Microsoft began what promises to be a long road to the fourth quarter release of its Dynamics CRM product today.
The product has been completely redesigned, with the on-prem and cloud versions receiving major upgrades. It’s worth noting that while this is a major release announcement, the company has been making ongoing updates to the cloud version of the product. This announcement is simply the culmination of that work, while the on-prem users will be seeing these updates for the first time.
The latest version involves four main areas that Microsoft wants to emphasize in this release including productivity, mobility, intelligence and customer service. In an effort to keep the update in the news (presumably), it is providing details of each of these categories in the coming weeks, culminating in that general availability date in December. (Exciting, I know.)
Today’s announcement involves the productivity piece, which in typical Microsoft fashion relates to how well it works with other Microsoft products. Say you want to view a PowerPoint slide deck or an Excel spreadsheet, you can now do all of that without leaving the Dynamics interface, presumably making you more productive because you don’t have to switch between programs.
For example, a user could click a Microsoft Word document, review it, then return to the CRM by clicking the back button. It’s not super sophisticated, but it is an effective way to move quickly between different applications.
This is great for the all-Microsoft, all-the-time shops, but a Microsoft spokesperson pointed out there will be connectors to other non-Microsoft programs as well, in keeping with CEO Satya Nadella’s directive on mobile-first, cloud-first and cross-platform compatibility. The mobile versions should work on iOS and Android.
Today’s announcement also included CRM for Outlook, which provides direct integration with the Microsoft email platform, where many sales people tend to live during the day. Again, keeping with productivity theme, this provides an easier way for busy sales people, who have been known to balk at updating the CRM database, to make updates in a more natural way.
Microsoft is integrating Dynamics with Delve, the tool designed to surface information that matters most to users. For a busy sales person, that could be information about the industries he or she cares about or the latest pricing data. Delve is an interesting tool, designed to push information to users, but it tends to focus on pulling information from Microsoft products.
The new version will also integrate with Cortana, the voice assistant in Windows 10 (presuming you have Windows 10), which will enable sales reps to use voice commands to interact with Dynamics.
The other announcements will become clearer in the coming weeks, but involve integration with the Cortana Analytics Suite announced at its Worldwide Partner Conference in July to bring machine learning and intelligence to the CRM tool.
The customer service piece involves making use of FieldOne, the company Microsoft bought in July. The new tools will expand Dynamics to managing service or field reps out in the field.
The mobility piece will include offline access, which will solve a big problem around accessing a cloud-based application when there isn’t a connection available.
While the updates are a big leap forward for the product, the Nadella-led Microsoft was supposed to be about services working across platforms. The company is offering integration to non-Microsoft products through APIs, of course, but it seems to be focusing on keeping customers in the Microsoft environment.
R Ray Wang, principal at Constellation Research says this is likely by design. “Ninety-five percent of corporate America is using Microsoft [tools], so they are getting a ton of pressure from CIOs to integrate. We left a meeting last week where the CIO was annoyed the stuff just didn’t play well together,” Wang said.
This release is designed to address those concerns and is a “bit better” at it, he said.
To be fair, Wang says we are probably going to see more of this type of integration across a company’s tools from other vendors.
“We can expect that all the cloud vendors will be pushing platforms and tighter integration as they prefer their customers to stay inside their cloud,” he said.