CRM 2011: Breakthrough Functionality


Well here we are in the week after Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) and I must admit that I’m still a little overwhelmed by the amount of new information that there is to digest about Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft’s cloud strategy. A number of announcements and public demonstrations were delivered regarding the new functionality that will be available in Dynamics CRM and I thought some of you might want to get a preview of what will be coming.

The programming model has been completely changed. The way of writing the custom workflows,Plugin and consuming the webservices are really challenging till we get use to it since it basically exposed with the Interfaces built on WCF services.

But I have a dilemma. There are so many improvements and new breakthroughs coming in Dynamics CRM 2011 that it’s difficult to know where to start. In fact, Microsoft tells us that it takes a full day to provide a rapid overview of new functions to their internal team.  So we will only be able to scratch the surface here.  Let’s start by breaking this into two big picture areas: (1) the most significant areas of improvement, and (2) other breakthrough functionality to look for.

By the way – if you’re interested in getting an early hands-on view of what’s available in Dynamics CRM 2011, then be sure to register for the Sneak Peek webinar here:www.successaccelerators.com

Significant Areas of Improvement

These are areas that may seem subtle from an end-user standpoint – but they will emerge as true “game changers” for businesses using Dynamics CRM.  You may not see them get a lot of airtime in the initial months after Dynamics CRM 2011 is released – but check back 6-12 months later and you’ll notice a dramatic change in what people are doing with CRM, how they are using it and the value that they are getting from it.

Dynamics CRM 2011 in Microsoft Outlook

Are you surprised to see this one at the top of the list? One of the reasons that many of our clients select Dynamics CRM 4.0 is because of its tight integration with Microsoft Outlook.  Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Dynamics CRM 2011 does an amazing job of making the CRM and Outlook experience truly seamless. Most of the demos that I watched were presented 100% inside of Microsoft Outlook and it was a completely seamless experience. Not only is the experience even simpler for users, but it also leverages built-in Outlook functions like flagging records, using categories and the preview pane.

One of the nicest features is tighter integration when sending Outlook emails. In previous versions of CRM, most users gravitated towards sending email from Outlook rather than CRM because Outlook provides a much better interface for sending emails. But if they wanted to insert a KB article, use an e-mail template or send a piece of sales literature, they had to send the e-mail from within CRM. Dynamics CRM 2011 incorporates CRM features directly into Outlook making it easier to use Outlook to send email. For example, you can select Knowledge Base articles or Sales Literature (including attachments!) and send them directly from within Outlook. This is great functionality – it leverages all the things I love about using Outlook for email while integrating all of data and functionality I need to pull out of CRM.

This may seem like it’s only an incremental improvement – but I believe it will be a game changer for users of Dynamics CRM. You will see even more businesses choose to go with Dynamics CRM because it will be easier to adopt and it will accelerate performance through the Outlook interface.

Fully Functional Cloud Version

With CRM 4.0, we frequently advised our clients with complex requirements to use the On Premise version of Dynamics CRM because of some limitations related to custom code and reporting with CRM Online. For the most part, those limitations will be eliminated with Dynamics CRM 2011. This will give businesses even more compelling reasons to transition their CRM software and their application development framework to the cloud using a combination of Dynamics CRM, SharePoint and Azure.  Based on what we are learning about businesses transitioning their technology to the cloud, and based on what we’ve learned about Microsoft’s cloud strategy (click here to see the blog entry) – I believe that this will be another game changer.  Expect a growing proportion of businesses to go directly to CRM Online rather than On Premise to lower costs, focus on their core business and get up and running faster.

Solutions

CRM 4.0 presented a great tool set for developing new applications. But Dynamics CRM 2011 will usher in a new era of developing custom applications using the XRM Development Framework. While this change will not be visible on the surface, it represents a tectonic shift in what Dynamics CRM will be able to do for your business. My prediction: within 5 years, the majority of Dynamics CRM implementations will not be used for core CRM capabilities (sales, service and marketing) but will instead be used for custom line of business applications. Using this approach, businesses will reduce their need for internal (and external) developers, lower their costs and more rapidly automate business processes and outcompete their rivals.

Businesses that understand and leverage the new Outlook interface, the cloud, and the Solutions areas of CRM will become more agile – lowering costs and adapting to change faster than their competitors.  It’s a great time to be alive and working with Dynamics CRM!

