In the past I’ve written about the History of Microsoft CRM from it’s first 10 years. I’ve also explored how the platform evolution up until Dynamics CRM 2013 had changed the product and how we worked with it. This time I want to focus on specifically the Microsoft Cloud era.
I started to think about the different focus areas that we’ve seen on the journey that’s taken us from the early CRM Online days into what the current roadmap for Dynamics 365 and the greater Power Platform look like. In my mind these “snap” into four logical stages that describe what the main ambition at any given time seems to have been for Microsoft’s product team:
Why bother looking back? Well, I could insert a “those who cannot learn from history” quote here, but really it’s more about putting the present into perspective. There are still plenty of customers who’ve either stayed with Dynamics CRM on-premises (now 365 CE by name, too) or who are still viewing the online service as just a “CRM in the cloud”. Hopefully this post will help in understanding the magnitude of change that has taken place in the greater Microsoft cloud during the past few years and why it would be better for them to embrace it rather than just observe it.
The very first versions of Dynamics CRM Online in 2008 wasn’t exactly the same product that you could get by installing it on your own application servers. The limitations on features and customizability meant this was a “CRM lite” that saved you the effort of infrastructure investments and server management, but there were a lot of trade-offs. You gotta start somewhere, but obviously this wasn’t exactly up to the vision that Microsoft saw as what the cloud services should offer to their customers.
Upon the global launch of Online we received the updated CRM 2011 version and most importantly the solution framework that after several iterations now powers the ALM story behind Power Platform. Closing down the gaps between Online and on-prem was the primary goal for product development, with the “Power of Choice” being a key selling point against server-only or cloud-only competition.
While the customization capabilities in CRM Online were surprisingly powerful already in 2011, the gaps in actually managing the environments you had no direct access to took a longer time to close. For the enterprise customers to consider moving from fully controlled servers and databases to the MS hosted cloud, a lot of investment was needed in building self-service features for instance management – not to mention ensuring the cloud apps were reliably available and updated in a controlled manner.
Today the flexibility of spinning up new instances, copying them for test & dev, taking backups, syncing data to Azure SQL for reporting, and many other self-service features available for admins make the cloud environment quite attractive. In exchange of giving up full control over your servers and databases, you have the luxury of not having to think about them at all. There are no servers to patch up and keep running. As for the updates, it’s now a continuous delivery of new & improved features that puts an end to the concept of an upgrade project altogether. Sure, you’ll still need to do your part to ensure customer specific customizations and integrations keep working – that’s just another service that needs a continuous delivery mindset.
Once the cloud version was sufficiently close to the on-premises Dynamics CRM server, the next stage was all about making it better than on-prem. This was the era in which Office 365 was really taking over the business productivity market, so you could say the low-hanging fruit was in tapping into these existing services in the MS Cloud and making Dynamics CRM a more attractive application through those.
Sure, we had heard the “better together” story for Dynamics + Office already in the on-prem days, but this wasn’t exactly the way we today expect cloud apps to just work with one another. Complex server configuration tasks were surely a nice source of revenue for the IT consulting companies, since very few customers were able to know all the ins & outs of how to properly deploy an Internet Facing Deployment of your Dynamics CRM server and make it talk with other MS server products. From Microsoft’s perspective, having useful product features available for everyone in theory doesn’t scale into real world customer success if there simply isn’t enough skill out there to deploy everything the way MS engineers do it in their labs. Well, when it’s all run by MS from beginning to end, this made it a solvable problem.
Making common online services like Exchange and SharePoint available for Dynamics CRM admins to click & configure on their own was one key part of this journey. What this Cloud + Cloud combo also meant was that new features from the latest versions of each service could be rolled out at a much faster pace than the server bits could ever follow. Oh, and since all the services were by default available via the public Internet, mobile clients became an everyday tool for accessing your CRM information.[Read more…]