So we have barely cleared the update cycle for Dynamics CRM Online 2013 to Dynamics CRM Online 2015 and here comes Dynamics CRM Online 2015 Update 1. I guess it was too soon to call it Dynamics CRM 2016; even though there are some pretty significant enhancements. As a Microsoft CRM Partner, I am pleased to report that the update path seems to have finally smoothed out.
When CRM was first launched as a cloud product it seemed it was little more than 4.0 on-premise thrown up on a cloud platform and called Dynamics CRM 2011. It was buggy and clumsy and felt like the hasty defensive move against Salesforce.com that it obviously was. Some of the early updates, as Microsoft got their feet under them, were painful. Swapping out the entire authentication system from Live ID to Office 365 ID basically broke almost everything partners and customers had built. The update to 2013 introduced a radically different user interface which took a lot to get used to. This jerky cycle was starting to make customers nervous, fearing a continuous change management process… forever. Even for the most forward thinking customers, these wholesale changes were causing disruptions and a loss of the very productivity that CRM promised to enhance.
I do get that there is a race underway. Microsoft finally found Dynamics CRM in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant right next to Salesforce.com and stepped up the full-court press to keep that momentum. I, for one, was very pleased with the Dynamics CRM Online 2015 update. It felt like they finally had the chassis sorted out and started working on features. The only real nag on that update was the requirement to uninstall the Outlook Connector and install a new one. So it’s nice to see things are settling down, but not slowing down. With 2015 Update 1, it looks like it is going to be pure feature adds and enhancements. The nice thing about these is that they don’t disrupt anything… you can take advantage of them, or don’t. It doesn’t look like there will be any required steps that users must take to just keep on working and minimal re-training if any. This is the cadence I had been waiting for since we switched from Salesforce.com consultants to Dynamics CRM Online Partners four years ago.
So I said you won’t have to do anything with this next update, but there are some things I think you will want to do, because they are just that cool. The nice thing is you should be able to take them up on your own schedule. So let’s hit a few of the new things that I know our customers are going to like.
Navigation (Part One)– The first item that you and your users will notice immediately is a simplified navigation in the web client. That horizontal scrolling was neat for about 5 minutes, but quickly became irritating. User interfaces are the hardest things to get right and the horizontal scrolling was just not intuitive, I mean nothing scrolls horizontally on the web, except for Dynamics CRM Navigation. So while not completely eliminated, Microsoft has made some strides with this update towards addressing this “un-naturalness”. There is a short video below that will give you a better idea of how this will work.
[fvplayer src=’http://forceworks.blob.core.windows.net/wordpress-media/NewnavigationDynamicsCRMOnline.mp4′ splash=’/wp-content/uploads/navigationsplash.jpg’]
Use above for full screen
Navigation (Part Two)- I am sure that Microsoft does a lot of focus groups and eye-tracking etc, sometimes post-launch it seems. Anyway, they have added a dropdown menu to the record pages to get you to different sections of the form more quickly; apparently scrolling down is just too much work for some users. Time will tell if this is a worthwhile feature, but at least it doesn’t hurt anything.
Outlook – As a Microsoft Certified CRM Partner, we have more questions from our customers about the Outlook integration than anything else… by far. So I am all for anything Microsoft can do to make this experience even better. This is a major selling point for Dynamics CRM Online, and something no competing product can do to this level, so Microsoft needs to get this right and has bolstered their efforts to do so with the addition of Folder Tracking. A lot of us use folders and rules already to keep our inboxes manageable. Now we can link a folder to a record in CRM. Anything we drag in, or have rules automatically put in, to that folder will be tracked in CRM against that record. I think this may conceptually be easier for users to grasp than the current tracking capabilities. I understand this is an additional method and that the current method will remain. I does seem easier to explain.
Excel in CRM? This one seems like it could be pretty cool. To pop open a set of records instantly in Excel Online for quick and dirty analysis is something I know I will use. It looks like a huge step saver, and could allow for analysis of items I might not have wanted to take the time and effort for before. Note that you will need Excel Online for this, but most CRM Online customers have some version of Office 365 that includes it.
More Excel Goodness – Microsoft also upgraded the Excel export capability for when you need to do the heavy lifting in the full version of Excel Now it is just one click, also the 10k record limit that frustrated some customers has been raised to 100K, enough to satisfy all of our customers that I can think of.
Mobile Makeover – The current mobile app is just okay. It would give you the information you needed, and was available on any phone. The mobile app was a little different from the tablet app and Microsoft has fixed this to where they are now the same. Hooray to only having to learn one thing. There are some third-party mobile app solutions out there that are still probably better for very specific cases, but I prefer to use the Microsoft capabilities where I can. (Some solution providers are better than others at keeping up with the changes Microsoft makes to CRM).
One of the things we have been asking for is an easier way to hide entities, fields or sections from the mobile view. Let’s face it, you don’t need to do everything on a phone. Microsoft has now added a checkbox to everything to easily hide items from the phone. This is going to make it simpler to publish mobile views that are streamlined for a particular customer’s needs.
OneNote Integration – If you are not a user of OneNote, you may reconsider after this. OneNote has now been fully integrated into Dynamics CRM Online and added to the Social Pane.
Clicking the OneNote tab will display a list of your notebooks associated with the record (if you have more than one for some reason)
Clicking on the notebook will open it up in OneNote Online (Note: you obviously have to have OneNote)
Your OneNote notebooks are stored in the associated SharePoint document library with the rest of your record related documents so non CRM users can also access them. (Note, obviously you need SharePoint connected to CRM for this also)
Theming – Since CRM is an internal tool, this does not seem that valuable a feature, but I guess enough people wanted their logos stuck on it and the colors to match their corporate branding, etc. So for those people, we now have a limited Theming capability. I can already see the support tickets coming in where a customer changed to white text onto a white background and thinks their data is gone.
Most of the other features, and there are several, are of more interest to developers and administrators, but it looks like this will be the smoothest update yet!
So I mentioned our RapidStart in the title of this post. Since none of the new features adversely effect our RapidStart deployment models, please consider it a shameless plug.