Microsoft shared the 2017 Spring (version 9) Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement release (previously known as Dynamics CRM.) From my perspective, the biggest enhancements are a new user interface (UI), more componentized platform design and new SMB CRM sales and marketing suite. Based on my Dynamics 365 review, here are the most interesting new capabilities.
- A new UI referred to as the Unified Interface reduces white space and adds styling additions such as page borders, uniform spacing, color themes, text wrapping and field controls styling. It adheres to Responsive Design for write once, deploy anywhere reusability, is used for both online and offline operation, and is form factor adaptive across platforms and devices. It will first be released with SMB Sales, SMB Marketing and Customer Service, and later released for the Enterprise CRM suite.
- As part of the Unified Interface, the Social Pane (aka social pain) which uses tabs to display posts, activities and notes has been replaced with a single time line view. The Activity Timeline includes new configuration options to specify which activities and activity fields display for each activity type and a “What you missed” view – which displays changes for a record since it was last accessed.
- Customer Insights now extends machine learning and algorithms to include Predictive Match (links various identities of the same customer among multiple channels and systems), Predictive Scoring (forecasts outcomes) and Segmentation. This is one those powerful capabilities that advance CRM software from a data entry tool to information delivery platform.
- Organizational Insights provide the constructs to display telemetrics for measures such as user adoption, software utilization, system performance, error history, data storage, plug-ins, and can also be used to adjust user licensing and license types based on actual software utilization.
- Selective offline operation allows you to select which CRM modules are available for which users for mobile app offline operation. Offline enabled and online only apps can coexist.
- Mobile CRM now includes more custom controls and the ability to switch forms.
- Virtual entities use web services to integrate and display data residing in external systems as CRM entities. The virtual data is an alternative approach to replicating data and can be included in Dynamics 365 work streams such as business process automation.
- With this release the CRM software further evolves from a monolithic platform to more componentized marketing, sales and service applications. This platform and application code separation removes (some) inter-module dependencies and facilitates more focused test cycles and more narrow release cycles (i.e. promotion cycles and hot fixes).
- Despite the semi-recent $26B acquisition, the LinkedIn integration capabilities are somewhat muted in this release. There is a capability to embed LinkedIn information within the account, contact or opportunity records. Information such as News Mentions, Shares, job changes and activities can be dynamically updated. Team Connections can identify social circles for introductions. Data can be migrated between systems so that the LinkedIn Sales Navigator syncs limited contact data with Dynamics 365.
Dynamics 365 Gaps
While the CRM release is a nice step forward, several gaps remain.
- There is waning support for on-premise software operation. Most of Microsoft’s biggest releases – such Field Service, Power BI, POS, Flow, PowerApps, Common Data Services (CDS) and more – are not available on-premise. Microsoft’s advantage of offering online or on-premise delivery choice is becoming less of an advantage.
- There is still no routing and approval processing capability. This is a big gap for larger companies where approval processing is pervasive.
- Still no Lifecycle Services (LCS) for CRM. The existing Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) is basic and laborious and does not support a DevOps operation.
- The Dynamics 365 Business Edition Sales and Marketing apps are further delayed. The Business Edition is designed as a reduced feature set at a lower price point. Extensibility is also limited. For example, the SMB suite limits third party (ISV) apps to only the CRM software standard entities. Business Edition can migrate up to the Enterprise Edition, however, it appears Enterprise Edition cannot downgrade to the Business Edition. There’s some talk of using Business Edition and Enterprise Edition CRM within the same instance, but that availability appears to be further down the road.
- The new bulk email and marketing automation capabilities in Business Edition will not available in the Enterprise edition. This is a big gap that requires companies to procure a third-party marketing solution.
The Elephant in the Room
Will this release close the gap with Salesforce? Probably not. While Microsoft is the primary challenger to the market share leader, Salesforce’s market share is at least 8 times larger and the gap is expanding as the top CRM software provider continues to grow at about 7 times Microsoft (Salesforce CRM sales of about $7B compared to Microsoft estimated $1B over last 12 months). IMHO, Microsoft’s failure to decrease the gap with Salesforce is primarily due to lack of innovation. Unlike top competitors that embraced cloud delivery early, pioneered social business capabilities, deliver integrated marketing automation and offer real Customer Experience technologies, Microsoft’s strategy is more of a fast follower. While this strategy won’t secure a market leader position, it’s not necessarily bad for customers as long as Microsoft delivers the technology to help companies engage customers and deliver relevant, personalized, contextual and predictive Customer Experiences in a reasonable timeframe. Hyping industry buzzwords such as “Customer Experience” and “reimagined UI, reimagined controls and reimagined (insert new feature here)” falls short from delivering the tools and constructs to bring these customer imperatives to life.
Dynamics 365 Roadmap
Looking ahead, Microsoft has identified 5 top investment priorities for the next 12 months – User Experience, Customer Insights, Relationship Sales, Business Edition and a more extensible application platform. Additionally, Microsoft will continue its Dynamics 365 direction of further integrating CRM and ERP software in one fully integrated enterprise software suite.