Dynamics 365 – Outlook Client is Finally Deprecated for SMB?

Okay, maybe the Outlook thick client for Dynamics 365 hasn’t actually been deprecated by Microsoft… yet… but it should be. I think the last UI refresh was in 1972. So I am personally declaring it deprecated! Fully three quarters of our customer support issues for Dynamics, have involved the Outlook Client. The new Dynamics 365 Outlook App shows promise, but it’s not ready for prime-time yet… in my opinion. Here we sit in the tweener zone… again.

The Beauty of the Outlook Client

When it worked, the Outlook Client was a magnificent alternative to having to go to the web client to get your work done. For probably half of all Dynamics CRM Online users, this was all they used. Personally, I never cared for it. I spend my time in the web client, and the times I have to jump back and forth, don’t bother me. I basically use CRM the same way a Salesforce.com user has to. In fact, the Outlook Client was a big competitive advantage… in a demo. “You can do everything you need to, without ever leaving Outlook“. Sounds good. But the reality is that the Outlook Client is a piece of locally installed software. It’s a piece of something else also, but this is a family blog.

Customer Machines Suck

I cannot even begin to imagine the number of combinations of hardware, software and network configurations that must exist, just in a single user organization. For a 10 user deployment, when you get to the the part where you tell your customer: “Then have your users go here and install the Outlook Client“, less than a third were successful. So now we’re into screen-sharing sessions to get the others going, and there is always that one machine, that it simply won’t work on at all. You engage MS support and they ask: “Is the computer turned on?“, and it kind of goes downhill from there. Of course, the one machine that won’t work, is always the most important user’s, like the one who approves your invoices. Finally, after hours and hours, you get it working, and then get an email from MS announcing a new version of the Outlook Client, that is a required update. Is there anybody who does not think we should stick a fork in this one?

The Future Looks Brighter

The nightmare for us, has also been a nightmare for Microsoft… thankfully. The new Dynamics 365 App is not a client application that needs to be installed on a machine, it is a cloud app that can get pushed to a user without any interaction on their part. Updates and bug fixes can be pushed the same way. So far, deployments have been flawless. We can even check a box in Dynamics 365 to automatically install it on any user’s Outlook… newly added users just get it. This is awesome… but, and I smell a big butt coming… it is “Preview” software. It does not say “Preview” anywhere, but it clearly is, as it is still buggy.

What would make it Better?

There are actually 277 issues raised in Connect about this as I write this. First of all, we should have the ability to have the App open by default. Right now, you have to click the ribbon icon every time you switch records in Outlook, and wait for it to reload… and it frequently does not load. This should be happening in the background while the new Outlook record is loading, and just appear with it. This annoyance actually came directly from a customer. Getting to the page that shows Outlook and Dynamics contacts, requires clicking on an obscure icon called “Add-ins” at the base of the Outlook sidebar… who is supposed to find this? Once there, you might as well go get a cup of coffee while it loads. Looking at your Outlook Contacts from here is odd also. Clicking on a tracked Contact and trying to link them to an Account brings up a very helpful list of all your CRM Accounts… in random order… with no ability to search or sort… useless. It gets more interesting when you click the Dynamics 365 Contacts from here… first, go get a bigger cup of coffee. Why can’t I push Dynamics 365 Contacts back into Outlook from here? Back on the Calendar view, I have to open an item to see the App icon. Why can’t I track a meeting that I am not the organizer of? In the Outlook Contacts list, the app is nowhere to be found, even when you open the contact record. There was also a “Recent Activities” section that seems to have been pulled back by MS, which is a good, because it appeared to be random activities that were unrelated to the subject record. Lastly, in order for any of this to work, the customer has to be on the Office 365 “first-release” program also.

I fully expect all of these, and other issues, will be fixed by the team soon, but this should have been labeled “Preview“, at least I would have had something to say to customers about the odd behaviors. Fortunately, since this is an App, the broken shit will just suddenly start working, auto-magically over time. At least I am looking forward to not having to contact the customer and say: “BTW, you need to have all of your users remove and reinstall the Outlook Client… again“.

Moving from the Client to the App

New customers of Dynamics 365 will love the app, warts and all, they won’t even know there are warts. But those transitioning from the Outlook Client are going to struggle. While the App does handle many of the most common tasks that the Outlook Client was used for (at least once the bugs are squashed), it does not, and will not, have feature parity. So, users are going to have to get used to going back and forth to the web app more often than they did before. In fact, Salesforce.com has approached this in a very similar fashion. I was on a screen share with a Salesforce.com customer the other day who was showing me their Outlook App, and it looks eerily similar. I guess we can cross that one competitive advantage off our list.

Update 03/26/17

I received quite a bit of feedback on this post from Enterprise focused partners, more or less telling me that I am full of crap. Fair enough, I often am. Many of these were first time readers of my blog, so may not have been aware of my SMB focus. I can’t speak to the enterprise space, so I will take their word that the experience is different there. Enterprise also has significantly more resources to engage with than the typical SMB, so that may also contribute to the different experience. I can also say that this post led to a dialog with the Dynamics App Product Manager who was very appreciate of my comments. “This is the kind of feedback we want and need”. As a result of that dialog, I expect the App will be improved in areas that Microsoft was not previously aware that it was lacking. I call that a Win-Win!

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