Another year, another major Dynamics CRM release! What a time to be alive, eh? CRM 2016 has now been published for new Online trial instances globally and will be coming available as on-premises download within the next couple of weeks. If you haven’t yet explored what’s new with Dynamics CRM 2016 then I recommend starting from the following three links that I personally always refer to when discussing the latest version:
- CRM Help & Training: What’s New in CRM 2016 (for the end users)
- What’s new for administrators and customizers in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016 and CRM Online
- What’s new for developers: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016
Rather than just making it a “go and RTFM” type of post, here are a few notable features in the latest release that I personally think you should pay attention to.
Start From The Top
For folks upgrading their on-premises CRM environments, this is definitely a sizable release, as the features from CRM Online 2015 Update 1 (v7.1) are only now becoming available to them. Working mostly with CRM Online environments these days, it does really feel painful whenever I have to go back to the pre-7.1 Nav Bar, so the new navigation experience should definitely cheer up your users who are now spared from the game of sideways scrolling accuracy Olympics. I’ve yet to find a single thing that the new navigation would be worse for than the old one released in CRM 2013. Don’t forget to configure a custom theme & logo for your CRM while visiting the customizations menu! Oh, and remember to leverage this Theme Generator, since MS apparently had to cut the development budget when it came to “nice to have” things like color pickers instead of hex codes.
Moving from 7.1 to 8.0 may not deliver any immediately visible changes to you, as Microsoft has largely decided not to introduce anything dramatic in the look & feel of the familiar web client. One thing you may notice, though, is a yellow notification bar telling you something about an “interactive service hub” and asking you to “experience it now”. Hmm, sounds interesting, so maybe I’ll click on it and… Whoa, what’s happening?! Why am I seeing the same customization download screen as on the tablet client? And where did half of my menu items from the Nav Bar go all of a sudden?
So you thought there’s not much new in the CRM 2016 UI, huh? There definitely is a lot of new investments to be found here, ranging from brand new “interactive experience dashboards” to updated form layouts with embedded cards, revised components like Timeline (ex Social Pane) and new concepts like the Reference Panel (“Related”). It’s all built on top of the MoCA framework, and it gives you a taste of how the Dynamics CRM application of the future will behave: less like a web page and more like an app.
Why do I say “the future” if it’s in fact already available in CRM 2016, for both Online and on-prem customers? Well, if you’re an existing Dynamics CRM user, the chances are that you’re not going to deploy this into production use quite yet. For starters, it only supports a limited set of the core CRM entities like account, contact, activity and case. Sales opportunities, leads, marketing lists or campaigns aren’t within the scope of this release. While you can show custom entities in the Interactive Service Hub, you’ll not be able to perform many of the more advanced customization tasks that the traditional Dynamics CRM web client supports, like embedding web resources or Iframes to forms.
There’s a lot to like about the new user experience that this “interactive” web client presents us with. The new dashboards especially appear to address many of the requests that CRM users typically have, like the ability to apply global filters to all the charts. The method of presenting related records and streams of activities is definitely more in line with the way modern mobile apps work, even if the experience itself feels a bit too mobile for a full size monitor in terms of information density. Still, in its current state it remains more of an experimental release that’s not meant for wider adoption yet. Much like the infamous Polaris release prior to CRM 2013, this Interactive Service Hub will be best used for learning about and preparing for the direction of future Dynamics CRM web clients.
Explaining this grand scheme of things to the customers will be tricky, as it was with Polaris. For example, in order to leverage the new Knowledge Articles you have to access them via The Hub, presumably because Microsoft hasn’t wanted to build a rich text editor UI for the old web client anymore but has rather focused their investments on MoCA. Within the right feature scope you can probably do cool stuff with this client already, it’s going to required setting the right expectation level right from the start. Oh well, I guess that’s what us consultants are there for…
CRM Via The Apps
On the mobile apps there is now the ability include new types of visual controls for the mobile forms that can make CRM data both a lot more pleasing to the eye as well as easier to work with on a touch screen device. While many of these new controls would surely be great additions to have on normal web client forms as well, Microsoft has decided not to enable them for browser users of CRM in this release. Remember what I said about the MoCA framework being the focus area for MS?
Task Based Experiences (“TBX”) a.k.a. Task Flows is another new feature that is not just “mobile first” but “mobile only”. The idea behind these experiences is to be independent from the underlying entity relationship model and rather guide the user through a set of screens that present a subset of only the relevant fields from each related record that need to be touched in the process. What’s a bit cumbersome in this release is that TBX isn’t actually launched for a specific record but rather from the bottom left corner of the mobile app start screen. It’s almost like the old (and mostly abandoned) Dialogs feature from CRM 2011 but with a more modern approach, including the ability to add nice looking photo icons for the launch menu. [Read more…]