Breakthrough Functionality

Microsoft also announced a number of new items that are breakthroughs in the core CRM functionality. These are items that most businesses will likely view as the bigger improvements initially because they are highly visible new areas of functionality.  There are dozens of new capabilities, I’ve outlined some of my favorites below.

Workflow Dialogs

Workflows will now also include “dialogs.” Think of these as “real time” workflows that can prompt users through a series of custom forms and activities. Dialogs can serve up custom forms (such as how to interview a job candidate, solve a service issue, or conduct a telephone survey). They can interact with workflows so a dialog can kickoff a workflow that updates records in CRM or creates another follow up activity (which could be used to trigger another dialog). This functionality will solve a number of business challenges that used to require custom development. Maybe more importantly, CRM will now use .NET 4.0 including the more updated workflow process – so you can extend your workflows significantly beyond the built-in CRM 2011 capabilities and then import them into CRM (since they use standard a XAML file). 

In the image to the right, it’s difficult to see, but you can see some of the differences that using dialogs will make available in the workflow design process.

CRM-2011-Workflow-Dialog-UI-Script-Screenshot

Custom Activity Types

In Dynamics CRM, you have a lot of different activity types to choose from (phone calls, emails, tasks, appointments, campaign responses, letters, etc). Now in CRM 2011, you can create your own custom activity types. One example of a custom activity type might be an SMS message – so you can track text messages. Another might be a social media interaction. Yet another could be a lead qualification activity. Because activities can link to records in so many ways and can also be visible as Outlook tasks, custom activities will be powerful tools you can use to improve business processes and the visibility of customer interactions across your organization.

Dashboards Everywhere!

CRM 2011 Visualizations Screenshot Mapping 

CRM 2011 dashboard screenshot outlook integration

This will likely be the favorite new function for many business users. In the past, creating custom dashboards for CRM meant integration with SQL Reporting Services or maybe SharePoint. CRM Online provided some basic dashboarding options – but they were limited. Well not only did Microsoft create a powerful and easy-to-use dashboard designer, they made it so flexible that dashboard can be easily integrated directly into your views or your data entry forms. In the “old days” dashboards were considered to be something that you view at the “top” of an application (such as “sales dashboard”). Those are still available, but now you can have a dashboard for each view in CRM (my neglected accounts, my current pipeline, my activities, team activities, etc), and for each record (service incidents and satisfaction for this account for example). Once you make the jump to CRM 2011, expect to be able to quickly understand and react to changing customer needs. 

The the left is some “eye candy” that I was able to snap during the WPC conference public demonstrations. My apologies for the low quality images. We’ll post better images here once we can make them available.  UPDATE: Better quality images have now been posted — enjoy!

Role-Based Forms and Views, and Field Level Security

When setting up CRM, it seemed that we have always been asked, “can I set it up so that each person sees a different view of opportunities [or some other list type] when they open CRM?” Until CRM 2011, this used to require some custom development or add-ons.  Now users can be presented not only with whatever view they choose as their favorite, but forms can also be customized by user role.  This includes not only the fields on a form, but even the related lists in the left-hand part of the form.  So, for example, if you have a campaign of type “event,” you might see related lists of: speakers, sponsors, venues. But a campaign of type “new store opening” might not display any of those lists. It seems small – but it goes a long way towards making the application easier to use for everyone.  Also related to this is field level security – the ability to control visibility and read/write permissions on specific fields based on the role of a user.

SharePoint 2010 Integration with CRM 2011

We had integrated SharePoint 2007 with CRM 4.0 in the past, but CRM 2011 includes SharePoint integration out-of-the-box. There is no reason why every business that is using CRM 2011 shouldn’t be using SharePoint with it (a free version of SharePoint comes with windows server, so this doesn’t have to involve additional costs to build collaboration and document management into CRM).  Below is a screenshot of some of the SharePoint integration.

dynamics crm 2011 integrated with sharepoint 2010 screenshot

That’s just a starting point. We’re looking forward to exploring all of the new features available in Dynamics CRM 2011 very soon.  We’ll be kicking this off with a Sneak Peek webinar in September – be sure to sign up here: www.successaccelerators.com.  If there’s a feature in CRM 2011 that you’d like to learn more about, mention it as a comment to this blog and we will do our best to cover it at the webinar.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 5.0 features

