As I mentioned in last week’s CRM industry news post, when Microsoft launched Dynamics CRM 2011 early last year, they committed to a series of regular, six monthly updates. From a company whose CRM release frequency was closer to Olympian than biannual this was no small undertaking, so the preview guide for the first release of 2012, was always going to be an interesting read.
Perhaps the most eye-catching announcement was CRM Mobile, a rich, native application for smartphones. Note the plural here. One might sensibly have assumed that CRM Mobile would be exclusively for Windows Phone, given that traditionally Microsoft CRM has been welded to its own technology stack, but surprisingly the application will also be available on iPhone, Android, and Blackberry devices, as well as the iPad.
Offering the full breadth of Dynamics CRM functionality, the Mobile Client is likely to be a big hit with salespeople and service staff out on the road who need to be able to read and update customer and prospect data on the go.
What caught my attention is how Microsoft is proposing to price the new service: $30 per user per month, which I understand will be on top of the licence cost for the core client. The ‘per person per month’ approach is the same regardless of whether the user is on-premise, or using the software as a service option (SAAS). With SAP this week suggesting a third of their revenues could come from subscriptions by 2015, perhaps software vendors are coming to the conclusion that subscription pricing, as pioneered by the likes of Salesforce.com, is simply a better business model. Or, perhaps it’s simply a case of mimicking what the cool SAAS kids are doing. Either way, it’s an interesting change to their historic approach, and it will be intriguing to see if this is adopted for the licensing of the core on-premise product in due course.
The fact that Microsoft is charging at all for CRM Mobile surprises me a little. Last year’s 2011 launch signalled a much more aggressive stance versus Salesforce.com, particularly in respect to the online version, and I fully expected Microsoft to continue to attack them hard on price. $30 dollars per user per month, so $360 per year, suggests more of a profit maximisation strategy. Even in this respect I suspect they may have the pricing wrong. Sure, some people will gladly sign-up at that price, but I’d speculate that mass adoption will require a price considerably south of thirty dollars.
The theme of compatibility has also been extended to the internet browser. Historically, CRM Dynamics has only been compatible with Microsoft Internet Explorer, but this release extends support to Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. This willingness to play nicely with other technologies will clearly win them more friends and customers, and opens intriguing possibilities as to where this rapprochement may ultimately lead.
From a core functionality perspective there are a couple of enhancements. The internal micro-blogging and social collaboration features have been extended to give users the ability to like and dislike posts, and offer new filtering capabilities. This seems to fall somewhat short of the ‘waves of social innovation for Microsoft Dynamics CRM’ promised in the Q4 2011 release, though I suspect we will see these featuring heavily in Release 9 later in the year. A feature called rapid view forms has also been added which would appear to allow users to get quicker access to data when there’s no immediate need to edit the information.
In terms of its online version, Microsoft has plugged a gap between online and on-premise, by adding in custom workflow activities, and has been working hard to build out its data centre and service certifications, with nine announced and further ones planned.
Other enhancements include support for Microsoft SQL Server 2012 and a new reporting services add-in called Power View which is positioned as a next-generation business intelligence (BI) tool. The portal framework for customer and partner portals has also enhanced to allow organisations to use standards-based identity providers such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Windows Live ID, which can relieve portal administrators from the chore of user password management. Finally Microsoft has released a range of industry specific templates including life annuity insurance sales, non-profit, health plan sales, and wealth management which should allow organisations in these sectors to implement a system more quickly and cost-effectively, as well as showcasing how the system can be tailored to suit vastly different sets of requirements.
Overall then, the mobile clients and increased compatibility with other technology platforms are notable steps forward. I would have liked to have seen more enhancements to the core application, particularly with respect to social integration which is something of a glaring oversight, but I’d imagine this will come sooner rather than later. What’s unclear to me though is what Microsoft’s strategy is in terms of taking on Salesforce.com – the other 800lb gorilla in the space. A year ago it looked like a full on frontal assault based on price, but looking at the mobile client pricing now, I’m less sure. Perhaps it will become clearer as the year wears on, but regardless of the strategy questions, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact Microsoft has clearly been successful in one key respect: shipping product on a regular basis. Gone, it seems, are the days when we had to wait three years for a new feature set, which, if nothing else makes for a much more interesting spectacle for those of us watching from the side-lines.