical integrations. Yes, there are plenty of features in 4.0 that I want to get my hands on. Yes, upgrading to 4.0 will be a long and hard journey. I just don’t think there really is a viable alternative to this development path, yet. Then again, while reading The Big Switch and seeing what is going on with Salesforce.com and other modern players, I also keep on wondering how many years the current method of implementing business applications will last, and what will be the next platform that I get my hands dirty on after 5 years time?