New Features For End Users

  • Enhanced Navigation – I guess it was inevitable, but CRM5 uses the same “Fluent UI” (aka the Ribbon) as Office 2007. This new “command bar” replaces the CRM 4.0 “tool bars” at the top of each page, and is context sensitive. In addition, the “command bar” is fully customizable and you can add your own buttons much like you can with ISV.Config file today.
    CRM5 Ribbon (Account)
    CRM5 Ribbon (Contact)
    Incidentally, something that isn’t discussed but appears on the ribbon is the “Add to Queue” command, from which I can only surmise that you will be add any entity (including custom entities) to a Queue.
  • Single Page Forms – The form model in CRM 4.0 made use of tabs to divide a form into multiple pages. In CRM5 tabs are displayed in the same way as section, with each form just having a single, scrolling page. As you can see from the navigation page of an Account entity, tabs are now displayed as a series of “quick access” navigation shortcuts under the “Information” link.
    CRM5 Tabs
  • Data Filtering – One often requested feature is the ability to filter data in grids, much like Excel. Now you can navigate to the “DataView”, click the “Filter” command, and you can perform your own in-line filtering.
    CRM5 Data Filtering
    Again, although not explicitly stated, it looks as though you can quickly save your filters as a View, as well as setting your own Default View.
  • In-line Visualizations – Although not Business Intelligence in the true sense of the phrase, CRM5 allows you to visualize numeric data using in-line charts. This is not SQL Server Reporting Services, but looks very much like the .NET charting solution from Dundas.
    CRM5 In-Line Visualizations
    The charts themselves are drill-through enabled and you can select a number of different chart formats such as Bar, Column, Funnel, Line, Pie & Scatter.
  • Team Ownership – Entities in CRM 4.0 were either User Owned or Organisation Owned. Now Team Owned entities are added in CRM5, and integrated into the role-based security model.
  • Native SharePoint Integration – Integration with Windows SharePoint Services for document management, which includes site and document library provisioning, document metadata, item security, and check-in/check-out capabilities.
  • Unstructured Relationships – The next generation of “set regarding” and “relationship roles” functionality, allowing you to define ad-hoc relationships between any two entities.

New Features For Administrators

  • Flexible Form Layout – We now have much more flexibility in how forms are laid out, for example, we can position sections side-by-side, as well as field labels on top, left or right of each field. Best of all, we can now configure “In-Line Sub-Grids” for child records, so a combination of IFrames & JScript is no longer required to make this work.
    CRM5 Form Layout
  • Filtered Lookups – One of the most requested features has finally made it into the product. Whilst customizing the form, you can choose a pre-defined view or better still you can filter by a related lookup on the same form.
    CRM5 Filtered Lookups
  • Form Headers & Footers – Now that all tabs, sections and fields appear on a single, scrolling form, it is quite possible the form will get become quite long and you will end up scrolling up and down more often to find the information you require. In order to make the most commonly required visible at all times, you can now place these fields in a header or footer so that they will always be displayed regardless of the scrolling.
  • Solution Management – With CRM 4.0, you had to implement a manual process when customizing your solution, to make sure that you didn’t overwrite previous customizations, or disrupt any 3rd party ISV solutions. In CRM5 we had now added the concept of solutions.
    CRM5 Customizations - Solutions
    A solution is a defined set of entity customizations, workflows, e-mail templates, security roles, plug-ins etc. that can be managed as a single unit. Each solution is version controlled so presumably your can have multiple versions of the same solution installed, and roll-back to a previous version if necessary.
    You can also define solution dependencies where one solution can only be installed if another solution is also installed. For example, you might have a base solution for your whole organisation, with a departmental specific solution built on top of it.
    CRM5 Solutions - Publishers
    Namespace collision is avoided by defining publishers, with each publisher having a unique namespace. This avoids the common issue where the default namespace “new_” isOne final plus point is that you can now specify which attributes will be exported as part of a solution, rather than having no choice but to export the whole entity. The platform takes care of calculating the actual customizations based on the solutions you have deployed. Some other solution benefits: 

