Microsoft has been cranking out updates to its Dynamics CRM product for quite some time, with the latest major version released in the fall of 2013 named Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013. This version delivered a world of new connectivity options and highlights the use of tablets to include both the Apple iPad and Windows Surface devices. The user interface was reworked to make it more efficient and consistent across all platforms.
Microsoft has delivered mobile versions for the Android, iPhone and Windows Phone platforms since the official release. While you probably wouldn't want to do a lot of customer information data entry on a phone, you can get quick access to all the pertinent contact information in a format that's easy to read on the small screen. The mobile versions do make it easy to enter short updates and keep track of voice contacts.
You now have the choice of standing up a Dynamics CRM 2013 server on premises or you can use Microsoft's cloud-based Dynamics Online. There's also an option to add Microsoft Dynamics CRM to an Office 365 subscription for a nominal fee. New acquisitions like NetBreeze and more recently Parature will add even more functionality to the Dynamics platform in the days to come.
Installing Microsoft Dynamics 2013
Microsoft makes a demo version of the Dynamics CRM 2013 server available on a 90-day trial basis so you can install it locally and give it a thorough test. You’ll need to install and configure a few things beforehand, but it's not a difficult task. First you'll need an installation of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 or 2012. Dynamics CRM 2013 installs just fine on a virtual machine as long it's running Windows Server 2012. You could load it on Windows Server 2012 R2, but you would need to install a service pack first.
Before starting the Dynamics CRM 2013 installation, you should join the target machine to a domain and create a new Organizational Unit (OU) for the CRM objects. With that complete, you should be ready to launch the install program for Dynamics CRM 2013. This wizard-based process includes a number of question-and-answer pages where you must enter information, including the name of your SQL server system and the OU created earlier.
Test Driving Dynamics
If you're looking to give Dynamics CRM 2013 a test drive but don't have any data, you can use the sample data which comes as a part of the base server installation. To install the sample data, navigate to the Data Management page of the Settings section. Here we show this page and the Sample Data item which will create a fictitious company for testing purposes.
Once you have the sample data loaded, you'll be able to view active accounts, generate reports and perform any of the typical interactions you would expect with a CRM system. Once you've completed the test drive and you're ready to begin entering real data, simply use the same process to access the Sample Data function and perform a remove operation.
Improved User Interface
Microsoft went to great lengths to improve the overall user experience in Dynamics CRM 2013 with specific emphasis on consistency across all access points. Many if not most users will do much of their hard-core interaction with Dynamics CRM 2013 using a Web browser. Understanding this, Microsoft has made significant strides to make the Web interface look the same no matter which browser you use.
If you access a Dynamics CRM 2013 server using a mobile device, you'll see a different view tailored to the smaller screen. In our tests we found that IE 11 on a Toshiba laptop running Windows 8.1 was detected as a mobile browser version. When using Google Chrome from the same laptop, the normal full Web-browser version was rendered.
Previous versions of the Dynamics CRM interface used a ribbon bar much like the standard Microsoft Office applications. This version does away with the ribbon and replaces it with dropdowns and context-sensitive buttons. Also gone are the old left-pane tree-view lists which can be difficult to manipulate, especially on touchscreen devices. All navigation now uses large icon and text blocks, which fit the touchscreen model quite well.
Connecting to Email and More
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 offers many ways to connect to the information and applications you commonly use. Email is the most obvious tool where communication happens between customers and the sales team. Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 for Microsoft Office Outlook is a free download and installs on any system running the latest version of Microsoft Outlook. This add-in brings new toolbars and right-click menus to the normal Microsoft Outlook interface to make it easier to connect your email to the Dynamics CRM system.
Yammer is a relatively new tool for many and provides what the company calls an enterprise social network. It's a private social network with many of the same features you would find on Facebook. It also connects with Office 365 for secure chat and messaging. Microsoft bough Yammer almost two years ago and has integrated the product across its entire productivity line of software. Basic pricing for Yammer as a part of Office 365 is just $8 per user per month.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 is a large program and has many moving parts, which do require some configuration and effort to get working properly on premises. The online version should appeal to small and even medium-sized businesses with limited IT resources. Tight integration with Microsoft Office and other Microsoft offerings should make this a very appealing release for any organization looking to streamline their sales and marketing automation.
To make it even more attractive, Microsoft recently announced simplified pricing for the next Dynamics update. According to eWEEK, Dynamics CRM Online Professional costs will remain the same at $65 per user per month, despite the addition of a Microsoft Social Listening feature based on the NetBreeze acquisition. After the update, on-premise customers can subscribe to Social Listening for $20 per user per month.
The Dynamics CRM Online Enterprise plan, priced at $200 per user per month, is also adding Dynamics Marketing from the company's acquisition of Marketing Pilot buy. The new component adds marketing automation and business intelligence capabilities to provide marketers with campaign tracking and planning tools.
Paul Ferrill has been writing in the IT trade press for over 25 years. He's written hundreds of articles for publications like Datamation, Federal Computer Week, InfoWorld, Network Computing, Network World and PC Magazine and is the author of two books. H is a regular contributor to ServerWatch.com and several other QuinStreet Enterprise properties.