The substance of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) next version of Dynamics CRM is still somewhat vague, but this much is clear: the new release will have a Facebook-style activity feeds interface, and it will be integrated with Office 365, the vendor's cloud-hosted office suite – ample proof, if any is needed, that Microsoft is serious about the cloud. The next upgrades of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and the on-premises version are expected in Q4 2011 and another in Q2 2012.
Back in July, at Microsoft's worldwide partners conference, Kirill Tatarinov, president of Microsoft Business Solutions, announced a number of new features that would be in the next version of the CRM offering.
Tatarinov mentioned enhancements for enterprise cloud, new social CRM capabilities, and integration with Office 365.
Getting into detail, Tatarinov identified the following:
Enhancements for Enterprise Cloud CRM
Tatarinov said the Identity Federation will support single sign-on to improve the experience for end-users switching between Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Office 365 applications. IT administrators will benefit from a more seamless user management experience, he noted.
Another enterprise cloud benefit: improved disaster recovery with in-region replication to further protect data and offer higher levels of business continuity in the event of a disaster. Stronger back-end integration between the on-premises and online CRM versions is also expected.
New Social CRM Capabilities
As part of Microsoft's long-term vision for social CRM (whereby the product could be the central location for businesses to manage all their relevant important relationships and interactions), Microsoft Dynamics CRM will feature new social collaboration capabilities.
Chiefly, those capabilities will be:
- Micro-blogging: Users will receive status updates and notifications regarding business events and actions, bringing simple experiences for users similar to those of Facebook and Twitter.
- Activity feeds: The software will deliver configurable real-time notifications on all important relationships and significant business events via a blended view of micro-blog posts and all interactions for a person, customer or sales opportunity.
- Conversations: Users will be able to post questions, observations, suggestions and status updates, allowing them to collaborate quickly and efficiently, locate information or expertise and gather feedback from others.
- Automated activity updates: Users will be free to post information directly to the activity feed based on configurable event rules, noting, for example, that a sales opportunity is closed. Users will be able to subscribe to or 'follow' activity feeds, and consume them in a variety of ways.
- Windows Phone 7 mobile application: This will allow users to view their activity feeds anywhere.
Integration with Office 365 for Enterprises
Today, Dynamics CRM Online delivers a fairly seamless experience for users of Office 365 – Office, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online – but the billing, provisioning, and admin experience is not seamless.
Microsoft plans to correct that deficiency, enabling mid-market businesses and enterprise customers to get Microsoft Dynamics CRM with any Office 365 Enterprise Plan.
The vendor claims that getting Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online with Office 365 will provide customers with a:
- Unified experience for sales, service and marketing professionals
- Single bill for both Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online
- Common user identity and authentication (e.g. single sign-on) and streamlined administrator experience (e.g. user set up and management)
Other updates announced include support for Safari, Firefox and Chrome browsers on PC and Mac platforms – support that is slated to be available in the first half of 2012.
$150 off a Microsoft Dynamics Online License
To entice businesses to switch from another product, Microsoft is offering to send qualified organizations $150 for each Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online subscription license they buy. The offer requires organizations to have a minimum of 50 seats or a maximum of 500 seats, and to sign a two-year subscription. The offer runs until March 31, 2012.
Earlier this year, the Microsoft product was positioned in the leaders section of Gartner's Magic Quadrant for CRM Customer Service Contact Centers, a research report that looks at CRM software for customer service representatives in the contact center, and Microsoft also made the sales force automation magic quadrant.
Also, this year, research firm Forrester Consulting, in a report entitled "The Total Economic Impact of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011," concluded that a 2,000-employee composite organization with an initial deployment of 50 users would experience a three-year, risk-adjusted ROI of 243 percent over a payback period of 4.1 months.
The firm credited the familiar, intelligent and connected experiences delivered by Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 as fundamental to the ROI and rapid payback period.