There’s been a huge level of interest towards my previous blog post on the updated user experience in the next Dynamics CRM version, codename Orion. A wealth of great comments have been added by #MSDYNCRM community members both here and on the LinkedIn Dynamics CRM Group thread. Thank you all for contributing into the discussion around the future direction of CRM!
Based on these comments and observations, I decided to write down some further thoughts of mine on the potential impact of Orion. After all, it will be a while before the next Dynamics CRM release is officially out the door (notice how it’s almost “light years away” in timeline slide below?), so we’ve got plenty of time to kill.
The Aftermath of Polaris
The Polaris release in January seems to have raised a few concerns among customers and consultants, specifically on these two fronts:
- CRM Online only – is Microsoft going to ignore its on-premises customers?
If we start from the Online part, Microsoft has made it clear already some time ago that they will proceed with an “Online first” strategy when it comes to updates and new features. While previously the gap between the on-premises and Online environments in terms of feature availability has been fairly small (with many hotfixes still arriving first for on-premises customers), Polaris really shifted this balance by introducing a whole new user interface with the process forms as well as integrations to external services like Bing Maps and Skype.
If you were only casually following the product roadmap announcements from Microsoft last fall, it will have been easy to miss the fine print that said the December 2012 Service Update was for CRM Online customers only. Although Microsoft has basically promised that all of the new features will be introduced also in the on-premises version, with no specific release dates available yet, this message may not have been very comforting to those who were mistaken to expect the new Polaris features for their CRM servers already in December. Many blog posts were later on written to clarify the differences between Update Rollup 12 and Polaris, so clearly there was some room left for improvement in the product roadmap communication strategy for future releases.
Since Orion will be a major version release with synchronized contents for all deployment models, it’s only a matter of time before we’ll return back to the status of feature parity between Online and on-premises. However, it’s also just a matter of time before there’s a further release planned that targets CRM Online customers only. As has been stated, the plan is to have one release per year for on-premises and two for Online, so it’s best to adjust yourself to the idea that the latest innovations will be piloted in the Microsoft cloud. On-premises remains a perfectly viable option (or the only option for some customer groups), but things just won’t move as fast there as they do in the cloud. When dealing with business software, that’s not always such a bad thing actually.
Let Them Eat Jscript
Just like the “Online only” nature of Polaris, the support for scripts or, more precisely, the lack of it wasn’t a widely advertised quality of the new UI. This limitation has understandably caused frustration in different departments. Funnily enough, having the privilege of access to new features doesn’t necessarily make you any happier if you end up feeling that something has been taken away from you at the same time.
For existing CRM Online customers with form scripts already applied, be it for simple conditional logic related to fields and values or more complex calculations, it has meant that the benefits of the new UI can’t be taken into use without cutting back on functionality that exists in the old UI. For new customers who sign up for a CRM Online trial it can come as a surprise that in order to implement the business logic that the organization needs, their Microsoft partner will have to “downgrade” them to a UI that looks very different from the one that got the excited about the product during the 30 day trial.
If you ask me, I think the problem really is that Polaris wasn’t released as the “iPad client” but rather as the new user interface for all clients. This brought the requirements for the UI onto a whole different level and, unfortunately, at this level Polaris isn’t able to compete with the classic forms yet. If the Flow UX was something that the users themselves could easily switch to, similar to using the “/m” in the CRM URL to access the Mobile Express version, consultants and administrators wouldn’t need to be cautious about enabling this new UX alonside the fully functional Ribbon UI of CRM 2011.