What's New in the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2012 Update?

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Last week’s big news for Microsoft Dynamics CRM was the official announcement of the December 2012 Service Update. The most substantive official document is the Release Preview Guide, available here: http://crmpublish.blob.core.windows.net/docs/Release_Preview_Guide_December_2012_FINAL.pdf.

This article’s my take on what you can expect and the relative importance of the new features. I used the organizational scheme of the preview guide, breaking features out into the same three categories (Applications, Experiences, Platform), and all screenshots and quotations are directly from the same document. But the editorial commentary, speculation, and educated guesses are all mine, so take it with as many grains of salt as necessary.


Pre-Defined Sales and Service Processes

Until now, Microsoft Dynamics CRM hasn’t included any pre-defined processes for sales (leads, opportunities) or service (cases). Organizations have needed to roll their own, so to speak, using a combination of customization techniques such as custom fields, workflows, and so forth. With the upcoming release, Microsoft will put a prescriptive stake in the ground by including “…three pre-defined sales and service process definitions for lead, opportunity, and case management.” The following figure provides an overview of one of the sales processes, with stages (qualify, develop, propose, close), each of which contains several steps (identify contact, identify account, identify decision maker…).

In my view, a couple of the most interesting things hinted at in the figure are these:

  • The sales process spans two entities (lead and opportunity). If your sales process starts with a lead which then gets qualified to an opportunity this is probably the right way to go. And I like the holistic thought process better than the alternative (two separate workflows, one for lead, one for opportunity). But…it is quite specific. For example, not everybody uses leads, and even for organizations that do, they don’t always qualify to opportunities. Obviously the CRM team understands this, so we can expect the ability to customize the pre-defined processes: “A process can easily be configured to add or remove stages and steps according to your specific processes.” Which leads to …
  • …the Process Control Customization Tool. So rather than using the existing workflow process designer, it looks like we’ll get a new tool specifically for tailoring these new pre-defined processes. Or something like that. We’ve seen something similar before, btw: Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 had a special type of sales process specifically for opportunity records, with built-in stage-gating and other aspects characteristic of staged sales processes. This has been gone since the 4.0 release, with all entities treated the same, and processes for all of them created in a single workflow designer. It’s things like this that provide ongoing work to book authors, so keep your eyes open for the revised Second Edition of Building Business with CRM: Using Processes in Microsoft Dynamics CRM early in 2013!

Collaborative Selling

This is described as “…additional capabilities to track and manage stakeholders, competitors, and sales teams for leads, opportunities, contacts, and accounts.” This is really a part of the pre-defined sales processes just discussed, as well as of the “process-centric user experience” described below. For example, in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 competitors and activities aren’t available at a glance on the default opportunity form, and there’s really no built-in concept of stakeholders (influencers, decision makers, team members…). The following figure provides a glimpse of what will be out of the box functionality in the next release:


Process-Centric User Experience

A careful read of the preview guide provides context for the pre-defined sales and service processes discussed above. The updated user experience is a “…fresh, intuitive, and guided means for users to work through a business process toward a defined outcome… a more process-centric, outcome-oriented, and guided experience…” So the pre-defined sales and service processes are really just the first incarnation of a more fundamental redesign of the overall user experience: “Initially, the updated user experience (UX) will be enabled for sales and service processes but will be broadened in future releases.”

The following two figures illustrate several of the significant changes from the current UI. The first figure is the form for the overall sales process:

The second one is a close-up of what you might see if you clicked on the QUALIFY stage in the first figure:

Notice that the context of the first figure is the Opportunity record, while the context of the second is Lead. But they’re both part of the same form. So not only might a process span two entities, but the form itself is no longer tied simply to a single entity! The more I think about this, the more I appreciate its importance. For example, in my world a sales process might start with a lead, progress to an opportunity, and then to a quote. An accepted quote might mean a project then gets created. Currently these connections are hard to tease out of the UI, but I can imagine a lot of value in having a single-form, process-centric experience spanning all of the records in a process:

But let’s not get too far ahead here: “The December 2012 Service Update will provide updated UX forms for Leads, Contacts, Accounts, Opportunities, and Cases; over time this will broaden to cover other entities.”

A couple of other aspects of the new user experience include:

  • A generally flatter experience, with information related to records being displayed directly on forms, rather than in the hard-to-find associated views as at present.
  • And finally, Bing maps integration: “…addresses for contacts and accounts will be displayed in an embedded contextual map provided by the Microsoft decision engine Bing.”

For my money, the new user experience is one of the top two most important features in the new release. And it begs the question of how it will impact existing customers with significant investments in customizing processes and forms in the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 UI! Microsoft has anticipated this: with the release, “…existing customers have the choice to opt-in to the new updated UX forms. Customers who prefer to continue using their existing user interface (referred to as classic forms) can have their system continue to run as is after the December 2012 Service Update is applied. All new customers who sign up for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online will have the updated UX forms activated by default, but they can choose to use the classic forms by setting a system option.

Yammer as the Social Layer for Microsoft Dynamics CRM: Phase 1

The 12/12 service update will include the integration of Yammer (acquired by Microsoft in July 2012) with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, described in the preview guide as “…first phase of integrating Yammer as the social layer for Microsoft Dynamics CRM“. The following figure hints at a replacement of activity feeds with the Yammer integration, in the context of the new flat UI:

Office 2013

This is probably the least surprising new feature, although considering how good and how widely used the Outlook client already is, further improvements there may be among the highest impact ones from a productivity standpoint. I’m most interested in enhancements to the integrations with Word and Excel. These are only vaguely hinted at in the preview guide, and let’s face it: they’ve traditionally been pretty weak and could use some improvements. For example, a usable Word merge capability that doesn’t require a Word Ph.D. to create summary-detail reports (e.g., a customizable Quote form) would be awfully nice. And how about bringing a little Big Data to CRM by removing the 10,000 record limit for Excel exports? Put those in the wish category.

Browser and Mobile

Besides the process-centric user experience, this is the other of my other top two features, and I can’t improve on the table provided in the preview guide, so here it is:

So the Apple story is Safari browser support. Now I really want an iPad for Christmas…especially because my organization’s production CRM is CRM Online: on-premise deployments aren’t scheduled to get this until Q2 2013. Also note that the mobile support offered in the service update is the iPad: “This sales experience on iPad adds flexibility for the mobile salesperson.”

Remember the original announcements of the “CRM Anywhere” release included native-app smartphone support directly from Microsoft (leveraging technology from CWR)? Nothing along these lines in the service update, apparently, and as far as I can tell, nothing’s been announced either.


Embedded Skype

Added on top of existing Lync integration. In this release, Skype needs to be installed on user’s PC; “in future releases this will not be a requirement“.

FIPS 140-2

If you were on the edge of your seat waiting to hear about this, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, Dynamics CRM will be in compliance with Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 140-2!

Custom Workflow Activities for Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

From the standpoint of extending Microsoft Dynamics CRM, one of the big stories of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 release was the support of plugins in CRM Online. Custom workflow activities have continued to be an on-premise only option, but that changes finally in the service update. So if you attended one of my sessions on custom workflow activities at the recent Extreme CRM 2012 or CRMUG Summit 2012 shows and you wanted to use them in your Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online deployment, your wait is almost over!

To learn more about the features and functionality of Microsoft Dynamics CRM and how it can benefit your business, contact us at info@magenium.com.

By Richard Knudson, Magenium Solutions, Chicago Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner

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