    • Custom code will be included within the solutions packaging. No more messing around with customisations and plug-ins separately.
    • Managed Solutions. Solutions that are managed by Partners (ISVs, VARs) and which the customer cannot modify to allow versioning and upgradability. The customer can still customize on top of them, and its customizations will be kept even when applying updates to a managed solution.
    • Solution Layering: The platform will handle the different solution layers installed on the system to calculate the final customizations applied.
    • Dependency Tracking. The system will calculate and track dependencies across solutions to ensure integrity.
  • Multiple Option Sets / Shared Picklists – Otherwise known as “Global Picklists”, you can define these at the solution level, and re-use them across multiple entities.
  • Drag & Drop Form Editorm across multiple entities.
  • Drag & Drop Form Editor -One of the most time consuming customization tasks in CRM 4.0 is the form design. Every time you want to add, remove or re-position tabs, sections and attributes, you have to go through a multi-click process. With CRM5, you can now drag and drop all elements of a form, speeding up the process considerably
    CRM5 Drag & Drop Form Editor
  • Audit – Although not explicitly mentioned during the sessions, I spotted an “auditing” setting on the attribute designer form, allowing you to turn auditing on or off.
    CRM5 Audit
  • Custom Code Sandbox– There is a new server role for running custom plug-in code and custom workflow activities without requiring full trust. This means that it will be possible to run custom code in the CRM Online environment and achieve true parity between On-Premise, Partner-Hosted and Microsoft-Hosted deployments.
  • Plug-In Transaction Support – In CRM 4.0 you could register a plug-in to run either before (pre-event) or after (post-event) the CRM platform operation. However, you were not able to run as part of the transaction itself, so you had to right your own compensation logic in the event the CRM platform operation failed. CRM5 addresses this limitation, and you can now choose to register you plug-in as part of the platform operation. The CRM5 plug-in registration tool has been modified to support this.CRM5 Plug-In Transaction Support

  • Automatic Plug-In Profiling – CRM5 will keep track of how a plug-in is executing, what resources it consumes, if it is causing unexpected exceptions and whether or not it is violating security constraints. If a particular plug-in fails a number of times it is automatically disabled from executing, helping to maintain system integrity.
  • .Net 4.0 Support out of the box: CRM 5 will be built using .Net 4.0. This will allow us to take advantage of all the cool new features that will come on the latest version of the .Net framework. Personally, I love this because it means that finally the last release of Dynamics CRM will be on sync with the latest version of .Net.
  • Flexible Web Services: The web services will be revamped to support WCF, REST and AJAX. That would make much easier to interact with the Web Services using different technologies. The new WCF Web Service also provides a significant performance improvement over the classic ASMX Web Service. By exposing these new interfaces, it lends itself to easier interoperability with other non .NET technologies such as PHP, Ruby, etc.
    The programming model has been completely changed. The way of writing the custom workflows,Plugin and consuming the webservices are really challenging till we get use to it since it basically exposed with the Interfaces built on WCF services.
  • Using System Types: CRM 5 will enable working with .Net Framework types instead of using CRM specific types. No more CrmNumber and things like that.
  • Linq for CRM: this is going to make our life much more easier when querying Dynamics CRM.
  • ADO.Net Data Services and .Net RIA services support: Enables an easier data access for web applications, AJAX and Silverlight.
  • Claims based Authentication and Federation: CRM 5 will enable us to integrate transparently authentication with other applications either On-Premise or on the Cloud.

You can find the videos and PPTs at the Microsoft PDC site, here are the links for the sessions:

Managing the Solution Lifecycle for xRM Applications:
Focused on introducing the Dynamics CRM Solution Lifecycle and the new CRM 5 Solutions.
http://microsoftpdc.com/Sessions/PR31

Developing xRM Solutions using Windows Azure: Provides a lot of insight on the new features of CRM Version 5 for developers and also a nice demos on integrations with Windows Azure and the Service Bus. http://microsoftpdc.com/Sessions/P09-07

Build a .NET Business Application in 60 Minutes with xRM and SharePoint: Nice session dedicated to build a xRM application on CRM 4.0 highlighting the strong Business Application Platform Capabilities. http://microsoftpdc.com/Sessions/PR33

 

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About Dynamics CRM Guru

We are a group of CRM Consultants and have significant experience in transforming businesses in the right way. We use this platform to share our knowledge which might help many others in the digital transformation journey. We are happy to help you if you are looking for any assistance in CRM implementation projects.

Posted on March 29, 2011, in Microsoft CRM 2011, Microsoft Dynamics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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