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From Convergence 2013 – Microsoft Dynamics CRM News Pt. 1

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Another spring, another Convergence. Microsoft’s annual conference on all things Dynamic concluded March 21, the first day of spring, and it appears that the Dynamics CRM world is set to heat up along with the weather.

Here’s a summary of what I’ll cover in the 2013 edition of my annual CRM-centric Convergence recap, Part 1:

  • We received more clarity on the evolution of the home-grown components of the core feature set, and for a particularly important one – the so-called flow UX – it looks to me like we may be in for a rocky transition.
  • And of course I’ve got a few random notes for you on my favorite new products, best demos and the like, so let’s get started!

Look for part 2 of this article next week:

  • Dynamics CRM is growing up in lots of ways: it’s becoming more scalable and more extensive, and adding lots of core features. Increasingly, these new features are coming from acquisitions, and acquisition buzz has become an exciting part of the Convergence experience. The 2013 edition did not disappoint, with the announcement of the acquisition of Netbreeze, and sharper focus on how the integration of two earlier acquisitions (Yammer and Marketing Pilot) will  play out.

Home Cooking: Flow US Coming in Orion, Ready or Not

A dramatic overhaul of the user experience – let’s call it the flow UX – is coming in the next major upgrade of Dynamics CRM (call it Orion). I won’t go into details on its implementation in the current release (Polaris), but you can find them in the Polaris videos on my YouTube channel, and in an excellent article on the Side Effects of the Polaris UI by Jukka Niiranen.

But the big news on this front is that Microsoft intends to do a complete cutover to the flow UX in the Orion upgrade, due out later this year (call it Q4-ish).

To the extent you’re concerned about the experience of your users, this is a big deal, with brand new forms for every entity, and unlike in the current limited release, no ability to switch back to the familiar classic form versions.

In my view, this is a risky strategy, and with an especially high potential impact for Dynamics CRM Online customers:

  • First, while the flow UX is a big improvement in many ways, it is dramatically different from what we’re used to. The change from the classic 2011 forms to the flow UX is in my opinion significantly more jarring than that from CRM 4.0 to 2011. And I’m not one of these anti-progress CRM UI Luddites either: I totally get the productivity improvements of inline editing and a process-centric rather than record-centric experience. But a change as big as this one requires a significant investment in training, and its impact is not limited to the user experience; the form programming model will be impacted as well in ways that will likely require re-coding, and the whole form metaphor is different enough that painstakingly designed and tweaked classic forms won’t translate seamlessly to the flow UX.
  • Second, and why it’s even more important for CRM Online users: CRM on-premise organizations can control the upgrade process. For example, they can choose when to apply the upgrade, and they can set up sandbox environments for testing and training. CRM Online customers have less flexibility in timing their upgrades, and no capabilities for pre-upgrade testing or training.

If the history of Polaris (originally due out in Q2 2012; eventually released in February 2013) provides a guide, at least we have time on our side. But if Orion ships on time and according to the current big-bang cutover plan, start preparing now for what may be a rocky road.

Not being one to kvetch without providing constructive input, here are a couple of options Microsoft should consider to provide a smoother upgrade path:

  • Option 1: deprecate the classic forms. That is, ship Orion with the flow UX forms and a “switch to classic” option the way it works now. This way, we’re all on notice that the classic forms will go away at some point, but we have time to make the adjustment.
  • Option 2: release a fully functional version of the flow UX forms in a service update prior to the Orion release. The current flow UX forms are essentially a beta release, and simply don’t provide enough core functionality for production use. There are several problems with them, but the deal-killer is the effective inability to add child records from a parent record’s form. (Jukka’s article provides a comprehensive explanation of this, and my video includes a couple of illustrations.) Even if this one little (but important!) thing were fixed before the Orion cutover, CRM Online users could get some flow UX experience before Orion sunsets the classic forms.

Personal Notes

Here are my not-quite random personal notes from Convergence 2013.

Gamification. One of my favorite add-ons is from CRM Gamified (pronounced “game-ified”), and another of my MVP pals, Pablo Peralta, gave me a great demo at the CRM Gamified booth. Pablo and his team applied gamification concepts to Dynamics CRM and even leveraged the goal management features in the process. The add-on’s available in several editions, and you can get more details and download the free Community Edition from the Try/Buy page.

Business Process Management. You can do a lot with Dynamics CRM workflow and dialog processes, and a working knowledge of them is a requirement if you want to get the most out of the platform. (Hence the need for a book like the one I wrote.)That being said…there are plenty of limitations of both the capabilities of processes – what they can do – and of the process designer – how you create them. If, like me, you have a wish-list of enhancements for Dynamics CRM business processes , you should check out AgilePoint. In particular, their AgileXRM product appears to address all of the shortcomings of the OOTB functionality. I haven’t used it yet, but the demo looked great, and I know some happy AgilePoint customers that would attest to their claim that it … “brings true BPM functionality to the Dynamics CRM platform”.

QuickBooks Integration for Dynamics CRM. With a 70%+ share of the small business accounting software market, Intuit’s QuickBooks certainly has a lot of users. And for organizations using both QuickBooks and Dynamics CRM, Living Business Online has created an app called Dashboards+Sync for QuickBooks and Dynamics CRM. I recently implemented it for my organization, and I love this application! I had a chance to meet in New Orleans with LBO CEO Lon Orenstein, who gave me some background information on Intuit Anywhere and how Intuit Data Services provide a secure platform for applications like the one his company built to integrate QuickBooks and Dynamics CRM. If your accounting’s on QuickBooks and Dynamics is your CRM, you should see for yourself how this integration can close the gap between forecasted and actual sales and give your sales team visibility into orders, invoices and payments directly from the CRM customer record.

Extra-curricular activities. ClickDimensions usually sponsors the best parties, and this year was no exception. And while my sample size of one probably doesn’t support statistical significance for that claim, I can’t blame Sonoma Partners, without whose Convergence Party App I can’t even imagine how I made it through previous Convergences!

Look for Part 2 of this recap next week where I will dissect the new features of Microsoft Dynamics CRM that have come from recent acquisitions.

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