The annual festivities of the Microsoft Dynamics Convergence event in the US have now been completed for the year 2014. This means that the outline for upcoming releases in this calendar year have also been presented to the 12K attendees in Atlanta as well as anyone watching the sessions via Virtual Convergence. The following roadmap slide shown at the event tells us the big picture: it’s going to be a busy year for Dynamics CRM!
OK, so if the first “swim lane” in the CRM Roadmap schedule is titled “CRM”, then what’s with all the other lanes then and how do these non-CRM items relate to the Dynamics CRM roadmap? Well, here’s the thing: this ain’t the CRM you used to know. It’s no longer that IIS application you used to install on your own little Windows server along with a SQL database and maybe a client component in Outlook. It’s now a suite of services that cover not just your internal processes and tools for your employees but also a wealth of external touch points where your customers will also encounter your CRM system, be it directly or indirectly. Oh, and naturally most of it lives in the cloud, because that’s also where your customers are.
Of course customer relationship management has never been about just that single CRM database where you keep your own contact records, but now it has become very obvious that also Microsoft’s offering in the field of CRM has grown way beyond that. Following on the footsteps of Oracle and Salesforce.com, the acquisition and integration of a growing number of tools to complement the traditional core Dynamics CRM platform means the future CRM product will be much more modular, as opposed to the earlier “one app & license for everybody” approach. Let’s go through each of these lanes in the CRM roadmap and look at what was announced for them at Convergence 2014, starting from the most familiar one: “CRM”.
After last fall’s release of the new Dynamics CRM 2013 major version (code name Orion), you might have been lead to believe that there wouldn’t be so much happening with the core platform this year, at least in the on-premises world. The earlier communication from Microsoft indicated that the plan was to introduce a new release for CRM Online twice a year and roll out an on-prem version once a year. The code names for these releases were also shared: Leo in Q2 2014 and Vega in Q4, one year after CRM 2013 RTM.
This is no longer true. But wait! It’s not an R8 style cancellation but rather a positive piece of news. The Q2 2014 release Leo will be for both CRM Online and on-premises customers, as will Vega. It doesn’t mean all the features will be identical across deployment models but it does promise to deliver new functionality also to customers who are running CRM on their own servers. What exactly will be the delivery mechanism (Update Rollups were supposed to be clear of any new features) or how the official naming convention for different versions will evolve is not yet clear, but currently Microsoft is referring to this as the Dynamics CRM Spring Wave. Partners will have a training blitz session for this wave on April 8th/9th, so expect to see more details made public after this.
The functional changes in Leo will focus on the service module of CRM. New features showcased in the Convergence sessions included SLA management with a timer control available on the case form, merging cases and linking parent/child cases, entitlement management, email to case automation and improvements in the queue feature usability. Considering how much these new features alter the case entity functionality and configuration options, it would have surely been quite difficult to continue supporting two different feature levels if Leo would have in fact been Online only. For callcenter scenarios the new Unified Service Desk (USD) will offer functionality similar to what has previously been delivered via components like the Customer Care Accelerator (CCA) or User Interface Integration (UII). Expect to see also other feature enhancements or tools released as a part of Leo that will not be customer service specific, as well as new capabilities for CRM Online subscription management.
The contents of the Vega release had not really been disclosed prior to Convergence 2014. As this release is still further away in the future the details are not yet as clear as for Leo, but a number of very interesting enhancements to the core Dynamics CRM product were shown on the CRM roadmap slides. Calculated fields will finally be available without writing custom code, via a graphical editor with intellisense support. Business Process Flows (BF) will be enhanced with support for branching processes. On the UI side we can expect to see built-in capability for visualizing account hierarchies. These three features all address very common scenarios that Dynamics CRM customers require in their system implementations, so it’s great to see them introduced as configurable features that a system customizer can leverage right out of the box.
Remember when Microsoft bought NetBreeze one year ago? Their service has now been integrated into the Redmond product portfolio and carries the name Microsoft Social Listening. Last month it was announced that Microsoft Social Listening will be offered as part of the CRM Online Professional licenses at no additional charge, whereas on-premises customers can get it for an incremental cost. This “incremental cost” was later specified to be $20 per user per month for CRM Professional CAL holders. So, while it’s not free for everyone, the pricing is still in line with Microsoft’s previous announcements of wanting to “democratize social” and integrate it as just another channel into their CRM product. [Read more…]