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Important Changes to the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Release Cycle

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Microsoft recently (May 2011) issued an updated ‘Statement of Direction’ for its flagship CRM solution Microsoft Dynamics CRM. One of the major points in the statement, which relates to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online as well as on-premise, is that there are changes to the product’s release cycle.

From now on, both versions of the product are going to be updated more often. Rather than a major new release or version every two or three years, the products will be updated twice each year.

Why are these changes important?          

More frequent updates mean that innovations and improvements can be incorporated into Microsoft Dynamics CRM more quickly. This means they’ll deliver benefits to organizations and users faster and earlier.

As well as helping businesses plan better and have a shorter wait for updates, smaller changes to CRM software products are generally easier for administrators to manage and for users to take advantage of. It’s easier to take on board and make full use of a few changes ‘little and often’ and, where appropriate incorporate them into your work routine, than it is to take in a lot of changes in one go.

Improved Agility

The way in which software is programmed and developed has changed in the past few years. Many software developers and vendors use ‘agile’ methodologies. Agile software development methodologies (of which there are several) basically aim to improve customer satisfaction by rapidly delivering changes based on customer requirements and feedback. In other words, giving customers what they want more quickly, in smaller increments, while maintaining or ideally increasing technical quality.

The Statement of Direction for Microsoft Dynamics CRM specifically mentions improved agility for both Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and the On-Premise product.

Changes to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Releases

For Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online there will now be two types of release, which Microsoft calls ‘Service Updates’. The two types of Service Updates are Automatic Service Updates and Scheduled Service Updates.

Automatic Service Updates are available to all Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online users, and won’t require any additional action from either users or system administrators. The next Automatic Service Update for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2011.

Scheduled Service Updates, because they will tend to include greater functional enhancements and improvements, have flexibility as to when you choose to implement them. You’ll have up to a year to do so after Microsoft has made the new Service Update available. The next Scheduled Service Update for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online is scheduled for the second quarter of 2011.

Changes to Microsoft Dynamics CRM On-Premise Releases

If you choose Microsoft Dynamics CRM On-Premise (or a solution hosted by your business partner), you’ll find the releases are slightly different from Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online. The differences make sense because of the nature of the different types of deployment. However, although important, if you’re still deciding between the two products it shouldn’t really be a factor in choosing between Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and On-premise. Again though, there are two types of release, which Microsoft calls Updates and Upgrades.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM On-Premise Updates will provide extra features and functions without needing a full upgrade. The next Update for Microsoft Dynamics CRM On-Premise (or partner hosted) is planned for the fourth quarter of 2011.

Upgrades are more significant than Updates, as they’ll provide greater levels of functionality enhancements and improvements. They may also incorporate major Microsoft platform innovations, and will have their own support lifecycle for mainstream and extended support. The next Upgrade for Microsoft Dynamics CRM On-Premise (or partner hosted) is planned for the second quarter of 2012.

Aligning Release Models

One of the unique features of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 is that, not only is it available in the cloud as well as on-premise, the two different deployment options are almost identical. This makes it easy, if required, to move from Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online to on-premise, or the other way round. So, it makes sense that Microsoft has unified the engineering processes for both products. Not only does this alignment enable them to effectively synchronize the innovations and improvements, it also means they can invest in a single codebase across all versions and use their extensive programming and development resources extremely efficiently.

Will The New Release Cycle Replace Hotfixes and Roll Ups?

The Statement of Direction doesn’t mention whether the new product release cycle will completely replace the current system of update rollups and hotfixes (hotfixes usually address a specific problem in a product), and whether it will remains to be seen. Personally I think it will do in part but not completely (particularly in the case of hotfixes) as, like all software products, new threats, issues and security problems that need urgent attention arise from time to time. But if you have an opinion on this, I’d be interested in your comments.

By Concentrix TSG: CRM, ERP Software and IT Specialists in the UK

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